National Art Exhibit, A Mediocre Nation?

samuel toro rosa a mediocre nation desrves mediocre art performance at muestra nacional de arte National Art Exhibit, A Mediocre Nation?

On the second week of December, at the Arsenal de la Puntilla in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the awaited National Art Exhibit opened its doors to the public. Curated by Marilú Purcell, María Arlette de la Serna and Juan Carlos López Quintero, the show included established as well as emerging Puerto Rican artists such as Jorge Díaz and Elsa Meléndez. And although many noteworthy artists were definitely missing, this year the show presented a well organized and carefully chosen body of work that succeeded in displaying the forte of Puerto Rican artists working with contemporary themes.

However, I was not so happy to find in an exhibition setting a vague and failed attempt to protest massive cuts in government funding towards the arts. In an act of ‘solidarity’ with ongoing protesters, a handful of artists decided to cover their work with a black veil, declaring their art in mourning. This didn’t stop me or other viewers from unveiling the works and taking a peek, but it sure made me think about how confused and utterly lost the art world sometimes seems to be here. And to top it off, as if the untidy shrouds were not enough distraction, other protestors, dressed as death angels, smeared the white walls of the space with their painted black hands, leaving the dirty skidmarks of their supposed ideological prowess. Don’t they realize that with their actions they are pushing art further towards the back-burner?

elsa melendez3 National Art Exhibit, A Mediocre Nation?

A more sucessful protest came from artist Samuel Toro Rosa. Dressed more like a pimp than a bohemian prankster, the artist brought in a troup of people wearing T-shirts that read A Mediocre Nation Deserves Mediocre Art. In fact, Toro’s proposal was not accepted by the curatorial committee, but more than protesting his exclusion, I found his silent but powerful message very fitting to the current artistic climate. It seems that many artists here confuse political art with activism. Why is this? Shouldn’t artists protest through their art? In the midst of Puerto Rico’s political crisis, this makes me think, is Puerto Rico really a mediocre nation? I hope not. But one thing is certain, if we are to suceed in the art world outside of our comfort zone, we must go back to basics, and art must begin to take a leading role again, leaving everything else aside to emerge once again as a discipline true to itself.

Images by DaWire

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11 Comments on “National Art Exhibit, A Mediocre Nation?”

  1. Miguel Angel Maravic Says:

    I still remember in the beginning when the idea of this Art show was in the making & came up; all the protests, calls & letters from the ‘older’ generation of Artists from the island to the first organizers. For those Artists, it was an outrage that they were to show their work before a jury in order to participate; like every other young or emerging Artist that wanted to at the time. It was a disgrace for their ego. At the end, the committee in charge decided to break the rules for the show and just ‘invite’ those who protested; giving them an ‘open call’ to do whatever they wanted and take up all the space they wanted as well, for their art. The rest who were lucky & got chosen through a ‘juried selection’ had to settle for the minimum space available.

    That’s why I didn’t even bother to participate this year, even though I’ve had in past years before. Imagine; I came to find out of this year’s calling for the show through a friend who’s participating. Sometimes this is the only way that fellow Artsits even find out of such an event; from ‘word to mouth’. It’s very disappointing and very unfair to a lot of younger Artists or those who live far from the city.

    Every year it gets worse & worse, especially with the selection of Artists and the SNOBS in the committee who get to’pick or choose’ who shows their work & who doesn’t; not because of the merit; but because they are acquainted, friends,etc. to them.

    Anyone who is really involved or a working Artist, living on the Island knows for a fact this saying:’SI NO TIENES PALA NO LLEGAS A NINGUN LADO…’ in other words; ‘it’s not what you know but who you know. It’s not really about the quality or meaning of your work anymore. It’s about ‘trends’ and how much BS one can talk as an Artist…even if the work doesn’t say anything at all. I don’t know why they even bother to make rules for such a ‘front’.

