Suzan Woodruff: Cracks in the light

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Film by Eric Minh Swenson.
Music by Moby.

Suzan Woodruff’s most recent body of work involving multiple and various painting series she has worked on since the Burning Woman Project is created through a self-invented and designed “Gravity easel,” which though gravitational forces allows control of water and paint, creates echo’s and spectacles of nature, fractals and waves, and natural phenomena. A. Moret, in the winter 13/14 issue of Art Ltd., wrote ” The “echo presented in these works is visceral, devastating and beautiful.” Woodruff’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in the US, Europe and Asia. She is a recipient of an NEA/Arizona grant and residencies from the Sanskriti Center for the Arts, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and 18th Street Arts Center. Woodruff has been reviewed in Art Ltd., Budapest Sun, ArtPulse, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly and Delhi Today.

Woodruff was born in Phoenix, AZ. From an early age, she began exploring the desert, immersing herself in endless spaces and spectacular natural vistas that would later become essential to her art. She was raised by her gold-prospector grandparents who taught her how to “read” rocks and by her mother, who lived a distinctly Arizona-bohemian lifestyle. She remains an avid hiker, biker, boogie boarder and reader of rocks as well as books. Woodruff received an art scholarship to attend Arizona State University. She soon began exhibiting her work and left Arizona for Los Angeles and New York. Currently, she resides in Los Angeles with her husband, the novelist Bruce Bauman and their two dogs.

For more info on Eric Minh Swenson visit his website at thuvanarts.com.

Leon Berkowitz: Cascades of Light, Paintings from 1965-1986

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South Florida’s longest-established fine art gallery, ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in downtown Coral Gables, registers another entry in regional art history on Nov. 7 when it opens an exhibition of important paintings by Leon Berkowitz.

Leon Berkowitz: Cascades of Light, Paintings from 1965-1986,” features a cross-section of his most important body of work, ranging from the earlier striped canvases to his mature, misty abstractions.

According to the New Art Examiner, “Berkowitz was the primary impetus behind the founding and development of the Washington Color School,” whose leading exponents include his close friends and colleagues Gene Davis and Morris Louis. The internationally renowned art movement grew out of the Workshop Art Center, an art collective started by Berkowitz and his wife, the poet Ida Fox, in 1947. Other notable artists associated with the workshop, either as teachers or participants, included Kenneth Noland, Howard Mehring and Thomas Downing.

Leon Berkowitz, Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 70 x 77 inches, 1966

Leon Berkowitz, Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 70 x 77 inches, 1966

The collective was “Washington’s earliest alternative space,” Berkowitz notes, and in 1953 it heralded the direction of contemporary art by featuring a retrospective of Willem de Kooning and the first one-person exhibition of Morris Louis.

“This is a rare opportunity to see a number of major works by this historically significant artist,” said Virginia Miller, the gallery’s owner and director, who gave the artist his first one-person show in Greater Miami in 1978. Paintings by Berkowitz also were included in the three-person inaugural exhibition of the gallery’s Coral Gables location in 1981 as well as in its “Master Works 1969-84” show in 2002.

After travelling for ten years in Spain, Wales, the Middle East and the Arizona desert, Berkowitz changed his style from bars of color to the soft, radiant canvases that characterize his late work. “For months on end I worked in nature, intently observing its secrets,” Berkowitz wrote. “Out of my concern with overcoming the materiality of pigment and the conversion of paint to light, I gave up all earth colors.”

Leon Berkowitz, Transition, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 82 inches, 1979

Leon Berkowitz, Transition, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 82 inches, 1979

“Light became a vocabulary, perhaps a language,” he said, describing his paintings as “the idea of the continuousness of space and light and form –it’s a time involvement. And it doesn’t exist in any of the so-called color school people.”

“Living and working as I did during those years in Europe in the open air under expanding skies, light itself became an ultimate goal. I became concerned with the dissolution of matter, the fragmentation of light, the conversion of ‘matter into spirit.’ I wanted to look into color, not at color. I was drawn to artists like Monet (his water lilies) and the American Luminists, particularly Martin Heade and Fritz Hugh Lane. Gradually I came to think of myself as a latter-day luminist.”

According to Berkowitz, his luminous, atmospheric canvases carried light, and through their inner light, exuded spirituality. Describing his work for a one-person show in 1976 at the renowned Phillips Collection, he said “I am endeavoring to find that blush of light over light and the color within the light; the depths through which we see when we look into and not at color.”

Writing in “Art in America” in March 2014, critic Mary Proenza noted that “Though Berkowitz’s hand is restrained, it’s not the “post-painterly” anti-signature of many second-generation Abstract Expressionists. In fact, his sumptuous, canny but subtle painterliness is key to the success of these late works, for which he is best known. In part, that’s because his techniques, stripped of inessentials, align well with his often-stated purpose: to see through color and light a transcendental interconnectedness in all things.”

