PUERTO RICO APOCALÍPTICO ~ OJO AL EGO ~ 1999-2009 (2016) Un vistazo a la obra artística—1999-2009—de Tristán Reyes. San Juan, Puerto Rico (2016) ~ por Tristán Reyes (1974-)

Puerto Rico Apocalíptico ~ ojo al ego ~ 1999-2009 (2016)

Un vistazo a la obra artística—1999-2009—de Tristán Reyes.

San Juan, Puerto Rico (2016)

~ por Tristán Reyes (1974-)

«…es como un más o menos de lo que eran las exposiciones en mi estudio, vuelto a procesar…»
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zr1w6MdweBE)

*****

Desde el minuto 43 con 43 segundos (43:43), video creado por PURO VICIO (Miramar ~ “cameo” de Franchesca ~ San Juan, PR).
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WThe9oOlprw)

REVIEW: PAPEL/CIUDAD: ESCENAS CITADINAS, RELATOS VERÍDICOS Y FANTÁSTICOS by Pédro Vélez

Link: review: Papel/Ciudad: escenas citadinas, relatos verídicos y fantásticos


Mano Poderosa de Karla Cott


Omar Velázquez Sin título (mucha mierda)


José Ortiz Las Cucarachitas del Cuento en las paredes exteriores del MUAC
(xilografía sobre papel pasquinado)


Omar Velázquez

Papel/Ciudad: Escenas citadinas, relatos verídicos y fantásticos

Museo de Arte de Caguas

*fotos cortesía de Sonia Carmona, Repuesto y el MUAC

Son raras las ocasiones cuando uno es testigo de la develación pública de una obra que será clave en la carrera de un artista novel, lo que se siente es una especie de high, pero cuando uno se encuentra con un grupo en una misma exposición es excusa suficiente para festejar. Debemos agradecerle al Museo de Caguas y a su curadora Elsa Meléndez por senda experiencia. La colectiva temática Papel /Ciudad: Escenas citadinas, relatos verídicos y fantásticos  toma como punto de partida la utilización del papel como material y la ciudad como soporte conceptual. Le recomendamos a los “curadores” de la “Trienala Berezdivin” visitar esta muestra extensa que incluye una selección atrevida de 20 artistas emergentes trabajando de forma experimental y poliforme todo tipo de medio en papel y offset.

Entre nuestos favoritos se encuentra una escultura fina hecha en cartón por Omar Velázquez, en la que un deambulante, en líneas y texturas gruesas, parece estar acostado de espaldas al espectador en un banco genérico de esos que vemos en cualquier parque o plaza. Los pasamanos decorativos, asi como el banco entero, estan hechos a mano y el demabulante es un grabado en papel pegado a la superficie. Velázquez se ha venido destacando por su eficaz factura en terminaciones de calidad, la facilidad con que se desenvuelve en gran formato y su tajante crítica social y cultural. Un buen ejemplo lo vimos hace poco en su instalación de un Albizu con perros, Morivivi, en el Museo Pío López Martínez (Casa Frade) del recinto de la UPR en Cayey. A pesar de lo buena que es la obra del deambulante la misma no es característica de su estilo ya que parece una pieza que forma parte de una instalación mucho más grande y complicada.

La que si da la nota apropiada es un grabado tipo collage colgado en un tenderete titulada  Sin Título (la misma mierda), en esta un grupo de 7 personas mirando hacia el horizonte bajo son impuestos sobre la superficie de una papeleta del sorteo ordinario de la lotería tradicional. Detrás del grupo distraído un hombre solitario lee un periódico que lleva por titular “Mucha Mierda.” Con esta pieza Velázquez parece conjugar una crítica social a la trillada prensa local con una metáfora a la adictiva superstición de la masa popular. Un pueblo que espera un futuro mejor sin tomar acción, solo confiando en el azar.