    Not generalizing ; but It’s evident to see that most Artists showing are just a local group who live work or reside in the city or metro area & some are just a bunch of ‘kiss ass’ people.They really should just drop the the name: MUESTRA NACIONAL of the Exhibition or simply name it something else. It is so ‘unrealistic’.
    Or they should just make an Art show more suitable to the people who reside here & not just focus first on the rest of the world & what they are doing.

    This show is just another sad excuse for contemporary ‘wannabe’ Art trends on our Island;.. but,remember: PUERTO RICO LO HACE MEJOR, So we have to be up there and up front like the rest of the world…even if the show is for the same group of artists every year…and even if it doesn’t really represent anything about what’s REALLY happening through out the whole island.

    Muestra Nacional Puertorriqueña ? …More like MAFIA NACIONAL of’Ego trippin’ mediocre Artists…

  2. Ivan Girona Says:

    Where to start? I am BAFFLED. I agree with what C. Acevedo says in his review, If we are to protest then as artist we have a voice in society and forum that others do not have and by taking the actions that were held in this ” Muestra Nacional”; in my belief censors art. At this point it makes me ponder about many things:
    Who are we?
    What are we doing to ourselves?
    Where are we as a people of this island heading the island and culture, amongst other things that are socially unfitting?
    Do we know why we are protesting?
    How long will we continue “leaching” off of the ones “on top”?
    This one I will say in spanish: ¿ Hasta cuando vamos a seguir promocionando la cultura del mantengo?

    You see the people of this island are suffering. Suffering from a great many things that are just conversation themes for another essay, but in all to resume it we are spiritually and mentally ill. Our values are torn and our needs are not met not because we don’t have the means but because we refuse to change and do something for us as individuals and as society. Our culture has been reduced to drinking alcohol and goint to fashion parties and or just going from one social event to the other without really taking time to rethink what our values are, we are so intagled in consumerism and being ” in” that we are out. Out of our own self as a collective of people that is loosing identity and turning into another uni vision. Please forgive me I am generalizing here, there are some exceptions.

    La Muestra Nacional, what can I say?
    I agree that there are the situations mentioned before by Miguel Angel Maravic, and yes its true that at times you never know when, where, who , or even what about these cultural forums that are supose to be open for all. Now the fact still remains that in all places there is always favoritism one way or the other if its not who you know is what are you doing that is liked etc… The truth is like C. Acevedo you want to protest do it for the rite reasons and if you didn’t make the cut then work harder to make it.
    La Muestra Nacional is just another of the many forums we have as artists to protest or even speak our voice about politics, culture, tradition, religion, beliefs,likes and dislikes. If you felt that there was a lacking of representation in LA MUestra NAcional then why not just make a show of the ones that ” didn’t make the cut”.
    In terms of “wanna be contemporary art” I feel that that is a statement that refuses to accept that the social conglomerates voice is changing. Please we are no longer the “Jibarito” from Ramon Frades “Pan NUestro”. Yes our values are still there as a humble land but pridefull in a positive way. BUt truth is we are also part of a global community linked through wires and satellite feeding off a screen. Our reality is changing and our art reflects it, we dont have to like it but we can not and must not close our eyes to it. I am not saying that I’m for it or against it I’m just saying ” wake up and smell the coffee”.

    I for one have no idea who the jury was in the sense that I don’t know them in person. What was it they were looking for or at in Puertorican art only they know. But in my perception we are changing and every day we are reading more and more and being bombarded by mass media and the advertising franchises that sells us the ideas of what we should be as individuals and converting us through the individual into a collective nothing. The sad parte is that as a society more and more people are buying the BS.
    La Muestra Nacional in my belief this year shows us new voices with new quarries and with a fresh esthetic but still very ours. We must remember that thanks to the Tuffiños in the world, the Frade, the Domingo Garcia, Myrna Baez, Arnaldo Roche and so forth in our country we have been blessed with the chance of studying out side of this tiny island there for exposing ourselves to the influence of other cultures and lifestyles; change is good. You change your clothes but you are who you are. The collective mind in art in Puerto Rico is making a statement as individuals and their thoughts, it just so happens that collectively they are artist and are Puertoriqueños.

