I could not help but think déjà vu on opening night of the group show Puerto Rico: Human Geography, Images of the 21st Century at the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico (MAPR). Curated by Juan Carlos López Quintero, the exhibition attempts to be “a thematically organized selection that brings together works by a number of artists whose aesthetic and conceptual explorations are in many cases different from one another…but portray the human diversity and richness of a society.”Although the works displayed are not meant to be an exhaustive or innovative selection of Puerto Rican contemporary art, the exhibition lacked the thematic cohesion promised. In fact, what seemed the most cohesive was the all too familiar selection of artists and works that have been circulating the local art scene for the past 8 years.
This exhibition emerged from the OAS Art Museum of the Americas show presented earlier this year in Washington D.C., with a few noteworthy additions such as Catherine Matos’ Trabajo=Trabajo (Digital prints, 2003-2009) and Herminio Rodríguez’s Soft Screaming (C-print, 2008). I found Edra Soto’s One Vision: Hollywood Soldiers (film stills and digital photographs, 2003-2007) to be one of the most forceful images of the show for its sociopolitical commentary on the glamorization of wars by Hollywood studios. Other works worthy of mentioning are Carlos Ruiz Valarino’s Construction of a Social Landscape (video, 2008), Rosa Irigoyen’s Untitled (Lambda prints, videos, 2003), Marta Mabel Pérez’s Exámen para la ciudadanía americana (video, 2006) and Quintín Rivera Toro’s Representación de una nostalgia colectiva en Latinoamérica (video, 2005).
Although the show presented an illustrative sample of Puerto Rican contemporary art, it lacked an organizational theme to bring it all together. Perhaps the concept of a Puerto Rican human geography is one that is too vague and open ended for a curated show; its focus too broad to comprehend or pinpoint. More like a retrospective, the exhibition seemed like a who’s who of contemporary Puerto Rican practice.
This makes me think, with the lack of cultural institutions that truly serve as a platform for contemporary artistic exploration and discussion, it is no wonder that alternative spaces such as blogs and temporary exhibition spaces have started to flourish. These spaces offer the emerging artist the opportunity to show their work to the public without the usual constraints of the cultural institution. Can we give artists such as Allora and Calzadilla a rest to make way for others? Are the cultural institutions capable of producing their own curated contemporary art shows that display what is really happening today within the local art scene? These are questions that remain unanswered, but that are pivotal for the construction and production of Puerto Rican contemporary art.
Originally published in the Puerto Rico Daily Sun
Images courtesy of the artists
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