Tristán Reyes continua su desarrollo desenfrenado como uno de nuestros mejores artistas. Esta vez presenta dos fotografías de gran formato de su serie Santurce es Ley, título tomado de un tag en un callejón frecuentado por prostitutas, hustlers, travestis, transexuales y demás supuesta escoria de la sociedad. Digo supuesta porque Reyes ha logrado una fotografía íntima a través de vistas casuales nocturnas y retratos posados con una factura “haute couture”. Reyes no es el primero que trabaja el tema, hace poco Luis Alcalá del Olmo presentó retratos de transexuales de Brasil, en blanco y negro de textura granosa, en la Galería Botello, la cual era dirijida a la mirada masculina en un especie de juego de percepción, seducción y de sorpresa. Reyes, en cambio, retrata individuos que toman poseción de su territorio con seguridad y orgullo.

La intervención de cucarachas en papel pasquinadas sobre la fachada del Museo por José Ortíz nos gusta mucho, ya que el caparazón de las bestias es tatuado con motivos orgánicos que nos recuerdan a los encontrados en los cuerpos Taínos del muralista Rafael Rivera García.

La mejor pieza de la exhibición es sin duda alguna la enigmática Mano Poderosa de Karla Cott.  No es sorpresa que un artista haga referencias históricas para lograr un discurso personal pero Cott ha creado una pieza que es una contradicción en sí misma, una obra retórica en la cual, aunque las referencias parecen ser obvias, las conexiones entre sí no lo son. Ciertos detalles formales han sido producidos de manera convincente para confundir, lo que hace de Mano Poderosa una descarga emocional, visual e intelectual.

La imágen nos muestra una casa de arrabal hecha en zinc y sin techo, de interior oscuro y denso, en la cual vemos a una niña con cara de angustia parada en la entrada, mientras una mano gigantesca de forma caricaturesca atrapa a una ama de casa, como si fuese una muñeca de trapo que sonrie complacientemente. Rodeando la escena se ven nubes esponjosas en alto contraste y un jardín árido con lo que parecen ser troncos quemados y un alambre de púas que corta el espacio frontal horizontal. Las sombras parecen que provienen de objetos tridimensionales tal y como las de un libro móviles o pop -up,  lo que hace parecer a este dibujo una especie de retrato en blanco y negro de un escenario miniatura.

Algo irreal  y naive, tipo retablo Mejicano, permea en la superficie y es esto lo que nos confunde. El escenario donde se desarrolla la narrativa parece una mezcla entre la imágen de un campo de concentración junto con la Barriada Tokío de Myrna Báez ó Vita Cola del Tefo, es como si fueramos testigos de la tragedia personal detrás esas icónicas pinturas en un remake contemporáneo. Más confuso aún es como los personajes, con sus facciones de piedra, parecen ser sacados de las fotografías e ilustraciones de la FSA durante la era de la depresión económica Norteamericana por gente como Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange y Jack Delano. Definitivamente en Mano Poderosa tenemos un discurso de identidad que va más allá de lo social y se mueve a los post-feminista y a la liberación de todo estereotipo cultural. La mujer ama de casa es separada de su cria, pero en el plano sublime no sufre.

Otro detalle interesante es que la mano poderosa es elástica, siendo el dedo pulgar un ente individual que sobresale de la masa de carne. También podemos admirar como Cott logra balancear el zinc brilloso de la choza con el cielo que parece hecho de algodón.

Las dudas pevalecen en la obra de Cott. ¿ Es la niña un retazo del pasado de la ama de casa? Por qué un alambre de púa cruza la parte frontal del dibujo? ¿ Dónde se desarrolla esta fábula?¿Cuál es el significado de los troncos quemados? Cott nos ha dejado sobre la mesa preguntas oscuras, peligrosas y válidas. Lo que hace de Mano Poderosa una gran obra.

Otras piezas que sobresalen en la exhibición son la vista cronológica de la demolición de un reactor nuclear por Christopher Rivera, los módulos arquitectónicos con figuras de niñas con cabezas de adulto de Isabel Ramírez y los monumentos fantásticos de la Antiguedad hechos en lineas de gran fortmato por Joe León.

