Re: the Hash
We found ourselves face-to-face with some jug-eared Baroqueness last week at our fave Santurce hole-in-the-wall, =Desto. We’ve come to expect the unexpected in this lively redoubt of the avant avant and the what-the-hay, but even our fossilized, not to say termite-ridden, old Rotund timbers were shivered by the latest antics from =Desto’s dynamic duo, Raquel Quijano and Omar Obdulio Peña Forty. (It appears that one-time partner-in-crime Jason Mena has gone on to other things; mainly attending to his own artistic career. This move recently paid off handsomely for Mena, who won an honorable mention in the VI Salón de Dibujo de Santo Domingo, which we’ll get to in a moment.)
Really, all Quijano and Peña Forty had to do was invite the always creaturely Freddie Mercado into their tiny exhibition hall cum point-of-encounter, and Mercado did the rest. Copious black lace, froufy period appointments, stuffed animals of unknown and highly questionable provenance, consumptive lighting, all as backdrop for the paintings, photographs, and other so-called “sculptural objects” which comprise the man’s artistic production. On one wall, a series of photographic self-portraits of the artist as Victorian lady of means, black-clad alcaldesa, hefty sexpot alounge with bad intentions. On another, paintings that range from middling, straight-ahead homenaje-portraits of neighborhood figures to amusing semi-figurative pastiches made with floral patterned fabric, calligraphic traceries of goo configuring corsets, necklaces, g-strings, and net stockings, and actual brush strokes in the service of recognizable, well-put faces and figures. One little portrait confronts us with a personage from a tropical fever-dream, pig-nosed and bewigged. If you ask us, where Freddie Mercado is concerned, “wiggy” often comes to mind.
Or maybe it would be more appropriate to call the setting foreground, or—let’s split the difference—all of a piece. We’d be the first to admit that the lace, the velvety, old-time accouterments, and the soft illumination—which gives our photographs their jaundiced look, a much truer picture than you might think—provided =Desto with perhaps its coziest, most drawing room moment to date. Things are only disturbing in the details.
We had the opportunity to chat with Mercado amidst his fringed lamps, doilies, and bug-eyed soft sculptures, and he is a well-spoken and downright affable fellow. We learned that there is little distinction between Freddie the artist and Freddie the man. It appears that Mercado lives his art, dressing daily as we see him in the photographs of grande dames and elegant floozies, and, of course, a guy has to find time to paint and stitch and sew. He told us that, “performance can begin at any moment, and anything, any object, can be something else.” When he has an audience he likes to raise his skirts and lower his bodice and show his butt—it’s such a prodigious show that we wonder if what we’re seeing is perhaps a clever prosthetic enhancement—and we suspect that this part of Mercado’s thing is strictly to freak out the straight people, because we’re frankly hard-put to see the point when you’re alone in the livingroom dusting the armoire.
Be that as it may, even in his most outré proffering of flesh there is the sort of push-pull, attract-repel, granny-slutty dynamic you see in the overall picture of his =Desto outing, and what comes to our conventional little minds is the transgression thing so beloved by certain artists of every generation and locale, a desire to carry things a step too far. Which in Freddie Mercado’s case seems less a personal quirk than a kind of vision. He has a way with exaggeration that teases out both the pleasantness of what is old-fashioned about us and the hypocritical, absurd, and cruel. He works to violate ordinariness in every possible way—or maybe “transcend” is a better word for it—up to and including our rage for the here and now. And that’s okay with with us because that’s what we’ve always thought art was about, too.
Pay =Desto a visit at 1400 Américo Salas at Hipódromo, if for no other reason than to see a a truly original mind at work, plus a chance to sit on some pretty groovy furniture. Give Omar or Raquel a jingle at 787-633-3381 because you never know when someone will be around to give you a show.
