Art On Cuba - - INDEX - Mar­i­lyn Payrol

Luis Gómez’s artis­tic pro­posal is cer­tainly in­tense, con­sis­tent. How­ever, it would not have the same ex­tent, tak­ing into ac­count its ir­rev­er­ence and harsh­ness, if in his at­ti­tude as an artist Luis did not main­tain his cyn­i­cism and com­mit­ment. He has not hes­i­tated to re­ject spon­sors, to never set foot on renowned ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces, to lash into those who play from their author­ity, to tell the truths face to face. Luis—ev­ery­body knows—is feared as much as his work. He is an artist con­sis­tent with his way of do­ing.

And like this, he got to the Na­tional Mu­seum of Fine Arts in Ha­vana. Of course, his ac­cess to this place is ex­plained, in essence, be­cause of the sen­si­ble vi­sion of a new di­rec­tor who strangely com­bines sagac­ity with power. It is ob­vi­ous that is less dangerous and there­fore bet­ter for Cuban in­sti­tu­tions and their spe­cial­ists to di­a­logue with artists that are “po­lit­i­cally cor­rect”, but for­tu­nately Jorge Fernán­dez is will­ing to con­sider risk. The re­spon­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing a New Me­dia Lab­o­ra­tory at the Higher In­sti­tute of Arts (ISA), the con­cep­tion of the ex­hibit Ven y mea en mi puerta (Come and piss on my doorstep) at the Wifredo Lam Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Art and the par­tic­i­pa­tion at the 56th Venice Bi­en­nial are ac­tions that ev­i­dence Jorge’s con­fi­dence in Luis Gómez and that have pre­ceded his en­trance into this Cuban mu­seum en­clo­sure, with­out hav­ing to ob­tain the Premio Na­cional de Artes Plás­ti­cas (Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Award) for this pur­pose.

Ji, Ji, Ji1 (Apos­tro­phe) was the ti­tle of Luis’s ex­hibit at the

Ed­i­fi­cio de Arte Cubano (Cuban Art Build­ing) that took place from Fe­bru­ary to April, 2017. This ex­hibit was part of a sort of tril­ogy to­gether with two other ex­hi­bi­tions: the afore­men­tioned Ven y mea en mi puerta (Fe­bru­ary, 2014) and Po­lite and B_Side (De­cem­ber, 2014). And I say tril­ogy, since the three ex­hi­bi­tions main­tained not only the same re­search line, but also sim­i­lar op­er­at­ing forms, shar­ing even some of the pieces—which some­times were a cover ver­sion. In a gen­eral sense, the artist in­sisted on pre­sent­ing the func­tion­ing of the cur­rent art sys­tem in the is­land, the power re­la­tions and the con­flicts of in­ter­ests un­der­ly­ing the pro­duc­tion and the le­git­imiza­tion of an artis­tic pro­posal. The cen­so­ri­ous look of Luis Gómez’s (which he in­sists on sub­sti­tut­ing for “per­sonal ap­pre­ci­a­tion”) was aimed not at the mar­ket, as an ab­stract and im­per­sonal en­tity, but at the ac­tors within the cir­cuit, whether they are col­lec­tors, crit­ics, of­fi­cials, spe­cial­ists or even the cre­ators them­selves and their ma­nip­u­la­tion strate­gies.

How­ever, in each of the ex­hibits a dis­tinct ap­proach, which was an­nounced by the ti­tle, pre­vailed. In this way Ven y mea en mi puerta left no doubt as to its af­front and provo­ca­tion char­ac­ter on the part of the artist, which at the same time could be­come a com­plaint. Ap­par­ently, Luis of­fered him­self as vic­tim, help­less be­fore the spec­ta­tor, when at the end it turned out that the spec­ta­tor—as­sumed as part of the work—be­came the vic­tim­izer. A very sub­tle way of say­ing: “Don’t try to show a top how to spin”. The piece that gave ti­tle to the ex­hi­bi­tion and El arte so­cial no es tan so­cial y el político de­masi­ado político (So­cial art is not that so­cial and the po­lit­i­cal one is too po­lit­i­cal) were con­ceived with this pur­pose in mind. In the first one, a wall sim­u­lat­ing be­ing part of the ex­hi­bi­tion sa­lon, had been pro­gramed (with the Ar­duino sys­tem) to grad­u­ally ex­pel the au­di­ence from the space. This ges­ture, so chal­leng­ing as well as ex­clu­sive, in my opin­ion, was marked by the su­pe­ri­or­ity that for the artist im­plies to have clearly and hon­or­ably de­fined his “own ter­ri­tory”.