Leon Berkowitz, Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, Oil on Canvas, 78 x 100 inches, 1972

Leon Berkowitz, Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, Oil on Canvas, 78 x 100 inches, 1972

Like Cezanne and Monet, Berkowitz described himself as developing “a religious sense of nature that grew clearer as these artists grew older. Both let the objective world drop out of their work as they discovered what was real and essential. And of course there was Turner, who surrendered the world of objects to find a single unity about him, a breath of sky interrupted by a single star. Radiance became the milieu in which their work existed, an enveloping containment of light—as though nature were a single continuum.”

Over the years, Berkowitz developed an innovative technique, applying as many as 30 or 40 thin layers of paints with a brush, blotting the layers with rice paper or painting through the paper so that all are blended seamlessly. “The surface of (my) painting is like the surface of my skin,” he noted, because the skin is indicative of the living matter beneath it.

Born in Philadelphia in 1911, Berkowitz studied at the Pennsylvania Museum School and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the Art Students League in New York City, the Academie Grand Chaumiere, in Paris, the Academie de Belles Artes in Florence, and Mexico City College, Mexico, where he first exhibited in 1949. During World War II he was stationed in Virginia, and in 1945, after completing his military service, he moved to Washington, D.C.

Leon Berkowtz, Galilee, Oil on Canvas, 56 x 54 inches, 1965

Leon Berkowtz, Galilee, Oil on Canvas, 56 x 54 inches, 1965

He painted and taught art for more than ten years in D.C. high schools and later, in 1969, at The Corcoran Gallery’s School of Art, where he was chair of the painting department. He continued to teach there for almost twenty years, until his death in 1987.

Paintings by Berkowitz are included in some of the world’s most prestigious museums, including Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut; Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, Florida; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Golda Meir Collection, Jerusalem, Israel; High Museum of Art, Atlanta Georgia; Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida; and Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, among others.

Since its opening in 1974, ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries has been the site of more than 300 art exhibitions, many historic, such as the 1982 show by Washington Color School painter Sam Gilliam, whose painted canvas draped across a 35-foot wall was considered radical at the time. Highlights of key exhibitions may be found under “Gallery” at www.virginiamiller.com.

Leon Berkowitz, Unity 31, Oil on Canvas, 64 x 86 inches, 1973

Leon Berkowitz, Unity 31, Oil on Canvas, 64 x 86 inches, 1973

A public reception for “Cascades of Light” will be held at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries from 6-10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7th. Located at 169 Madeira Avenue in downtown Coral Gables, the gallery is open from 11-6 Monday-Friday and evenings and Saturdays by appointment.

Panoply: Paintings, Photographs and Sculpture

Suzan Woodruff, The Color of Heat, Acrylic on Wood Panel, 60 x 46 inches, 2012

Suzan Woodruff, The Color of Heat, Acrylic on Wood Panel, 60 x 46 inches, 2012

ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in Coral Gables Presents Panoply: Paintings, Photographs and Sculpture

As suggested by its title, Panoply is a wide-ranging selection of more than two dozen colorful abstractions by eleven artists from six countries: the United States, Cuba, England, Egypt, Mexico and Venezuela.

Panoply: Paintings, Photographs and Sculpture, Part I, from May 2 through July 2014, will feature works by Bassmi, Trevor Bell, Bruce Checefsky, Michelle Concepción, Carlos Garcia, Aaron Karp, Aureliano Parra, José Rosabal, Linda Touby, José Angel Vincench, and Suzan Woodruff. Continue reading

ARTPulse Review: The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction by Margery Gordon

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ArtPulse Front Cover: Ai Weiwei, Stacked, 2002, 680 stainless steel units. Installation view Pérez Art Museum Miami. Photo: Daniel Azoulay Photography.

ArtPulse Front Cover: Ai Weiwei, Stacked, 2002, 680 stainless steel units. Installation view Pérez Art Museum Miami. Photo: Daniel Azoulay Photography.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction
ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries – Miami
Curated by Rafael Díaz-Casas, Janet Batet and José Angel Vincench
By Margery Gordon
Published by ArtPulse Magazine No. 18

Abstraction has become such a widely applied and accepted mode of art-making that it can be hard to perceive the threat it has repeat- edly presented to prevailing artistic practices and cultural norms, extending to their political underpinnings in some volatile and re- pressive climates. Yet the trajectory of “non-objective art” over the last century highlights how radical the advent of avant-garde move- ments were amid the escalation of the Russian Revolution; how risky the gestures of Abstract Expressionism were in confronting initial resistance from American institutions, critics and audiences; how po- tent the progressive stance of geometric abstraction was in pitting its South American proponents against dictatorial regimes.