Es importante notar que ultimamente el arte Puertoriqueño se interesa por la busqueda de lo sublime, temática que en nuestra historia no había sido tocada con tanto empeño. ¿ Por qué será?

Pedro Vélez


Walker Evans Bud Fields and His Family, Hale Country Alabama
1936

Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother
1936


Dorothea Lange Advertisement for the current movie in town.Westley, California.
The child is a flood refugee of March 1939

Image
Tufiño Vita Cola

portada de novela gráfica MAUS por Art Spiegelman

Tristán Reyes Callejon de Marshalls #1 y #2
"Callejón de Marshall's #1" por Tristán Reyes

"Callejón Marshalls #2" por Tristán Reyes
(de la serie Santurce es Ley) 2008

de la serie Santurce es Ley presentada en su estudio

Tristán Reyes Santurce es Ley


Morivivi instalación de Omar Velázquez  

"A Week Chock Full of Art", TUE OCT 2, 2007 -Host: Edward Goldman, KCRW Radio

OCT 02, 2007

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE
Link: http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/shows/art-talk/a-week-chock-full-of-art

FROM THIS EPISODE

September is the month when, after a summer lull, the art world kicks into high gear. And for me, last week turned out to be all art, all the time, virtually a 24/7 art explosion.

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Monday’s annual press luncheon at the Getty Center was a testament to the happier time that has descended at last on the institution. Now that an agreementwith the Italian government over the disputed antiquities has been reached, people at the Getty can breathe easier. In exchange for forty artworks returned to Italy, the museum got the green light for many highly desirable loans from major Italian museums. And last night’s opening of the small, exquisite exhibition devoted to the 16th century Italian artists, the Zuccaro brothers, showed the happy result of this new collaboration: in a proverbial 11th hour development, a few rare paintings from the Palazzo Barberini were flown in from Rome and added to the exhibition.

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On Tuesday I went to LACMA for what promised to be an interesting evening introducing its new Curator of Photography, Charlotte Cotton. The witty invitation to this event had a provocative title: “Does size matter?” – a very relevant question in contemporary photography. But instead of the promised lively conversation, it turned out to be a rather monotonous reading of notes by two speakers, the curator herself and the young artist Jason Fulford. Neither of them proved to be a natural performer or inspiring speaker, though both demonstrated an impressive knowledge of arcane historical facts. Strangely enough, neither thought to mention the world’s largest photograph, measuring three stories high and eleven stories wide, recently shown at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, or the exhibition of unforgettable, large-scale works by French photographer Luc Delahaye currently on view at the Getty. The audience was left with the impression that the new curator was not yet familiar with the city and not too eager to interact with the people either, considering that she was clearly not interested in having a Q&A at the end of the lecture. Though the small auditorium was full, oddly enough no one from the museum’s curatorial staff showed up for her debut.

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And now about the little engine that could. I had never heard about the Wende Museum until a few weeks ago, when a press packet arrived inviting me to see its unusual collection, which explores and preserves the history and culture of the Cold War. Oh, the good old days of the evil Soviet empire and its eastern European satellites. I knew that I had to go there, though I didn’t expect too much. Boy, was I wrong. Hiding in a nondescript corner of Culver City, the Wende Museum – a German word which translates as “change’ – is chock full of surprises, from Soviet-era paintings of happy peasants and other forms of kitsch propaganda, to piles of photographs, documents, and clunky, but nonetheless menacing devices used by the East German secret police to spy on its citizens. One would never guess that the whole operation is run by only five full-time employees. I was allowed into the vast museum storage, one of the best-organized facilities of its kind that I’ve seen in recent years. It was as if I stumbled upon the 21st century version of Ali Baba’s cave, with several thousand embroidered Soviet flags, hundreds of military uniforms, and much much more. The ugly story of the Cold War never looked more fascinating…

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And what do you think I did on the weekend? MoLAA, the rapidly expanding Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, asked me to be one of the judges for its 2007 Juried Art Competition. I think we made a good selection of works, but my favorite was a large color photograph by Tristán Reyes Alvarado from Puerto Rico. It is a portrait of an older woman, whose dress and heavy makeup is so overdone that it borders on parody, but she is so irrepressible, so eager to connect, that you cannot help but fall in love with her.

