Cuban Contemporary Art Collective I Five Avant-Garde Visions
January 6th, 2017
Ruben Torres Llorca
Rogelio Lopez Marin
FIVE AVANT-GARDE VISIONS by ELLEN FISCHER
Vero resident Silvia Medina, an independent curator who studied at the University of Havana and the University of Florida organized Cuban Contemporary Art Collective I. She is also the show’s gallery sitter and docent throughout its January run. All the artists were born in Cuba in the mid-1950s and got their start in the turbulent art scene of 1980s Havana. Bedia, Llorca and Gory were part of the groundbreaking 1981 exhibition Volumen Uno in Havana that signaled a fresh chapter in Cuban art. “We have known each other since we were 14 years old in Havana,” says Acosta. The two large paintings of Bedia, the best-known of the group, evoke Afro-Cuban mythology and its frictional abutment with contemporary culture.
“Maestro y Discipulo” (2009) juxtaposes the side-lit form of a bound and kneeling man with a shaft-like object topped with a stag’s head. Painted in stony tones on a reticulated graphite-colored ground, that painting alone is worth the pilgrimage to Raw Space. Acosta’s four acrylic paintings focus on the architectural landmarks of the Miami skyline. The largest, “Corner Lot” (2011), shows a tower-like, eerily lit residential building as glimpsed from a deserted I-95. The eerily lit building may remind you of the city’s Miami Tower writ small, but Acosta says he is not into painting icons. “I try to work with parts of the city that people see every day, but no one pays attention to,” he says. If the black sky looks more solidly sculptural than the luminous city below, that’s because Acosta iced the licorice-colored expanse with a palette knife and then skidded his fingers through the wet paint. It is surprising how well the conceit works, this pairing of physical substance with illusion.
“Corner Lot” shows us the magic alongside the mechanism, with the airiest of curtains between them. Arturo Cuenca is represented by a narrow, tall canvas titled “Milky Way Raining on Miami” (2010). In it, a fiery ejaculation of sparks into the night sky appears to come from a sign for the Versailles restaurant. Inspired by Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Cuenca says the shower of stars over the landmark of the Cuban community signifies nature’s benediction on a people. His painting represents not only “the beauty of the Cuban exile,” as he puts it, but of every immigrant group whose success in the U.S. is reason for the heavens to exult. Rubén Torres Llorca’s mixed-media paintings “Here it Comes That Heavy Love” (2015) and “Brother Will You Spare a Dime?” draw on pop nostalgia: black-and-white publicity shots of Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin from the 1960s TV series.
Llorca’s influences, which include a stint in Mexico City, are particularly evident in “Here it Comes…” The portrait of Batman is sanctified by a collages newsprint aureola whose rays have their locus behind the Caped Crusader’s shoulder blades. This icon comes with its own worshiper: a pony tailed teenybopper above the canvas’s title. After the Volumen Uno show, Gory left painting for photography. Unlike photographers who documented the landscape and events of Cuba, Gory photographed Cuba’s places, people and things as a kind of self-portrait in relation to his country. The three digital photos in the exhibition were created in 2006.
All are pictures of coverings – two tarps and an awning – that hide something from view. What is hidden is not the point; it is what the blocked view suggests to our imagination. In one photo, a canvas awning seen from above forms a cross over the entrance to a fancy building. Through judicious use of color, Gory has given the banal object the significance of a religious icon; the awning’s striped pattern forms a square juncture at the point where the head of a plaster Christ might lie. In another photo, canvas covers what must be a house being fumigated; here it looks like a tent in which some sinister circus might take place.
Here, a plywood-covered vestibule bears a padlocked door. A flimsy red tarp roof separates the make-do structure from a float glass stretch of window above it in which we see mirrored a castle-like structure against a bright sky.In other words, the world of the imagination is often accessed through the unlikeliest of portals.