The tactical measures these artists employed and the reactionary op- position they provoked set precedents for their less-renowned counter- parts in Cuba. Their strains echo in “The Silent Shout: Voices of Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013,” which resonates with the persistent rhythm of the island’s own variations on such international styles. The nine paint- ers’ diverse strokes and tones could have become discordant in concert, but the arrangement composed by gallerist Virginia Miller—who has honed her installation artistry over 40 years of conducting contempo- rary showcases in Miami—riffs on formal affinities and harmonizes complementary hues. Set against a rousing score of historical upheaval and artistic suppression that strike a chord with audiences, this sym- phony honors the artists’ individual and collective accomplishments.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

When the eye-opening show opened in November 2013, one of its three curators, Miami-based Cuban art historian and critic Janet Batet, articulated their ambitious mission: “to vindicate the role of abstract art in Cuban art history” by redressing “the extended misunderstand- ing of the abstraction in Cuba that as a tendency has been reduced by the Cuban historiography to a punctual phenomenon or a transitional moment (generally associated with the 1950s).”

Abstraction first appeared in Cuban art circles in 1950 at the “IV National Salon of Painting and Sculpture” in the galleries of the Capi- tolio Nacional headquarters. Its pioneers officially announced their ar- rival on the Havana scene with two high-profile exhibitions in 1953: first “Quince Pintores y Escultores” (“Fifteen Painters and Sculptors”), quickly winnowed to “Once Pintores y Escultores.” The latter figure stuck through further fluctuation in the membership of “Los Once” over an intense succession of shows in a short span of time—particu- larly impressive in spite of a mixed reception from art professionals aligned with the representational and nationalistic traditions of the dominant academic and modernist styles. Regarding the vaunted van- guardia with attitudes ranging from subtle irreverence to open disdain, Los Once and their contemporaries in the more geometrically oriented group that emerged in 1957, dubbed “10 Pintores Concretos” (“Ten Concrete Painters”), positioned themselves as outsiders uncompro- mised by upper-class patronage or state sponsorship.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

This professed independence—verging on outspoken activism by some of the troupes’ members— endeared them neither to the cul- tural figures who lost influence as political turbulence mounted, nor to those who gained power in the 1959 revolution. While no official
decrees dissolved these alliances, the ensuing emphasis on Socialist Realism and iconography modeled upon and intelligible to the hum- ble masses created an inhospitable environment. As opportunities for exposure and sustenance dried up at the outset of the 1960s, abstrac- tion withered or burrowed underground. Its adherents sublimated their abstract muses by channeling those creative urges into figura- tive studies and scenes, keeping their artistic endeavors private, or seeking freedom of expression beyond Cuba’s boundaries.

“Cuban abstract artists of the 1950s clearly suffered an ideological rejection [in] the sixties,” wrote Kevin Power in a 1997 catalog essay for the landmark exhibition “Pinturas del Silencio” (“Paintings of Si- lence”). He attributed pejorative populist interpretations of the visual language of abstraction in part to guilt by association with concur- rent movements abroad—notably in New York, where some Cuban abstract works reached receptive audiences in the 1950s and ‘60s. At a time of increasing isolationism on the island, abstract artists were branded as internationalist, even imperialist, bourgeois and deca- dent. Observed Power, “They were seen as ambiguous, potentially critical, and irremediably elitist.” Ironically, the Consejo Nacional de Cultura, an agency of the Revolutionary government, sponsored a historic 1963 exhibition at the Galería Habana entitled “Abstract Expressionism”—which turned out to be the swan song of what had essentially dwindled to “Los Cinco.”

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

They were nearly relegated to a historical footnote by the time “Pin- turas del Silencio” (“Paintings of Silence”) opened at Galería La Acacia during the VI Havana Biennial. The first exhibition in Cuba devoted to abstract work in 34 years resurrected this lost art form by demon- strating that it had never really gone missing, just unrecognized. Cuban artists José Angel Vincench and Ramón Serrano curated a cross-section of 18 artists that encompassed their emerging peers, the preceding gen- eration whose break with modernist traditions in 1980 was heralded as “New Cuban Art,”and former members of Los Once and 10 Pintores Concretos. The landmark survey revealed that not only had some of the trailblazers surreptitiously resumed exploring abstraction, but sub- sequent generations had inherited these timeworn tools and integrated them into eclectic arsenals—in keeping with global trends that eschew dogmatic movements in favor of interdisciplinary flexibility.

Wide-ranging practices understandably attract less attention, but the relaxing of earlier constraints also suggests that over time scrutiny of non-literal forms has been superseded by censorship of conceptual art- works that test the vigilance of Cuban cultural watchdogs by embedding political commentary in subversive visuals. Courageously reopening the cold case of Cuban abstraction and introducing new evidence, “Pinturas del Silencio” emboldened others to investigate Cuban abstract art. The intervening years have seen numerous exhibitions, including several at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes since 2002, sending a liberating sig- nal to artists experimenting with the potential of abstraction to impart meaning on many levels, from the personal to the political.