  3. Miguel Angel Maravic Says:

    Ivan thanks for your insight.
    I ask…Baffled by what you saw at the show? or the lack of Artists that weren’t part of the show ?…or by what I wrote? To be clear;New voices or Fresh aesthetics doesn’t have to do with what I wrote earlier before. My intention isn’t to like or dislike anyone’s Art or who they picked young or old.For I’m an Artist a s well :]
    I’m just worried about what the show’s ‘NAME’implies for people less educated here on the Island or from abroad who visit us. I know I’m thinking first locally then globally as you mentioned.It’s true we are changing and growing but towards what exactly? There isn’t any ‘good or bad art’ these days.But I believe we have to start with our own first …that’s why I mention ‘wanna be contemporary art’.We are always just ‘imitating’ others or trends or movements that have been around for so long yet we try so hard to try & make people believe we were the inventor of things and that’s when the ‘EGO’ kicks in…We have to find our ‘TRUE’ voice not just copy the next artist close to us to just to impress for the ocassion.The media as you mention is just a small part of the whole problem.We loose ourselves in it.
    I agree with you on that everywhere is the same more or less regarding favoritism. But how can one make ‘the cut’ as you mention when there isn’t even an ‘OPEN CALL’ for Artists who want to participate in the selection for the show.Why is there a jury ? When they already have made thier selection before hand and invited the most part of who’s going to show? Then decide on the rest to fill in the empty spaces. It’s mostly by invitation;that’s why I say that it doesn’t represent the whole group of Artists throughout the Island or Portorican artists who live abroad. I already believe that in PR there are many venues & spaces for this type of art that you mentioned above.I’m not against it at all;the more the merrier.Also,I’m pretty sure in a few years you will have the same concerns with a much younger generation :]
    I’m just concerned mostly about it’s name ‘La Muestra Nacional de Arte de PUERTO RICO’ & the Artists that they invite…it is very misleading & not ‘representitive’ of ‘ALL’ what’s happening throughout the whole Island… for that matter.
    There’s ‘NOT’ an ‘OPEN CALL’ for everyone.
    It should include ‘ALL’ types of venues, medias,etc…and older & young emerging artists as well.Because that’s what the ‘NAME’ of the show implies. Because it’s ‘NATIONAL SHOW’ not just for Contemporary trends,etc. They could rename it ‘Contemporary Puerto Rican Artists’ or ‘The new or contemporary voices in Puerto Rican Art’ or so many other names more fit to it.

    I think all working Artists & people in the Artscene here Puerto Rico are smart enough to read between the lines.

  4. Ivan Girona Says:


    Very legitimate concerns, Sir Miguel Angel. I will be brief for this medium should not be used to have back and forth conversations between individuals.

    Where is our art going?
    Where ever it needs to go; yes true there are things that have been done and are trying to be passed off as ” new”, truth is I really don’t think they are trying to pass off as new but trying to catch up with the times for there ha been a big generational gap in art here in this wonder land of an island. And this gap is not because of the artists but of the public that insists in seeing the same things on the walls or in museums that have been seen since Tuffiño or even Campeche. The question should not be where is our art going? But : How can we make “contemporary art” ( what ever that may be) that still has insight into our culture and who we are as a collective of peoples and or individuals?
    We must sop the ” Yo soy Boricua Pa’ Que Tu Lo Sepas…” attitude towards all cultural and every day life. The questions you ask are just another cry for here I am look at me I am Puerto Rican ( please don’t take it personal for I am not regarding to you as a individual.) Truth is when you look at arts great masters you never see a identification mark that say’s I’m …………. and I am from……… not at all you see art then the author and if you are intrigued by tat particular style or movement you read about its history and there you find out the : Who’s, what, where, when ,hows etc… about that era or person or even movement. It’s history and more than worrying about where art is going on this Island I tell you let history silently take its place and in due time it will collectively make noise as to who, what , when, where and how we are in art history locally and globally.
    I am not worried at all about the next generation of artists they will have their own worries and esthetic. For me none of that maters what matters is what am I doing to be or not to be a part, not of history, but of a conglomerate voice if you will, but not even as a conglomerate more as to being genuine and truth full to my work; what ever it may be at the time.
    A contemporary artist that rejects the time he live in rejects himself.