In Praise of Somewhat Famous Persons
We were recently apprised of the news that several of our kind—i.e. Puerto Rican artsy fartsies—went to the VI Salón de Dibujo de Santo Domingo, and that more than one island personage came away with honors. Haydeé Venegas was the organizer of the boricua group and got the award as top curator at the show. Javier Olmeda Raya won one of the main prizes for his “use of the textual in the service of drawing,” and Jason Mena received an honorable mention for his work sin título, which we believe is an artist’s book. Miguel Luciano, who was in Santo Domingo as a U.S. representative—though we think of him as a native son—also got an honorable mention.
Up and Coming
There are a couple of events and some art news we want to shout out about, but we’ll content ouselves with showing you some reproductions of publicity fliers. One regards the soon-to-open ICP-sponsored exhibition Estigma, the group show of artists who were representatives of La Trienal Poli/Gráfica de San Juan: América Latina y el Caribe at la Bienal Internacional de Artes Gráficas de Ljubljana . . . if you follow. This exhibition opens in sala 3 of La Ballajá on November 29th at 7 p.m. The flier, below, features a Miguel Luciano work, by the bye.
Another group exhibition, Location unoseisiete, opens at Caribbean University on November 27th, also at 7 p.m. This show has many of the usual suspects of the youth explosion, including Karlo Ibarra, Rafa Miranda, Abdiel Segarra, and Puntos Suspensivos.
Finally, the much anticipated Orificio, the omnibus magazine-like gathering of island art wowsers, put together by Teresa López, is a step or two closer to realization with the announcement that López received grants from the ICP and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Fab!
Fair is Fair
We love to give El Nuevo Día a hard time for its horrendamente uncritical coverage of the local art scene, so we have to take our hats off to the daily newspaper for its spate of recent articles by Mariana García Benítez. García Benítez, as we’ve mentioned elsewhere in our often inflamed, and perhaps even intemperate, coverage of the matter, knows for the most part whereof she speaks, writes well, and has an almost uncanny way of connecting with the artists she writes about. It is an unusual approach for an arts writer, but here it humanizes the all-too-often dreary process of reading about art. A really smart move on the part of El Nuevo Día. Who says we’re not nice?
A Tip o’ the Hat to the Grinner
Last spring we tripped on over to la Playa in Ponce, a mostly desolate warehouse section of the city where Antonio Martorell has built a studio, creating a veritable palmy oasis amidst the arid ruins. At the time Martorell was finishing up a large-scale print installation for Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College in the Bronx, New York, where he’d been a visiting scholar in the fall of 2006. The woodcut, dry point, and collage installation features, as we saw it, not only two walls of images, but also a dancefloor and an array of lamps and kites. It is based on both Hans Holbein’s The Dance of Death and that essential Puerto Rican form la plena, and, in fact, is entitled La Plena Inmortal [The Immortal Plena].
La Plena Inmortal displays the artist’s usual inexhaustible prodigiousness, but to say that we were astonished at the work’s color, strength, and sheer velocity is, well, a kind of understatement. And you know we’re not often given to those.
Unlike the funereal stillness of his recent exhibition Martorell DF, the artist’s public entombment of things he lost in the vandal fire that destroyed his studio-home and many of his works and possessions last fall—which we commented on here—La Plena Inmortal literally dances with exuberant excess, both in its formal play and its commentary on the abiding swoon of tropical island existence, the peculiar absurdities of what’s frequently referred to here as “our colonial situation,” and living—and dying—as a human being.
We have always been a much greater fan of Martorell the printmaker than the painterly Martorell or even Martorell the installation artist, and for us La Plena Inmortal harks back to some of his strongest work ever, the 1960s portfolio Las Barajas Alacrán.
Does Rotund World quack too much about certain habitual themes? Is its dense, mock-poetic prose bringing you to tears of boredom, or perhaps spoiling your afternoon tea? Turn elsewhere, fed-up friend, to see how bad things can really get, or send us a message with the colorful word above.
Return with us now, here.