For those who love art, music and good vibes, all paths lead to opening night of the most recent BlackboxArt Foundation event titled Death: Transition and Celebration of Life, a group show organized in conjunction with the General Consulate of Mexico in San Juan at La Respuesta’s exhibition space in Santurce. The organizers presented works that spanned from painting, installation, video and sculpture from forty-four contemporary Puerto Rican artists celebrating one of Mexico’s most important traditions. Viewers could find works that ranged from more traditional representations of the Day of the Dead, such as offerings and altars, to more contemporary renderings and interpretations. All of the artists worked around a specific theme that was proposed for this particular event, and although not all of the works seem to fit the standard suggested, it was an effective initiative that caused much anticipation.
Going along with the theme of the show, the first thing that visitors encountered upon entering the space was an altar with photographs of Puerto Rican artists who have past away. In keeping with the Mexican tradition, visitors left at the altar offerings such as food and drinks. Strolling along the space, the work that first grabbed my attention was Omar Velázquez’s Lo último es joder. The artist, who currently has a show up at Galería Guatíbiri, is known for his installations and sculptures made out of cardboard and waste. For this event, he created an installation comprised of a wood-cut banner representing a luxurious supper of skull-faced, white-collar individuals feasting and drinking. Under the banner, there was a table covered with tabloids that carried the message mal patrono (Bad Patron), while above the table lay an offering of a lamb that was made out of bread. People were gathering around the table, picking and eating from this ephemeral lamb-bread installation. This made me think of Puerto Rico’s political situation, being the lamb the symbol of our national coat of arms. Has Puerto Rico allowed itself to be ‘eaten’ by others? Given the current economic situation, are we stuck eating bread while others are feasting? Probably so. In any case, the artist succeeds in presenting a thought-provoking reenactment of a Mexican tradition with a Puerto Rican twist.
An energetic atmosphere was palpable during opening night and this is certainly something to talk about besides the art. During the event, people were able to crossover between La Respuesta’s exhibition space and the bar, changing scenery quite quickly from light to dark and from art to dance. Also making the scene were the many participating artists such as Jesús “Bubu” Negrón and Edgardo Larregui, as well as art enthusiasts and curators such as Roberto Nieves and Julieta González. This definitely contributed to the dynamic ambiance.
Back in La Respuesta’s exhibition space, Gerardo Cloquell’s Quién mató a chicken noget was an amusing find. The work was comprised of what seemed to be a miniature cardboard and paper city. The reference to consumerism is apparent, as a little chicken pops out of a fast-food chain dipping sauce. An imposing sculpture that dominated a considerable part of the space was La Calavera by Jorge Rito, a work composed of a car that was transformed into a skull with paper maché and foam. Aby Ruiz’s painting Sea un payaso also drew much attention from visitors. Besides that, I have to mention that some of the works on display could be easily missed and seemed to slip between the cracks, such as Rabindranat’s small sculpture, Jason Mena’s text-based painting and Chemi Rosado Seijo’s seemingly found postcard.
This exhibition presented no curatorial selection, nor was it meant to present any, other than the fact that it was a celebration of life and death. The artists were chosen by the organizers and the artists themselves selected the work to be shown. This event was more about sparking good vibes, hanging out with friends and the interesting conversations that happen in between it all. It was surprising to find that many of the works were actually sold during opening night. I had not seen so many red dots since, well, I don’t remember. And with the economic recession the island is going through, this is really good news. That does not take away from the fact that we are still in dire need of curatorial practice, more shows and more collectors committed with local emerging artists. There was only one thing missing here. Apart from Sheryl Hartup from the Art Museum of Ponce (MAP), where were the rest of the museums and institutions that claim to be on top of contemporary art? No wonder they are missing out.
Images by DaWire