Still, much of that work has not been seen in the United States— let alone placed in the historical context enabled by the scope of “The Silent Shout.” Conceived as a belated sequel to “Pinturas del Silencio” it continues the revisionist campaign launched 17 years ago by Vincench and Batet (who wrote an introduction to the previous show’s catalog while teaching at Vincench’s alma mater, Havana’s Instituto Superior de Arte, ISA), collaborating now as co-curators with the art writer Rafael Díaz-Casas. The illuminating Miami edi- tion has a more concentrated roster (five of the nine artists have par- ticipated in both shows) but a longer time span that straddles seven decades of work and nine decades of life. It even offers a glimpse of abstraction’s future with the addition of a vast oil painting of pastel bubbles by Luis Enrique López, who was only 9 at the time of “Pin- turas del Silencio” and just graduated from ISA following a semester at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Art and a series of proposals for the XI Havana Biennial. Of the three dozen works on display, two- thirds were created in the 21st century, 17 in the last year alone.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

Some of the freshest samples come from the show’s oldest living art- ist, the 82-year-old Pedro de Oraá, whose compositions pulsate with a vibrant energy and technical expertise that add dimension to the shift- ing shapes of his “Diversion” series. The vivid purples of Divertimento 2 give way to myriad shades of gray in Divertimento 1. The latter’s overlapping silhouettes play well against the contrasting rainbow mo- saic of multifaceted shards that meet at sharp edges and perpendicu- lar angles in 78-year-old José Rosabal’s Transversal. By hanging these 2013 works side-by-side, Miller animates an unspoken exchange be- tween the two surviving members of “10 Pintores Concretos” in “The Silent Shout,” reviving the rapport of these two compatriots.

The large new works by de Oraá and Rosabal update the geomet- ric legacy of the “10 Pintores Concretos,” putting in perspective works from the 1950s by fellow members Sandú Darié and Dolores “Loló” Soldevilla that are among the oldest in this show. Their smaller can- vases share a Suprematist sensibility with balanced arrangements of circles and rectangles that would have fit right into early 20th century St. Petersburg. Soldevilla served as an unofficial ambassador for the movement, founding Color-Luz Gallery with longtime partner de Oraá in 1957 and introducing their like-minded peers to Havana audiences.

The late delegates from Los Once take a more expressionistic, organic approach. Elements arrayed in Hugo Consuegra’s 1955 El Recuerdo Golpeado (“The Beaten Memory”) suggest unidentifiable utensils or cubist instruments akin to those played by Picasso’s mu- sicians in 1921. Five of Consuegra’s paintings from 1955 to 1964 are juxtaposed with untitled works by Raúl Martínez in similarly modest proportions but distinguished by thick swaths of gritty oil paint that build up a textured surface reminiscent of Dubuffet. Martínez’s murky palette extends to an undated piece hung sepa- rately, but its translucent washes evoke a ghostly presence.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

Born when those works were being created, Carlos García names his surprising influences in raised letters nearly obscured by layers of yellow, red and black pigment. The large 2012 canvas “Cuatro Arboles de Fuego” (“Four Trees of Fire”) pays tribute to the masters of color (Monet), light (Turner), shadow (Hopper) and line (Twombly). The last inspiration is the most visible in García’s half-dozen pieces, marked with scratchy trails and bold splotches or more defined droplets that allude to leaves, “plumage” or the “Cardinal’s Tears.”

The most cryptically conceptual and slyly political of these nine tal- ents, Vincench traces triangles, crosses and curves from the fragmented spaces created by superimposing the capital letters that spell out the loaded title “Exilio,” which he calls a “dirty word” in Cuba. Gilding this verboten term on stretched linen and carved cedar in regal 23-karat gold leaf, he symbolically summons absence, transmitting coded mes- sages across closed borders.

By amplifying the voices that emanate from 64 years of Cuban ab- straction to a level audible above the white noise of communism, “The Silent Shout” ultimately sounds a hopeful note.

(November 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014)

Margery Gordon is a freelance arts journalist and regular contributor to ARTnews, Art+Auction, ArtInfo.com and the official Art Basel Mi- ami Beach Magazine, among other publications. She is a professor at Barry University in Miami.

Download PDF version of the article HERE

PAMM, Virginia Miller exhibits explore abstraction

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The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

By George Fishman
Special to The Miami Herald

The coincidence of distinctive, but kindred, exhibitions at the Pérez Art Museum Miami and ArtSpace/Virginia Miller in Coral Gables, one of the region’s longest established galleries, provides a valuable opportunity to “compare and contrast.”

Besides opening its doors to the community during Art Basel with such international draws as Ai Weiwei’s exhibition and the museum’s initial special project commissions, PAMM also took its first steps in showcasing selections from its permanent collection. These are presented in six “overview galleries” through a series of thematically linked exhibitions called AMERICANA, composed of art produced in South America, North America and the Caribbean since the 1930s.

