WAITING FOR LIGHTNESS
José A. Vincench in New York
From February 26 to March 26, the gallery Thomas Jaeckel of New York welcomed the solo show by José Ángel Vincench,
The Weight of Words. The exhibition included paintings and sculptures of the homonymous series in which the artist has been working since 2011. Also, works of the series Action Painting and Cuestión de Óptica (Matter of Optics), made last year, were shown. This exhibition offers continuity to a series of presentations of Cuban art that have recently been held in New York, especially in the district of Chelsea, confirming the growing interest that has been generated around it in the North American cultural sphere, since the last political changes in the relations between Cuba and the United States.
Vincench’s work highlights because of its solidness and singularity within the panorama of visual arts in the island. His work starts from a process of acknowledgement and critical analysis of the socio-political context surrounding him and the circumstances in which the artist lives and works. Especially interested, since about a decade ago, on the events, subjects and political notions characterizing the present panorama in Cuba, his recent creations show a creative strategy in which the artist, instead of assuming active stances intervening in the social sphere, brings these issues to the intimacy of the studio and submits them to an intellectual and factual elaboration which returns us an apparently not ideologized and abstract product, even with a certain decorative nature (accentuated in the recent creations because of the use of gold leaf as main composition material).
The exhibition receives us with two canvases of the series Cuestión de Óptica. One of them is the portrait of political activist Oswaldo Payá, who died in 2012 in still not clarified circumstances; the other one reproduces an image of the crashed car in which he died. In both cases, an initial look places us before an abstract composition that uses the resources of optic art. Observing with more detail, or looking at the snapshots captured in our mobile telephone or digital camera, the represented scene then reveals itself to us with clarity.
Likewise, at first view in the main exhibition space it would seem we could find a dialogue between geometrical abstraction, noticeable in the works of the series El peso de las palabras
(The Weight of Words) and the apparent abstract expressionism that can be appreciated in the pieces of Action Painting (as its title indicates). What is fascinating is that a second look begins to dismantle the initial effect and we discover those action paintings are only the reproduction of scenes of facades or interiors exhibiting the marks of violent or punishable events these structures have witnessed; and these are actually houses of dissidents that have been vandalized in acts of repudiation against these families. It is an interesting connection the artist establishes between the performance component of that abstract work and the violent action of the groups that carry out these acts of repression and intimidation. It is not the first time that Vincench articulates political or social comments based on the references of art history; already in former series as Lo que te puedo decir con… (What I
Can Tell You With…) we appreciated this strategy, which appeals to the use of those formal traits characterizing certain figures or movements in the art of the 20th and 21st centuries to discourse on the notions or political events of recent Cuban history.
Instead of assuming active stances intervening in the social sphere, Vincech brings the topics to the intimacy of the studio and submits them to an intellectual and factual elaboration which returns us an apparently not ideologized and abstract product…
Explaining this paradoxical process of tribute and, at the same time, domestication of symbols and problematic and bitter narratives, the artist comments: “In Cuba words are very heavy”.
In general, in Vincench’s work there is an interest to articulate a game between what is veiled and what is evident, what can be said and what must be silenced. It is a proposal that, in a given way, synthetizes the strategies of survival developed by the Cuban in the island and perfected by him during years to deal with his daily reality, whether in the practical as well as in the ideological field. That is why in the canvases El peso de las palabras the artist converts concepts of the socio-political vocabulary, key words in the history and the present of Cuba, in stylized and abstract images. The exercise of deconstruction carried out implies the superimposition of the letters composing words like Exilio, Disidente, Gusano, Cambio, Autonomía (Exile, Dissident, Worm, referring to people that leave the country or dislike the regime, Change, Autonomy). The artist chooses, then, some of the new areas created in the resulting composition and reproduces them using, as we mentioned before, the gold leaf. It also happens in this case that only a second look or a deep observation and, above all, since the reading of the title, will give us the clues to understand the background and operatory displayed in these works. This result takes us to consider those words, their concept, their evolution and their meaning in the course of the country’s history. Vincench conducts an incisive signaling on what these terms have implied and the way in which they have affected and affect Cuban society, based on a practice that apparently neutralizes the subversive potential of these words, by isolating and stylizing their formal attributes, returning them to us as a museum specimen or a rare and valuable object. This process also warns us to think in the expiration of many of the facts associated to these words and the way in which they will remain in history as a succession of dates and anecdotes that unknowns the personal drama of all those who have suffered the crooked tentacles of power.
A similar discursive interest is appreciated in the sculptures of three golden ingots we see in the gallery accompanying the rest of the works. These pieces—made in wood and later covered with gold leaf—also have words inscribed: the terms Ganso, Negro y Gusano (Goose, referring to gay men, Black/Nigger, and Worm). Words that, by themselves, do not have a symbolic load besides that of the animal or the color they name and, however, in the context of the history of the island, and further away from it, acquire pejorative connotation and remit us to events, moments and persons who suffered or suffer the discrimination they imply. Many are the ideas that suddenly come to mind before this creative, paradoxical, ironic exercise, which has several levels of conceptual elaboration and is still being marked, as the paintings commented before, because of that principle of masking to be able to disclose, transform to be able to discover, disguise to be able to express; strategies to evade censorship and being able to say, or at least point out, spaces of silence in the social account of Cubans, whether in the official speech as in the daily popular one.
Explaining this paradoxical process of tribute and, at the same time, domestication of symbols and problematic and bitter narratives, the artist comments the conceptual premise on which his operative turns: “In Cuba words are very heavy. They are as feared as an image may be; a word may weigh in your freedom of expression and in your physical freedom.” This precept summarizes the poetic strength of the last sculpture we see when leaving the exhibition: a golden and gleaming form extracted from the word Cambio (Change), a short and easy word but with an incommensurable weight and absolutely crucial in the past, present and future of the island.
Will it be that, with the new times, words will stop weighing so much and, little by little, will be milder? We expect it will be that way and we will not have to suffer the eternal fate of the giant Atlas always holding the world. We hope these and many other words, whose weight we cannot change nor forget, will be lighter and easier for the future generations.
Gold leaf on canvas
48 x 48 inches
Courtesy the artist & Thomas Jaeckel NYC
Gold leaf on canvas
19½ x 19½ inches
Courtesy the artist & Thomas Jaeckel NYC Installation views
The Weight of Words, by José A. Vincench 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, NY
Courtesy Thomas Jaeckel NYC