    What’s new under the sun?

    I ask myself better yet every time I work: How can I make the sun mine , even if briefly?

    Good or Bad art?
    Art has no behavioral patterns further more art is an object there for no life, no feelings, no action. There for art can not behave good or bad, it just is wether we like it or not. If it evokes disgust or like, it has full filled some of its purpose not to say all.

    ” National Show” Hmmmmmmmmmm?
    That’s not what it is called. Muestra Nacional…
    Muestra= Sample.

    SAMPLE: a small part or quantity intended to show what the whole s like;
    • Statistics a portion drawn from a population, the study of which is intended to lead to statistical estimates of the attributes of the whole population.
    • a small amount of a food or other commodity, esp. one given to a prospective customer.

    I am sticking by what i said before ” There is a new voice”.
    Sorry you don’t feel it represents us, but the fact that you don’t like agree with what happens is good for if it causes discomfort it should cause a change in you or others.
    What will this change be?
    Lets let time tell us our history.

  5. Ana V. Says:

    Mediocre art for a mediocre nation suits well !…and 2 mediocre men…[hehehehe] above discussing what is hopeless about PORTORICAN ART…very interesting.

    Me & some friends saw this show while on a cruise;I’m from the US.
    It was really disturbing to see how some people can call them themselves artists there in that show in particular, when they literally copy artists from here & from Europe. Very sad display comparing to the works I saw while visiting some of the main museums there.
    I think PR as an Island is not concerned at all about being Caribbean; but more thinks it’s self as ‘ghetto’ or a big metropolis; which is nonsense when you visit the rest of the beautiful Island.But of course that’s my perception.

    Regarding the 2 above,I also wonder how the selection process might be ; we were very dissappointed with most of the work as well; too much graffiti or pop art which is strange for an Island…besides this I can see on the street everyday going to work !

    ‘There is a new voice’[???] I don’t think that’s even appropriate to mention here.

  6. Ivan Girona Says:

    Well I guess the census has concurred. “The new voice” is just a copy cat conglomerate of what has happened in art history through out the world for the past decades or centuries if you will. Oh well; Ana I don’t disagree with what you say or has been said. Yes there are copy cat or stylistic similarities in all that you saw;but what is at the Museo de ate de Puerto Rico in he collection is a representation of Puertorican art, art that has been accepted as ours when really is that style even ours at all?
    Look closely at history and where these styles or pictorial languages come from, are they really Puerto Rico and I am not referring to the images I am referring to the styles or art movements if you will.

    Please why are we complaining about recycled style or art?
    Was it not Picasso so famous and revered for his cubism and style and yet his work was stylized from Africa and the masks and idols they used in tribal worship?
    That is just one example because if we are to really see where this goes we have no tradition of art except for the markings on the caverns and rocks and idols that the Tainos made. The first mention of the tradition of painting or ” ART” we have is from Campeche, and Ana he recycled what was used in the spanish court to make art here in the island he took what he was taught froma a Spanish court Painter and used this ” recycled language” to make paintings about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in his time.
    So you see everyone loans and every one borrows, the point is how do we make it ours.
    You said you were visiting. I have no idea how long you have lived out side of Puerto Rico or how often you come over or how envolved you are in the comunity of the “ISLAND” not the one living outside the island that has lost a grasp of Island realities and is consumed in the longing for “lechon asado”. There is a saying in the island that says as follows: ” Nadie sabe lo que esta en el cardero, solo el cucharón que lo mueve.”
    I accept that there is a air in art here that has been done around the world already and that we have to leap really far ahead of ourselves and yet there is a commitment to working on art here and whether you or I like what we saw or agree or do not agree that is irrelevant.