Taddeo and Federico Zuccaro: Artist-Brothers in Renaissance RomeOn view at the Getty through January 6, 2008

Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War
Politics of Culture, September 4, 2007


Banner image: The Wende Museum, Culver City; Main Gallery, detail, still from KCET special on July 17, 2005

Tristán Reyes y sus Afilados Subconscientes Por Manuel Alvarez Lezama en Artes (Santo Domingo, julio 2007)- Revista Especializada en Arte Caribeño

Tristán Reyes y sus Afilados Subconscientes
Por Manuel Alvarez Lezama

La fotografía en Puerto Rico cuenta con artistas del calibre de Jack Delano, Héctor Méndez Caratini, Víctor Vázquez, John Betancourt, Jochy Melero, Rafi Claudio, Néstor Millán y Aixa Requena (solo para mencionar algunos fotógrafos puertorriqueños más reconocidos). No obstante, existe un nutrido grupo de fotógrafos que también han tenido gran aceptación nacional e internacional ya que han estado produciendo una obra excelente, original y provocadora. Entre estos se encuentran Allora & Calzadilla, C. Ignacio G. Lang, Aaron Salabarrias, Cacheila Soto, Michael Linares, Fabián Detres, José “Piti” Gutiérrez, Jason Mena y el extraordinario fotógrafo que presentaremos hoy en ARTES, Tristán Reyes.

Tristán Reyes, quien tiene 32 años y es un hermoso producto de la burguesía y sus cánones conservadores (que ahora está cuestionando en su poderosa obra), estudia su secundaria en uno de los mejores colegios de Puerto Rico y luego se gradúa de psicología de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras — carrera que lo ayudará enormemente – se ha convertido, gracias a sus recientes exposiciones, y sobre todo al impacto de sus obras en CIRCA-07, en uno de los fotógrafos jóvenes puertorriqueños más interesantes por las profundidades/misterios de su complejo y sugerente discurso fotográfico actual.

Aunque siempre había sabido desde muy temprano en su vida que en el fondo era un artista, después de graduarse de psicología comienza a estudiar psicología industrial organizacional, carrera que eventualmente deja para dedicarse a la fotografía. Siendo casi autodidacta en el campo y con poca experiencia, primero comienza como ayudante de un fotógrafo profesional (de bodas, bautizos y cumpleaños) pero rápidamente comienza a hacer su propia obra paralela – obra que demuestra una mirada muy singular, muy humana, muy poética, del mundo que lo rodea: la gente y su conducta, los espacios arquitectónicos y sus usos, las bellezas y contradicciones de la vida, la importancia del pasado, los poderes de la mente traducidos en el físico de un rostro. Incurre en el campo del foto-periodismo y algunas de sus fotos aparecen en periódicos y revistas locales de importancia. Luego, entra en el campo de la publicidad, donde su talento y profesionalismo lo convierten en un fotógrafo de éxito. Y es entonces que comienza un difícil pero necesario proceso de auto-descubrimiento como artista (proceso que yo había notado muchos años antes, cuando Tristán Reyes era un adolescente y se había acercado al cine – a los festivales de cine de Puerto Rico a principio de los 90 — con un entusiasmo y una devoción notables para alguien tan joven, y que ya presagiaban la evolución de un creador).