With El arte so­cial no es tan so­cial… Luis ex­tended this idea. Sup­pos­edly he was locked in a wooden crate that had an open­ing so that to com­ply with his re­quest, some ac­knowl­edged crit­ics or cu­ra­tors would in­tro­duce some food plates. The sim­u­la­tion—Luis was never locked up, he watched the scene through a cam­era— ac­quires here a greater con­no­ta­tion, inas­much it is the artist’s sac­ri­fice (de­clared) which is ques­tioned. And the rea­son is that, for Luis Gómez, in Cuba a lot of art is made with the so­cial or po­lit­i­cal la­bel, which has not been able to ac­com­plish a real reper­cus­sion in the so­ci­ety or in the gov­ern­ment sys­tem of the is­land. Then, the ob­jec­tive of this pre­tended com­mit­ment does not look in­side but rather out­side. It tries to be ex­ported in keep­ing with the idea of the Cuban art that for­eign col­lect­ing is build­ing. An idea that is re­in­forced to a great ex­tent by the crit­i­cal voices to which, in this oc­ca­sion, the artist in­sis­tently “begs for food.”

How­ever, the strength of El arte so­cial no es tan so­cial… is not quite un­der­stood—ac­cord­ing to Luis, it is a work that de­fines his rad­i­cal po­si­tion con­cern­ing art2—if it is not known that since the late 1990s the artist de­cided to move away from the an­thro­po­log­i­cal line in­her­ited from Juan Fran­cisco Elso—the an­thro­po­log­i­cal ap­proach had be­come “trendy”—and start re­search­ing on the tricks of art. Of course, this change in ap­proach meant a thor­ough re­vi­sion of an­thro­pol­ogy and for Luis Gomez it un­folded as the science of dom­i­na­tion, the dis­ci­pline that prefers to study the other one ob­vi­at­ing the in­di­vid­ual self, the “I”: the look of the not guilty. A work like Mis­erere comes to com­plete the dis­course of El arte so­cial no es tan so­cial… since start­ing from the psalm to in­voke mercy and for­give­ness, Luis ar­tic­u­lates a con­cept of what art is, in which not by chance, the an­thro­po­log­i­cal re-read­ing or the his­tor­i­cal re-read­ing of a po­lit­i­cal event ap­pear among its many mean­ings. Mis­erere am­pli­fies the griev­ance that

El arte so­cial… con­ceals; both are ad­dressed to the recog­ni­tion of guilt from which the cre­ator sub­ject can­not es­cape while look­ing “out­side”, since feel­ing su­pe­rior, he be­lieves he is “out­side”. It is like Democ­ra­cia would state3: “All of you are guilty, ex­cept me”.

With Las ropas del rey (The King’s clothes) he pre­ferred provo­ca­tion, only that this time it was from an­other per­spec­tive, more in keep­ing per­haps with what Po­lite and B_Side was. Al­lud­ing di­rectly to Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen’s tale, also known as The Em­peror’s New Suit, Luis Gómez do­nated some waste ma­te­ri­als com­ing from Cuban artists’ works to the col­lec­tion of the Na­tional Coun­cil of Vis­ual Arts (which I think was re­jected). Was it per­haps that the stupid king, in­tent on col­lect­ing “clothes” was not able to dis­tin­guish this time the worth of the new suit? The truth is that the king did not know how to stop if it was about col­lect­ing: “What­ever it hap­pens—he said—I must re­main like this un­til the end.”4 A mo­ment that has re­cently ar­rived, and that Luis seemed to per­ceive.