    Puerto Rico has been sheltered and dictated to long about what we are or shouldn’t be.
    We are sick in many ways already, like a child that never learned to fend for him or her self and all of a sudden is allowed to do so without knowing how. I believe in the artist here on this island the ones from the past that opened the doors for this generation and the ones from this generation and from future generations.
    Finally in the island in forums like La muestra nacional graffiti is being accepted and pop art as our language or part of our language, I ask: Why not?
    Remember Basquiat , remember Warhol, remember Mannet and Monnet, the Fauve, Impresionist, Expresinist, Futurism etc… all movements that we have imitated but putting a little of what may have seemed at the time our iconography and yet they went like Basquiat from the streets to History why must we reject all that we think isn’t us( Puerto Rico) yes you see these things going to work on the streets each day, that is why they are now a part of our culture because they are what we see every day.
    Puerto Rico has one TV or two Tv stations all the rest of the programing is cable and univision, why dont you protest about that, nothing that we see there is Puerto Rico or anythingg like it and yet we swallow like a porn star does all the Sienfeld, Law and Order, American Idol, Objetivo Fama, Real Life, Family Feud, Novelas, and all the other canned TV that we wach? And I hear no complaints from you on how our children speak or act trying to imitate another culture with the EMos, rockers, rappers, and so forth.
    What you saw was a slap in the face of where we are going or where we are standing. You don’t have to like it but please do not deny the fact that we are very influenced because of global marketing and merchandising, and the fact that people like you live abroad and have their children out of the island and raise them there and then come and make a life here bringing other cultural languages into our background.
    Artist on the island are just reacting to our reality what ever it may be.
    I ask you Ana :
    Do you dress like a jibarita or do you dress from Gap, Bannana, MAcy, Zara, or any other department store or boutique? Do you hand make your clothes or do you buy them with a pre-established shape design or form that another person throws at you and just because its befitting to your needs and you like it you use it blindly?

    Do you eat arrenka, bacalao, batata, ñame, yautia, tilapia, guasave, barbúj, chopa, guavara, gandures or gandul, patitas de cerdo, cuajito, mandinga, gandinga; or do you eat your Panda express, Mcdonalds, Chilis, Taco Maker, BK, KFC, Crystal Fried Chicken, Popeye, Perkins, I hop?

    I truely think you are smart enough to see where I am getting at.
    We are past the wepa, been there done that moved on.
    Art is for he mind to be stimulated if you reject it with out digesting it then you recieve no nutrients. Digest it chew on it like cud if you must for a while let it seep and then as your body does you will repulse all that is not needed or agreed.
    We can not discard on the premise that we don’t like.
    We must look further.
    And yes I agree with what Samuel del Torro said. But further more you are Banging on the Artist for doing art.
    You asked a very important question and that I agree, because Edd Ruscha already did his part. What was the curatorial process like? What was it they wanted to portray?
    I am not saying by any means that what was presented was mediocre I am not one to say. But time will tell.

  7. Helene Says:

    Well, well, well! So much for artists standing united! I would like to contribute my humble opinion on the topics I consider worthy of discussion, so I will try to be as constructive as possible.

    First things first: It totally hurts when an opinionated foreigner throws crap at your country. It’s particularly mortifying when they’re harsh, but after getting over it -we’re adults- I’ll scratch my head and go hmmm… maybe there’s something -or many things- to work on. Which brings me to my next point.