El primer periodo de Tristán está marcado por una fascinación ante el mundo urbano que lo rodea: los diferentes San Juanes, las distintas dinámicas sociales, las distintas caras que veía a diario o las que buscó pacientemente como si fuera un sociólogo o antropólogo. Las mejores fotos de ese periodo se presentan exitosamente en el 2003 bajo el título de “en Mi viejo san juan” en su amplio y agradable estudio en Miramar (San Juan). Eventualmente, continúan sus “Open Studios”, y en el segundo, titulado “sitios cosas gente”, que tiene lugar en el 2006, Tristán exhibe una muestra de sus mejores retratos – impactantes retratos (hechos con Contax 645 de formato mediano e impresos en Lambda Prints después de ser intervenidos digitalmente) de unos personajes verdaderamente fascinantes. Y aquí se distinguen sus nobles y emotivos retratos de la fellinesca Franchesca. En su “Open Studio 2”, subtitulado “fotos cotidianas de una cámara en paseo”, el artista presenta “aquello que me atrae: la naturaleza y sus posibilidades dentro de la abstracción, la gente y lo que los hace únicos e irrepetibles.” Las obras de su “Open Studio 3”, titulado “Reflejos del Subconsciente”, fue de tal calidad que hace que lo inviten a exponer en CIRCA-07 como uno de los 10 artistas invitados por los curadores de la feria (Paco Barragán, Elvis Fuentes y Celina Noguera).

Y es con “Reflejos del Subconsciente” – una exhibición de unas profundidades psicológicas y una madurez creativa notables — donde Tristán Reyes logra establecerse, sin lugar a dudas, como uno de los fotógrafos puertorriqueños de más consecuencia y con unas posibilidades de vuelo inimaginables. Y el primer “vuelo” ha sido una invitación a parte de su subconsciente donde, por un lado, en “la serie del agua” (de 5 fotos de gran formato), el artista simbólicamente regresa al vientre de su madre, a la seguridad total, a nuestros orígenes en el agua, y por otro lado en “la serie del cuchillo, la boca/vagina y la sangre” vemos el cuchillo como símbolo de violencia, dolor, ultraje, perdida de inocencia – pero también de epifanía. Respecto a su propuesta señala el artista: “Reflejos del Subconsciente es el resultado de un proceso de crecimiento personal; un intento de hacer sentido de una temporada de crisis. De muchas maneras, esta muestra es un deseo deliberado de sintonizar con mi interior. Mis esfuerzos se concentraron en dejar las imágenes fluir mientras luchaba con el instinto de detenerlas. Sería ingenuo pensar que uno mismo pueda llegar a acceder su subconsciente, pero mi cámara ha servido como instrumento que ayuda a enfocarlo. Esta muestra refleja choques de personalidades y encuentros dolorosos con la incompatibilidad en el crecimiento con los Otros. Al final de cuentas, estas fotos resumen una búsqueda de paz que no está exenta del riesgo de perderlo todo.”

Tristán Reyes se ha estado descubriendo hace mucho tiempo. En sus retratos de agua está el Génesis, el futuro y su presente. En sus retratos de las bocas/vaginas está la poesía también. Su inteligencia, sus talentos, su origen burgués, sus sensualidades lo convierten en un ser complejo – un ser que con sus fotografías/reflejos/espejos nos acercan a nuestras bellezas, nuestras dudas, nuestros conflictos, nuestras ganas. Aquello que nos dijo Heráclito: “Somos y no somos.”

Installation view, Tristan Reyes exhibit. Photo by Pedro Vélez

Artnet- Puerto Rican Sun by Pedro Vélez

PUERTO RICAN SUN
by Pedro Vélez

http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/reviews/velez/velez2-21-07.asp

If Puerto Rico were somehow to rid itself of all the painters, sculptors, curators, dealers, critics and debutantes, the island art scene could still sustain its creative cravings with photography alone. For a territory so small — a mere 100 x 35 miles — Puerto Rico has legions of photographers.

Where do they all come from? My best guess is that the rampant corruption on the island, at all levels of government and business, draws forth an irresistible urge both to document and to hide. When you peer through the lens of a camera, it’s like wearing a mask. You’re telling the story in the third person. The lens is like a shield, it protects the witness and loosens inhibitions and fears.

Pointing a camera is pointing a finger. It provides both evidence and recrimination.