And I es­tab­lished a par­al­lel with Po­lite and B_Side be­cause pre­cisely this kind of “cour­tesy” was what pre­vailed in that ex­hibit. In Po­lite… he changes the fo­cus of at­ten­tion. As a po­lite ges­ture, the artist cedes his place—bet­ter artists never talk—: he is no longer ex­posed, in­stead he ex­poses art agents. Like this it can be un­der­stood how harsh it is to con­front and mock crit­ics, cu­ra­tors, in­sti­tu­tion di­rec­tors, etc. by mak­ing a pho­to­graphic cap­ture of their at­ti­tudes in artis­tic events, and later send­ing them like Spam mails as ad­ver­tis­ing pro­mo­tion—Side-B.(Cour­tesy), or through failed in­ter­views turned into fake car­pets (Toma el dinero y corre / Take the money and run) or by mak­ing public mails sent by mis­take (Cuban fresco. Af­ter House of Cards R.S).

In this last piece, the way of show­ing the re­ceived e-mails was an im­por­tant fact. These were ly­ing on the B side of a wooden board that on the floor and on its other face had a pil­low nearby. On the whole the structure sug­gested some­thing used to have oral sex with­out know­ing the iden­tity of the other one, a fre­quent prac­tice mainly in public spa­ces. Luis does not hes­i­tate to be aber­rant, ac­tu­ally as I un­der­stand it, his di­ver­gent at­ti­tude is be­cause he is cer­tain that hypocrisy and op­por­tune ser­vil­ity in the me­dia is as aber­rant.

Ji, Ji, Ji (Apos­tro­phe) was less hurt­ful, more cryp­tic, as many would com­ment. The ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum soft­ened a lit­tle the sor­did mock­ery of Po­lite… com­bin­ing it with the protest con­tained in a piece like Mis­erere ex­hib­ited in Ven y mea en mi puerta. The ref­er­ence to the apos­tro­phe, as a rhetor­i­cal de­vice that pur­sues mercy, in­ter­rupted pa­thet­i­cally the al­leged joke. Once again it was about cyn­i­cism, a cyn­i­cism that did not over­look any de­tail. The con­cep­tion of the cat­a­logue, for ex­am­ple, ob­vi­ated the re­pro­duc­tion of the pieces im­ages in or­der to re­fer crit­i­cal texts in for­eign lan­guages (Ger­man, Ital­ian...) Pos­si­bly the ef­fort that many peo­ple made try­ing to de­code the text lines was greater than try­ing to un­der­stand the artis­tic ges­ture it­self—lack of hints or clues that might ex­plain the al­leged cryp­tic char­ac­ter. Any­way, the au­thor’s in­ten­tion of dis­cours­ing on the spec­ta­tors’ vice to pre­fer the the­o­ret­i­cal sources, as they which pre­vail in the le­git­i­ma­tion of a work, is ev­i­dent.

How­ever, the cyn­i­cism in Ji, Ji, Ji…was aimed mainly at in­sti­tu­tions, and es­pe­cially at the ones op­er­at­ing in our con­text, which was not sur­pris­ing given the fact that the pre­vi­ous ex­hi­bi­tions had brought fo­cus on artists and cu­ra­tor-crit­ics.

The most af­fected ones—but not the only ones—were Gal­le­ria Con­tinua, the Lud­wig Foun­da­tion and the very Mu­seum of Fine Arts where the ex­hibit was shown.

The doc­u­men­ta­tion video Spar­ring Part­ner opened the ex­hi­bi­tion. Out­side the seat of Gal­le­ria Con­tinua in La Ha­bana, the artist had left a fake Louis Vuit­ton bag, bought from the Man­tas (African em­i­grants in Europe). The text: “A luta con­tinua, Vi­to­ria e certa” (The strug­gle con­tin­ues, vic­tory is cer­tain) ac­com­pa­nied the pro­jec­tion, in which the spec­ta­tor fol­lowed closely the fate of the prod­uct. This nar­ra­tive op­er­ated as a pre­text to al­lude to an­other vic­tory: that of Gal­le­ria Con­tinua in Cuba. The key to un­der­stand the piece lies in the re­la­tion that was es­tab­lished dur­ing the last Ha­vana Bi­en­nial be­tween Louis Vuit­ton and the afore­men­tioned gallery: “The French brand, when for the first time in the is­land be­comes the ‘spon­sor’ of sev­eral artists, ap­plies a pa­tron­age strat­egy, known as “artket­ing”, through which it strength­ens its im­age and iden­tity, and is as­so­ci­ated with limited and ex­clu­sive edi­tions (…) This strat­egy fa­cil­i­tates es­tab­lish­ing re­la­tions in the coun­try wait­ing to have a free hand to de­velop its own busi­ness line.”5