The organizing principle of AMERICANA’s Progressive Forms section is the legacy of Constructivism, whose European origins in the early 20th century commingled with industrialization, social progressivism, daring new architecture and rationality. With that came an affection for the purity of abstract form, “liberated” from representation.

Tobias Ostrander, PAMM’s chief curator, explained the connection between “construction” and Constructivism. “Construction was put in contrast to the idea of creation,” he said. Creation implied more subjectivity, while Constructivism leaned away from emotion and embraced objectivity.

The work of such European Constructivists as painters Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg — known for geometric grids imbued with color blocks — and sculptor Antoine Pevsner influenced the works on view both at PAMM and ArtSpace. Constructivism’s advocates considered abstract design better suited to a forward-looking society, and their work influenced subsequent movements such as pop and op art, kineticism, abstract expressionism and minimalism.

Constructivist aesthetics and social ideas were carried across the Atlantic by artists including Romanian-born Cuban émigré Sandú Darié and the peripatetic Uruguayan-born Joaquín Torres-García, who was responsible for extensive and passionate “evangelizing” in Latin America. Exhibitions and publications in Europe and the Americas helped both disseminate and diversify Constructivist images and ideas. PAMM’s Torres-García Construction with Two Masks incorporates pre-Columbian pictograms, as well as informal modern texts and symbols within box-like compositions.

DYNAMIC BRIDGE

But it is Darié’s work that bridges the PAMM and ArtSpace exhibitions. He is represented at PAMM by his Transformable Structure. A Mondrian-like geometric composition of black, white, red and yellow, it is both painting and sculpture and can be displayed in various configurations. Darié’s interest in dynamic geometry carries to his Untitled 1950s painting at Virginia Miller, where an even more exuberant palette of Mondrian colors, lines and color blocks plays against concentric rotational rings.

The ArtSpace exhibition, The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013, is notable for several reasons. The works were selected by a trio of curators: José Angel Vincench (one of the exhibiting artists), Miami-based Janet Batet and New York-based Rafael DiazCasas. It includes Cuban artists’ works created in a diversity of abstract styles since the 1950s. And though it is shown in a commercial gallery, it includes works loaned by collectors and not for sale. This unusual arrangement was apparently necessary to realize the multigenerational curatorial vision Miller was keen to assemble. “I’m very happy to have presented this show, so that others may marvel, as I have over the years, at how one island in the Caribbean has so enriched the world,” she wrote in an email.

ArtSpace has exhibited Latin American art, including from Cuba, since the mid-1970s, but it was Vincench who interested Miller in presenting works by members of Cuba’s most renowned associations of artists working in the abstract idiom, Los Once (The Eleven) and Diez Pinturas Concretos (Ten Concrete Painters).

In Cuba, following the Castro revolution, abstract art was discouraged — despite its original connection to the Russian Communist revolution. It was characterized as bourgeois, and its practitioners were stifled, with minimal exhibition opportunities. In 1997, Vincench co-curated a breakthrough show in Havana called Pinturas del Silencio (Painters of Silence).

Batet, who wrote the Pinturas catalog essay, explained to Miller that the mid-century Cuban abstract painters, influenced by European Constructivism and the Bauhaus, were working alongside a vanguard of new architects, creating a modern city within colonial Havana. “Abstraction in Cuba was reflecting our new identity as one of the most modern cities of the Western hemisphere at that time,” Batet said during a 2013 seminar in Miami and printed in the show’s notes.

That affinity was lost on the Castro cultural leadership. Vincench, a Cuban conceptual artist, consistently expresses dissent. Explains Miller: “His works in this show are from his series on exilio [exile]. In these works, Vincench takes the outline of the letters in exilio, superimposes the outlines and then extrapolates abstract shapes from that.”

With a little study, the “hidden messages” can be picked out, and he uses gold leaf on both his sculptures and paintings to underscore art’s often-conflicted relationship to commerce — especially in a Cuban context.

SILENT SHOUT

Whereas variations of rectilinear scaffolding underpin many of the selections in PAMM’s Progressive Forms, fewer of those in Silent Shout are geometrically conceived. Despite the five decades that separate them, paintings by Carlos García and Raul Martinez suggest a distillation of natural forces and forms. Nuanced overlays of thick and thin paint create scumbled surfaces that glow darkly, evocative of both man-made and earthly objects.

They provide the bass notes in a presentation that also contains clarion calls of hard-edged, brilliantly colored zigzag compositions by José Rosabal. These somehow balance the quieter arcs and angles of the Vincench Exile series and the circle motifs shared by the 1956 Soldevilla and 2013 Luis Enriquez López.

An especially painterly work, Four Trees of Fire (2013) by García, contains both text and representational reference. Four artists’ names are painted with varying degrees of tone and texture against a bright orange-tinged yellow background. “When we asked him why, he explained that as he painted this canvas, he was thinking of the extraordinary way J. M. W. Turner brought out the light in his paintings,” Miller said.