 

New photos by Tristán Reyes

One of Puerto Rico’s best photographers is Tristán Reyes, who made a respectable name for himself by immortalizing iconic Puerto Rican new wave bands like Superaquello. Reyes’ studio is perfectly located in Miramar, two minutes from Old San Juan on a part of the peninsula where there are no traffic jams. What’s more, Reyes is located across from the best bar on earth, the Port ‘O Call.

For his exhibition, the second in less than a year — he puts them on himself in his studio — Reyes presented nine new photos under the title “Reflejos del Subconsciente,” a series based in his recent breakup with his wife and baby. Fragmentary details freighted with feeling, the images could have very easily become syrupy or even therapeutic, but luckily that’s not the case.

All of the photographs are self-portraits, some made via objects. In Reyes’ narrative, a bloody knife functions as a symbol of contempt, or red lipsticked lips speak of self-mutilation and humiliation. In a group of underwater pictures, the artist uses his brother as a generic image for redemption in photos that have a cold, deep blue tonality and shine.


Un Cuchillo, Un Espejo-Entre Piedras (A Knife, a Mirror between Stones) is an image of a thin knife on a surface of gravel and stones reflected on a mirror. Boca 2 shows an overflow of bright red lipstick on a bearded mouth, reminiscent of Diane Ladd’s tantrum in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.

The most painterly image is Cuchillo (Knife), which depicts the bloodied blade lying on a smooth wet lens and white surface. The implement looks more like a painter’s palette knife, and the picture is beautiful and happy, the only hopeful image in the show. All prints are nicely mounted on aluminum and priced at a comfortable $1,200 each in an edition of nine.


“Heavy Traffic” at Galería 356
Galería 356, a slick, clean space that opened two years ago in the residential Hato Rey district of San Juan, has recently opened “Heavy Traffic,” an elegant group exhibition organized by gallery director Michele Fielder.

One notable work by Elsa Melendez arrays several grimacing female figures in a kind of ragged 3D frieze. Titled Jam for the Natural Flow of Transit, the low-relief sculpture features a series of cushioned feminine figures that are hung by nylon thread in a wooden box, as if on a miniature theater stage where the viewer can move each character at will, like a puppet master. The young artist comes from a printmaking tradition, and the drawing that helps define the cloth figures, which are also heavily stitched in colorful thread, has echoes of Mexican printmakers like Posada or the younger Jose Fors.

Though clothed, the dolls’ breasts and vulvas are drawn and lyrically stitched in, sometimes as flowers and sunbursts. Melendez’ fashionable femme fatales, post-feminist or not, display their pubis as both stop sign and invitation. The “jam” is a play on words, conflating a “traffic jam” with the sweet fruit spread. I only wish I could see these stuffed women life-sized and filling the room, but for now the comfortably toy-sized work has to do. The price: $1,600.

Other highlights in the show are El Extásis Creativo de la Palabra by Cristopher Riveraa cool and teenage sort of ode to poetry and letters, where a topless woman in wrestler’s mask threatens to commit suicide by pointing a huge gun to her head, and The Terrible Encounter between Sharon and the Cars by Herminio Rodriguez, who shows a “fashionista,” or model, striking a pose and literally stopping traffic in the middle of town.

 

Bik Ismo & the Graffiteros

For reasons unknown, the best piece in the show was taken down during the opening, and is not listed in the exhibition catalogue. An ordinary toaster, painted white and marked in black marker with a series of graffiti tags and symbols, the work is by Bik Ismo, the celebrated graffiti artist who was recently targeted, out of the blue, by the idiotic mayor of San Juan, Jorge Santini. Santini is ready to blame Bik for all the graffiti on the island, and has issued orders for his arrest and prosecution.

As ridiculous as it might seem, the issue — and it has been debated on all the talk shows and public forums — is not whether graffiti is art but rather whether Bik and the other writers are a kind of terrorist group. Even more hilarious, by contrast, is the mayor’s praise for the exhibition of graffiti paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.