Un­doubt­edly, this “Cuban lux­ury mar­ket” has been fa­vored by the re­cent open­ings tak­ing place in the is­land, a mo­ment that Luis rec­og­nizes as ex­tremely risky for art and the in­tel­li­gentsia. That is why he cre­ates an anal­ogy be­tween the fake bag and the re­la­tion­ship of Cuban artists with Con­tinua. No mat­ter how fake both are—he says—if they both will be use­ful. In this way, the Cuban artists be­come the Spar­ring Part­ner of Con­tinua, those trained “fight­ers” to make it shine. In this sense the piece is linked to what Ste­fan Nowotny has clas­si­fied as the sec­ond wave of in­sti­tu­tional cri­tique, a kind of work that ap­proaches the in­flu­ence of ne­olib­eral economies on the mu­seum dy­nam­ics and is con­cerned about the re­sponse of these or other artis­tic in­sti­tu­tions to the typ­i­cal transna­tional el­e­ments of a glob­al­ized world: “the ex­tent of this dis­ori­ented at­ti­tude (…) to fac­ing the iras­ci­ble ne­olib­eral re­form is in­ten­tion­ally ex­pressed by the de­fense of in­stru­ments and in­sti­tu­tions which per­haps yes­ter­day would have been sub­mit­ted to a crit­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion.”6 Just like it would have hap­pened in Cuba some years ago, if it were about as­sess­ing the ac­cep­tance of the pro­posed model by the Gal­le­ria Con­tinua.

The Lud­wig Foun­da­tion was an­other fo­cal point tar­geted by the artist that could not be miss­ing if the “close” re­la­tion­ship be­tween Luis and this in­sti­tu­tion is con­sid­ered. In 1992 Luis ob­tained a grant by the Ger­man Foun­da­tion, which opened the art mar­ket in Cuba. Through works like Esta no es mi in­ten­ción (This is not my in­ten­tion) and Man­ual de la teoría de la con­spir­ación del arte cubano (Hand­book of the the­ory of Cuban art con­spir­acy), Luis in­sisted on “Lud­wig’s Amer­i­can friends” re­fer­ring to the col­lec­tor’s past as a Nazi sol­dier and the close links of the cur­rent seat of Lud­wig Foun­da­tion in Cuba with Amer­i­cans of Jewish ori­gin like Alex and Carol Rosen­berg. Ex­actly what we have ex­pe­ri­enced with Con­tinua: his­tory is for­got­ten when it is con­ve­nient.

And the Mu­seum gained promi­nence with pieces that con­tin­ued the cri­tique line opened by Spar­ring… In the video in­stal­la­tion Y más pin­tura in­vis­i­ble (And more in­vis­i­ble paint­ing), the per­ti­nence, the use­ful­ness of an art mu­seum is ques­tioned by means of the im­ages of a sur­veil­lance cam­era which in the sa­lon Wifredo Lam cap­tures the inat­ten­tive­ness of the public to­wards the work of the ac­knowl­edged painter. With ¿Qué puedo hacer ahora que todo es posi­ble? (What can I do now that ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble?) he went fur­ther. He es­tab­lished a re­la­tion­ship be­tween the vaults of the art mu­seum in La Ha­bana and what WAGE (Work­ing Artists and the Greater Econ­omy), a group of ac­tivist artists from Brook­lyn, stands for. WAGE ad­vo­cates for mod­i­fy­ing in­sti­tu­tional poli­cies con­cern­ing pay­ments and ben­e­fits (non) of­fered to artists and other pro­fes­sion­als in the art cir­cuit. Is also pos­si­ble to find this com­plaint that Luis makes his own it in the afore­men­tioned Man­ual de la teoría…, in which he de­nounces how Cuban artists are part of a “packet” sold to for­eign­ers and the cre­ators are de­prived of any ben­e­fit. ¿Qué puedo hacer ahora que todo es posi­ble? en­hances this cri­tique as it is made within the Mu­seum. The film­ing of the vaults where the artis­tic her­itage of the is­land is sup­posed to be pro­tected leaves a bit­ter taste to those who are ac­quainted with some facts that have taken place in those spa­ces rel­a­tively re­cently.