    If memory doesn’t fail me -I’m not that old- the National Show has always been one step ahead in selecting the best work on the Island, regardless of “emerging” or “established”. It was a feast to go and see so many different works and artists in one place. And no, this is not a John Lennon song. I can tell it because I lived it. That said, I find it a little irresponsible, or should I say, ignorant, to question the presence of established artists on the show; it’s been like that since forever. Last thing I knew, the show is not called “National Emerging Puerto Rican Art Show”, so please take the time to do your homework and make informed comments. Oh, and yes, it was usual to find the open calls published in newspapers, even TV news. As for myself, I would LOVE for someone to come up with a solid and convincing argument as for why are the “open calls” not published in the media anymore. They used to do it more than ten years ago, so what’s happening? Don’t blame it on the staff cuts, because it’s been a long while.

    Switching the subject, I’m all for the passionate defense of our points of view, but man! Comments like “if you didn’t make the cut, work harder the next time” sound like personal remarks to me. Dismissing people as sore losers is not too brilliant and makes you look like the one snapping back at the slightest disagreement. For me, to “wake up and smell the coffee” is to accept and embrace the fact that contemporary and classical, abstract and figurative, urban and “jibarito” will forever coexist, wether you like it or not, because that’s what ART is all about. Artists are supposed to be open, not obtuse.You can make or like urban/cutting edge art; just don’t act like it’s the Holy Grail or treat the people who came before like old fashioned “abuelitos”. Artists are entitled to their opinions but the bottom line is, we have to respect one another.

    On a final note, a Spanish-English translation lesson: “Muestra” should not be translated as “sample” in the context of the “Muestra Nacional.” In this case, the correct translation should be “show”. Believe me, you don’t want to say that you participated in the “National Sample”, or worse, put it in your CV, unless you want to score as the laughing stock of town.

  8. Ivan Girona Says:


    I agree with you 100% on what you have said. Thank you for all of your assertive comments. I appreciate and take to heart all that you have said. Now please don’t take me the wrong way for what I have said before, I think that this Cyber medium al though great is emotionally flawed jejejejejeje.

    1. I love the “classic artists” from here they are the ones from wich I have learned so much. Tuffiño: personal conversations with him are great, Myrna Baez, Domingo, Bonilla Ryan, etc… Even those who died long ago have taugh t me through their work.
    2. The deffinition I gave was on purpose, but thank you for clearing it up.
    The truth is the show has both meanings.
    3. And yes we must “wake up and smell the coffee” I could not agree with you more in the fact that all of it is Puerto Rico and believe me I do not glorify contemporary ” tendencies” My works body is very classic as a fact, Drawing and painting and how I love it, but as you said there are other things in our Island that make us what we are not just the traditional art or values but what is our day to day life if you will. An d they all should coexist , I would never dream of discarding the past or past artist and their work, a people with out a past has no future. So whether I like it or not I accept that its all a part of us. Its just a matter of personal taste I guess in individual terms, taste and preferences.
    4. I might have been harsh when I said ” if you didn’t make the cut…” and I admit I am rough around the edges, and most likely due to the lack of better words in the moment of heat thats what came out. And yes I do know that there are many great artist that where not chosen Like Samuel del Toro( I admire his work greatly) , but instead of complaining he found a way to silently with a gentle and absurdly loud scream be part of La Muestra Nacional. I just get worked up when I read things like the ones before.
    If you didn’t make the cut, that does not mean I agree it just means there was a selection process, and yes there were many left out that should have been there but thats why instead of crying and complaining you follow by example: BRAVO SAMMY!!! YOU GAVE US A COURSE IN BEING AN ARTIST.
    5. I agree as well in that these forums used to be more open in terms of notice. Staff cut like you said no way… internet cheap and easy and I know El Instituto de Cultura has a list of artist with the numbers and emails if not adress. E-mail is cheap and effective please you can send not an invite to participate but to submit your work.
    Ivan Girona

  9. Jessica Bailey Says:

    Well, Family Feud is actually a classic game that traces back wayback in the 80′s i guess. It is a nice game anyway.;`”

  10. Maddison Richards Says:

    “Family Feud” was a great game show in the old days, now we have “who wants to be a millionaire”*:;

  11. Brian Hughes Says:

    Family Feud, the best gameshow ever-~”


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