Adding to the irony is the fact that Bik and many of his contemporaries have been granted permission to paint on the sides of empty buildings by their owners. Either that, or they tag in areas that are widely considered to be “free zones,” like the underpasses and makeshift walls at construction sites, which are already covered by the endless posters for corporate or political propaganda.

The media storm includes images of the mayor with paint and roller whitewashing over graffiti, though he doesn’t touch the three-year-old election posters or the washed-out ads for blockbuster movies or even events at the city’s own Convention Center. The selective persecution has only served to put Bik at the forefront of Puerto Rican culture and to validate him to the public as a legitimate artist, if it was ever in doubt.

One of the casualties of the mayor’s tasteless anti-graffiti campaign is an emblematic and colorful graffiti area under the Baldorioty Highway, a scene that was much loved by tourists on their way to the Plaza del Mercado, a popular market square in Santurce. Much inventive graffiti has been lost, including works by Sheppard FaireySwan and many others — though one has to admit that graffiti is by definition a transitory art.

One local dealer who has positioned herself on the side of the mayor is Silvia Villafañe, proprietor of Petrus Gallery. Curiously, Petrus was one of several galleries that produced thematic exhibitions about urban art in conjunction with the Basquiat show, as part of a month-long tribute extravaganza sponsored by Art Premiummagazine. Her new stance against the “graffiteros” apparently prompted an anonymous artist to spray the façade of her gallery with the words, “EMBUSTERA, CHONCHI,” or  “Liar, Little Fatty,” written in red and adorned with hearts.

Double standards are a bitch, especially when visual contamination and political irresponsibility are in the mix. While the mayor paints over street art, it’s truly sad to see the ultra-modernist Professional Building colonized by humongous and intrusive banners, a condition that similarly afflicts every single other architectural gem on the island. Formerly called the Eastern Building, the structure is probably one of the first high-rises on the island, also known to aficionados for its part in an infamous 1974 UFO sighting, in which a bright disc could be seen hovering above it for a few seconds.

 

Lee Quinones at Candela

Only steps away from the mayor’s office in Old San Juan, Galería Candela featured work by another tried-and-true enemy of the state, Lee Quinones. Born in Ponce but raised in New York, the world-renowned graffiti artist — certainly one of the first to become a mainstream success in the 1970s and ‘80s — came to Candela for “Amplified,” surprisingly his first-ever solo exhibition in Puerto Rico, curated by Isolde Brielmaier. 

Though you can see Quinones’ spray-paint roots in these new paintings, he has developed a post-graffiti style that is uniquely his own. On rough fabric he covers a white ground with a color wash, and then executes a subtle line drawing on top of that — typically a rendering of hands grasping an album and thrusting it under a coat. The album art itself is done in color, sometimes in considerable detail.

Quinones combines the idea of tribute with theft in a melancholy look at a craft that’s slowly fading out. Vinyl records are a thing of the past, relegated to collector’s editions — and perhaps viewers will end up fetishizing these paintings as a substitute for soon-to-be-lost musical artifacts.

My favorite work is the bright yellow Shaft in Africa. Also on view is a group of studies on unstretched canvas, priced at $1,250 each. But these works do deliver and the exhibition turns the Candela space into a chapel of sorts. The paintings are offered together at $120,000 — not bad for a so-called graffiti artist. Word is that the buyer is Eric Clapton, and that the series may be exhibited in New York.

 

Aby Ruíz at MUAC

At the Museo de Arte de Caguas (MUAC) is “Termite and Pangola” (plague and pasture grass), the debut show by Aby Ruíz. In three galleries, Ruiz displays paintings and drawings that are filled with metaphorical figurative images for corruption, war and political inertia. A talented draftsman and master of art production, Ruíz borrows and adopts from Fancisco GoyaFrancis Bacon and Jose Morales.