He also was inspired by Impressionist Claude Monet’s sense of color and light, and the dramatic use of shadows in the work of American realist Edward Hopper. American Cy Twombly, known for his “scribbles,” also influenced the work, he told Miller.

On another level of reading, the figure “4” is formed by horizontal shadows crossing and connecting the vertical trunks.

The Silent Shout’s display gives each painting just enough room to sing its distinctive song, but judicious orchestration of colors and contrasts lends an overall harmony to these quite disparate works. “Because the older work is so different and darker than the later work, we tended to hang that in one area,” Miller said.

The challenge was to showcase the individual works while providing a unified mood to the gallery. But Miller has done this before, having hung more than 300 shows in her career. “Sometimes I can actually hang the show while I’m going to sleep or when I’m waking up. If I know the pieces well enough, I can hang it in my mind.”

FORMS AT PAMM

At PAMM’s Progessive Forms, geography ranges across the region in works by Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark from Brazil, Mexican sculptor Damián Ortega and Venezuelan photographer Alexander Apostól — among others. But it also extends to New York Minimalists and Canadian-born Julia Dault.

The extensive wall texts provide valuable context.

In Latin America during the post-World War II economic boom, the use of geometric forms was closely associated with economic prosperity and the planning of ideal cities. However, some members of later generations of artists eroded, fragmented and destabilized these forms to critique the many unrealized dreams.

Ortega is moved by Mexico City’s juxtaposition of extreme poverty and wealth. He uses the cement of ubiquitous construction sites to model the ideal form of a cube, but he does so in Ioni with “soft,” irregular segments that undermine that pristine notion.

Apostól’s photos bleakly present abandoned high-rises on the Venezuelan resort island of Margarita, revealing their grid-like structures as skeletons. Leonardo Drew’s arresting wall relief assembly of burnt and stained wood fragments reveals a dystopic vision within the United States, Ostrander says.

“He’s talking about the projects in New York or other major cities. Developed in the ’50s or ’60s, they were meant to provide a better life for people and quickly turned into problematic social situations. Planning the world in that way didn’t work at all.”

The gallery provides excellent opportunities for visual juxtapositions among the freestanding sculptures and wall-mounted works.

For example, while standing in the Progressive Forms show, one can look into the Sackner Collection of Concrete and Visual Poetry, where many examples of text and graphic arts also show the Russian Constructivist legacy. “We’re very specifically trying to make those conversations and juxtapositions,” Ostrander said.

Not all the exhibited works are historical — one sculpture was actually created within the gallery by Dault. “She’s an artist whose very much thinking about the legacies of minimalism and, particularly, the use in minimalism of industrial materials,” Ostrander explained.

Dault takes large sheets of mirrored acrylic plastic and uses them in a kind of performance. “She ties and pushes and curves these Formica pieces … and then she ties them and attaches them to the wall, creating these very dynamic kinds of mirrored curving structures that feel like they could burst,” Ostrander said.

Stylistic contrasts abound, but many affinities of structure and intention cross the generations in these ambitious exhibitions. Encompassing broad geographic and historical examples, both shows demonstrate that abstraction remains an intellectually challenging and sensually appealing vein of work with unbounded potential.

Go to here to hear Virginia Miller describe her installation process.

Go to here to hear Tobias Ostrander’s comments about Constructivism and the grid motif.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013 by Richard Speer

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The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

By Richard Speer
ARTnews March 2014

Historically significant and visually rich, this exhibition showcases paintings and sculpture by three generations of Cuban artists. The “Silent Shout” of the show’s title refers to the 1997 exhibition “Pinturas del Silencio” (Paintings from the Silence), mounted during the sixth Havana Biennial to illuminate the lineage of Cuban abstract painting, long repressed under the Castro regime, and to bring to light the work of painters whose voices had effectively been silenced since the 1950s. As this current exhibition demonstrates, what was once a muffled cry has since grown into a hearty esthetic shout.

Curators Janet Batet, Rafael DiazCasas, and Jose Angel Vincench guide viewers through 63 years of work made by four historic artists— Hugo Consuegra, Raul Martinez, Lolo Soldevilla, and Sandu Darie—and five living artists. The paintings from the ’50s and ’60s are notable for their compositional finesse and the abundance of amber and earth tones, lending the canvases a chromatic gravitas, most strikingly in Consuegra’s paean to organic forms, Privilegio (1960).

But it bodes well for the current state of Cuban abstraction that the show’s strongest and most vital pieces were painted only last year. Luis Enrique Lopez’s Pupilas de Santo V is a sumptuous triptych of circular forms that contrasts vibrantly with Jose Rosabal’s untitled suite of brightly hued architectonic planes. Pedro de Oraa’s virtuosic Divertimento 1 and Divertimento 2 depict a compelling interplay of nested shadows, while Vincench’s own paintings and sculptures employ gold leaf to transform the letters of the politically charged word exilio (exile) into abstracted forms.