There­fore, there is cer­tainly in ji, Ji, Ji, (Apos­tro­phe), the same as in Ven y mea en mi puerta and in Po­lite and B_side, a con­cern for the fate of art, for the con­cil­i­a­tions that put the artis­tic and in­tel­lec­tual legacy at stake. These ex­hibits con­vey a plea, a prayer that Luis pro­nounces re­ally from deep in­side, with a sense of “guilt”, with pain: and there lies his be­ing con­se­quent. ƒ 1. Ono­matopoeic sound made when you gig­gle. (Trans­la­tor’s Note)

2. Sem­i­nar of­fered by the artist at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Fine Arts con­cern­ing the ex­hibit Ji, Ji, Ji (Apos­tro­phe) on Wed­nes­day, April 5th,2017.

3. Artis­tic Span­ish group that Luis Gómez ac­knowl­edges as ref­er­ent. 4. See: The new Em­peror’s suit. Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen. In http:// www.cur­ricu­lu­men­lin­eamine­

5. “Luis Vuit­ton al­ready is think­ing in the lux­ury Cuban mar­ket and spon­sors the Ha­vana Bi­en­nial”. In: http://cubae­co­nom­ 6. Nowotny, Ste­fan. Anti-can­on­iza­tion. The dif­fer­en­tial knowl­edge of in­sti­tu­tional cri­tique. In: http//

Ji, Ji, Ji (Apos­tro­phe), Na­tional Mu­seum of Fine Arts, Ha­vana: Once again it was about cyn­i­cism, a cyn­i­cism that did not over­look any de­tail.

PD: “In iniquitatibus conceptus sum” is a frag­ment taken from Psalm 51 known as Mis­erere. The verse ap­pears re­ferred in Latin re­spect­ing the orig­i­nal lan­guage in which it was writ­ten.

Cour­tesy the artist

Mis­erere, 2014

Site spe­cific in­stal­la­tion

Wifredo Lam Con­tem­po­rary Art Cen­ter, Ha­vana

B-Side (Po­lite), 2014

Doc­u­men­ta­tion of 8 art events in 6 months,

3281 files, se­lec­tion of im­ages sent by e-mail as Spam, as a pro­mo­tion mes­sage.

Cour­tesy the artist

Toma el dinero y corre, 2014 / Fake car­pet. Re­cy­cled damask and felt fab­ric / Text with de­scrip­tion of a ne­go­ti­a­tion process in the art world / Photo: An­to­nio Gómez Mar­golles (This work pre­ma­turely ti­tled Toma el dinero y corre—Take the Money and Run—, pro­jected as a video-in­ter­view to Luis Miret, Di­rec­tor of Galería Ha­bana, in an at­tempt to ex­pose its struc­tures of pro­mo­tion, ma­nip­u­la­tion and politics around the mo­nop­oly of Cuban art, was cen­sored by Rubén del Valle Lan­tarón,

President of the Na­tional Coun­cil of Vis­ual Arts, al­leg­ing "con­flict of in­ter­est". He also re­fused to be filmed and in­vited, the artist, in a sub­se­quent agree­ment, to make the fact ex­plicit by some means. / This work is spon­sored en­tirely by the Na­tional Coun­cil of Vis­ual Arts.)

Spar­ring part­ner, 2017 / Doc­u­men­ta­tion video

(Doc­u­ment: Fake Louis Vuit­ton purse bought from "Les man­tas", African emi­gres in Madrid, with text “A luta con­tinua, Vitória e certa” left at the en­trance of Arte Con­tinua, Ha­vana. Jan­uary 25th, 2017)

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