In Ruíz’ series of 12 portrait drawings, his thick and crude lines channel the spirit of Egon Schiele. In Existencia Sin Alagos, the gray figure of a kneeing man, posed in fetal form, bathes with a viscose substance pouring from a bucket, in an image of savage capitalism. I know this sounds a little cheesy, but the artist manages to bring a certain refreshing coolness to these old, hot themes. For instance, in Flowers for a Finding, a diptych, a man holding a bouquet of pink flowers is juxtaposed to a black field of skeletons covered by gooey dirt.


Jose Luis Vargas at La Liga de Arte
Back in Old San Juan but outside of the art gallery circuit at La Liga de Arte was a show of work by the great draftsman, artist and cult figure Jose Luis Vargas titled “The Museum of Supernatural History.” Eerie isn’t the right word to describe the feeling one gets from a Vargas exhibition. A decade before young New York artists ventured into “Goth,” Vargas had developed a solid reputation as a painter who made spirit images and portraits of the dead. In his works from the late ‘80s the artist would stain paper and canvas with coffee grounds and other fluids, drawing strange forms and figures out of the undifferentiated mass, Surrealist-style, which he would then alter by adding images of dead celebrities or even pictures of himself as a kid.

In the ‘90s Vargas’s work entered a transitional period. His work depicted abductions and possessions over luscious and milky large-scale abstractions, sometimes with text added, juxtaposed with other paintings of flying saucers landing on mountaintops. Other fantastic works where made on top of Haitian folk art. Vargas then began to perform as a character in a video art series known as El Santo en Santurce, where he played a masked wrestler inspired by Baltimore filmmaker John Waters.

Now, in “The Museum of Supernatural History,” Vargas fills the gallery with amazing, large-scale paintings done on unstretched canvas, mostly with grayish and dirty surfaces dotted with simple but elaborate drawings of cadavers and levitating figures. In The First Steps of the Training, a man, probably the artist himself, seems to bend backwards after some kind of critter, which looks like an augmented Predator, splits in two and arouses the host figure by creeping thru his head and ears. The metaphysical encounter seems like a blessing a disguise, as the head spasms in a kind of sick ecstasy.

Some works in the exhibition were completed at the opening with the help an old-fashioned large-format studio camera, which was used to record “spirits” in the vicinity. Viewers were asked to pose for portraits, resulting in a series of black-and-white prints hanging from the ceiling. In one uncanny special effect, a small boy — not actually present at the opening — is seen in the photos sitting alongside the models.

One outstanding work is the ambivalent The Shadow, which shows the dead figure of outlawToño Bicicleta, levitating dead on his back with a pee stain on his pants. An elder who floats above the criminal’s dead body stares out at the viewer, against a cloud of black paint. Here, Toño resembles the revolutionary Puerto Rican Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, who was in and out of U.S. prisons for 25 years.

In 1936, Albizu Campos was imprisoned for trying to overthrow the government. During his captivity, Albizu repeatedly claimed that he was being subjected to radiation experiments, and at his death in 1965, medical records did in fact show lacerations and burns on his body. More than 75,000 people joined the funeral procession to Old San Juan Cemetery. To this day, Albizu is an iconic figure in Puerto Rican history and culture.

On the other hand, Toño, who was said to have killed his wife with a machete, was infamous for evading the police for many years, presumably with the help of ordinary people. Despite being a well-known criminal, Toño became a symbol of good luck in rural areas. He was finally found and shot dead, and part of his legend is that, as told by reporters and cops off the record, he had an unusually hard and erect cock when the body was found. His death has become a carnavalesque emblem, a legend in contemporary society and folklore.

The question remains: Is Vargas confounding the figures of the criminal and the revolutionary? Or is the artist making a simpler connection between two kinds of social outlaws, both of whom have been embraced by the masses?

Vargas’ uncanny comparison seems to claim that history is tragic and full of blank spots. That’s where the ritualistic, performative and the spectacle of the metaphysical find their place in his art, establishing the wreck of the historical narrative and documentation.

To that extent, the mindset of the colonized described by Franz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth is still relevant.

PEDRO VELEZ is an artist, curator and critic. An exhibition of his work is currently on view at Plush in Dallas.