Viewed together, the works in this rigorous yet buoyant exhibition affirm Cuba’s importance within the evolution of post-World War II abstraction. The show itself signifies the passing of the torch to a generation of Cuban artists for whom abstraction is no longer taboo but one among many modes of artistic expression.

El grito silencioso… , itinerario histórico y estético de la abstracción en Cuba

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By Dennys Matos
Especial – El Nuevo Herald

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

El grito silencioso: voces en la abstracción en Cuba (1950-2013) es una muestra colectiva que contempla nueve artistas cubanos, cuya obra se ha desenvuelto por los cauces de la abstracción. Está formada por más de una veintena de obras entre pinturas y esculturas y abarca a tres generaciones de arte cubano, que cubren tanto el periodo prerrevolucionario como posrrevolucionario. Estos artistas son: Loló Soldevilla, Pedro de Oraá, Sandú Darié, Hugo Consuegra, Raúl Martínez, José Rosabal, Carlos García, Luis Enrique López y José Angel Vincench.

Esta exposición comisariada por Janet Batet, José Angel Vincench y Rafael Díaz-Cazas, constituye una excelente oportunidad para acercarnos a una de las tendencias artísticas menos conocidas del arte tardomoderno cubano. Entre otras cosas, porque practica una revisión historiográfica (y también estética) de aquellas exposiciones y autores que a finales de los años 1940 y 1950, abrieron el espectro de las artes visuales cubanas a la poética de la abstracción. Es así como, por medio de los autores presentes en El grito silencioso: voces en la abstracción en Cuba (1950-2013), esta cita intencionalmente aquellas muestras anteriores en las que muchos de ellos participaron, y que ahora son un hito en la historiografía de la modernidad artística cubana y una referencia esencial para su comprensión. Ejemplo de ello son Quince pintores y escultores en 1953 y, en ese mismo año, Once pintores y escultores. Pero también aparece citada Diez pintores concretos, de 1958, con artistas como Soldevilla, Oraá, Darié y Rosabal. De paso El grito silencioso…”, 2013, en su alcance historiográfico reivindica la figura de Darie como artista pionero de la abstracción cubana.

Hasta aquí podría hablarse de exposiciones vinculadas a la abstracción antes del triunfo revolucionario citadas en El grito silencioso…, pero la muestra no se queda ahí y también cita exposiciones relacionadas con la abstracción en el periodo revolucionario, en el que queda al descubierto una desidia sistemática por parte de la política cultural revolucionaria hacia las manifestaciones del arte abstracto. Y en ello enfatiza el texto curatorial del catálogo de la muestra firmado por Batet y Díaz-Cazas, cuando refieren la exposición Expresionismo abstracto, de 1963, como inicio de un periodo de invisibilidad o silenciamiento de esta poética durante un largo periodo. Porque tendrán que pasar más de tres décadas para que, en 1997, durante la VI Bienal de La Habana se inaugurara en Galería Acacia, la exposición Pinturas del silencio, comisariada por Rafael Serrano y Vincench con 18 artistas.

El grito silencioso: voces en la abstracción en Cuba ahora relaciona autores, con particularidades inéditas en la selección de obras, de la primera hornada de la abstracción como Darié, Soldevilla, Consuegra y Raúl Martínez con otros más jóvenes como, por ejemplo, Carlos García y Vincench. Y en esa articulación descubrimos que la abstracción, como una tradición dentro del campo de producción artístico cubano, no es algo homogéneo ni en su visualidad ni tampoco en su estilo, por decirlo de alguna manera. Que hay acentos poéticos que se desplazan desde recursos de lenguaje más abstractos con soluciones geométricas, hacia otros más figurativos, en los que lo narrativo emerge con fuerza ante el simbolismo. En el primer caso tenemos, por ejemplo, las obras de Darié ( Untitled), Soldevilla ( Untitled), Vincench, Oraá y Rosabal. Aquí los elementos abstractos geométricos son enfatizados, aunque Darié y Soldevilla arman más el espacio pictórico a la manera constructivista. Mientras que en obras como, por ejemplo, de Consuegra ( El recuerdo golpeado), García ( Cuatro árboles golpeados) y Martínez, los elementos abstractos dan paso a un informalismo, (abstracción pero no geométrica) por el que se cuela tanto la figuración como la pintura matérica en su versión más lírica por la presencia de trazos expresionistas.

Resulta muy interesante y, también, muy oportuno esta especie de itinerario histórico y estético que plantea El grito silencioso porque, como exposición, habilita vasos comunicantes entre esas generaciones que, en su expresión espacio temporal parecían separadas, permanecían como escindidas una de otra, para encajarlas de lleno en la tradición de vanguardia artística tardo moderna cubana. Las rescata de la oscuridad a la que sistemáticamente las condenó la burocracia y los extremismos de las instituciones culturales revolucionarias. Arroja sin duda nuevas luces sobre el proceso histórico y estético de la abstracción, como lenguaje renovador e importante patrimonio artístico de las artes visuales isleñas del siglo XX. •

Dennys Matos es crítico de arte y curador independiente. Reside y trabaja entre Madrid y Miami.

“El grito silencioso: voces en la abstracción en Cuba (1950-2013), ArtSpace Virginia Miller Gallery. 169 Madeira Avenue. Coral Gables, www.viriginiamiller.com. Hasta el 31 de marzo.

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Abstraction and the Once-Silenced Shout

Aside

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

Visual Art Source
Editors’ Roundtable
by Richard Speer

“The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013,” installation view at ArtSpace Virginia Miller Galleries, Coral Gables, Florida.

Recently I took in an exhibition in Miami that documented an era when abstract art was thought so radical and dangerous that it incited censorship. “The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013″, currently at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, features paintings and sculpture by three generations of Cuban artists. The eldest of these, now in their 80s, were driven into underground art movements during the regime of Fidel Castro.

As the exhibition’s co-curator, Janet Batet, explained in a lecture about the show, there was a 34-year void from 1963 to 1997 when no exhibitions showcasing abstract work were officially sanctioned anywhere on the island nation. Abstraction, Batet holds, was deemed threatening by government arbiters, who instead were bent on promulgating figuration, narrative, “and the predominance of a sweetened, folkloric view of being Cuban.” Artists working in the veins of geometric abstraction and Abstract Expressionism, it was determined, “were turning their backs on Cuban reality: They were evasive, and furthermore, their art was elitist and favored imperialism.” These artists’ sentiments, essentially, were internationalist rather than nationalist. Disastrously, by silencing aesthetic innovation, Castro the revolutionary-cum-dictator promoted a conception of Cuba that was anything but revolutionary, indeed which was in fact reactionary. Indeed, the Havana of the late 1950s and early 60s was far from a sleepy, colonialist outpost of tiled roofs, colonnades, and fountain-dotted courtyards; it was a bustling modern city in which traditional influences mixed with Art Deco and modernist architecture. Thus, the leaders of a radical political movement wound up cutting off their potentially equally-radical artistic compatriots at their knees.

This shouldn’t surprise. Censors always wind up on the wrong side of history. The Nazis persecuted erstwhile Weimarian avant-gardes who’d dared create what Hitler’s minions termed entartete Kunst (“degenerate art”), yet that very work has become part of the modernist canon. Under Stalin, everything other than socialist realism was quashed — and what turned out to have the longer legs? As recently as the late 1980s in the United States, government, religious, and special-interest factions variously censored artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Sally Mann, and Jock Sturges. Chinese authorities continue to tamp down artistic expression, most infamously in the recent case of Ai Weiwei. And last June, the Russian Ministry of Culture shut down Vasily Slonov’s darkly satirical exhibit “Welcome Sochi! 2014,” at the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art, and fired the show’s curator. But in today’s paradigm of instantaneous global communication, the flow of information cannot be controlled.

Meanwhile, even as explicitly political work continues to draw fire, we in the West seem to have finally gotten over our longstanding preoccupation with prosecuting “obscenity” and have become inured to what was once thought transgressive. This is thanks largely to artists such as Paul McCarthy, who not only found the line where intrigue ends and shock value begins, but have taken that line and, to invoke John Donne, have trampled it “like gold to airy thinness beat.” The idea of the art object as dangerous simply because it is non-representational seems quaint and unthinkable today. No contemporary artist with a straight face would dare suggest anything so preposterous as Piet Mondrian did in his Natural Reality and Abstract Reality: that his ideal of a “purely equilibrated relationship” between horizontal and vertical, if absorbed by the culture-at-large, would result in no less than “a new stage of the human life-force: the new man, a combination of worker, bourgeois, and aristocrat.” Those were fighting words when Mondrian’s treatise was published in 1919, just two years after the Bolshevik Revolution and one year after the armistice that ended the Great War.

After the bloom of De Stijl faded — and later, after Abstract Expressionism gave way to “lyrical abstraction” and, in the eyes of many art historians, swan-dived into the pabulum-pit of decorative blandness — nonobjective painting found itself defanged. Today, a saunter through even the most insipid beach-town “decorator gallery” yields no shortage of hard-edged or gestural compositions, dutifully traversing the color wheel. The once-revolutionary has turned ho-hum. When an abstract painting makes headlines today, it’s because of how much cash it fetched at auction. A case study is Gerhard Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild (809-4),” which in 2012 sold at Sotheby’s for $34.2 million, a record sum for a painting by a living artist. And so we have traveled from an era when abstract works threatened the ruling classes to one in which they have become the trophies of the super-rich. The only way to restore the sexily sinister edge abstraction once embodied would be a tactic no one would wish for: to suppress it once again.

See article here.