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From Real Art Ways To San Juan…At Art Party

From Real Art Ways To San Juan

Puerto Rican Artworks Find Their Way Home


January 24, 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Last spring, Hartford's Real Arts Ways gathered an eclectic selection of pieces by Puerto Rican artists for a show that demonstrated the wide variety of their contemporary art.

Now it has come home.

"None of the Above: Contemporary Work by Puerto Rican Artists" opened Saturday at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in San Juan - among the largest and most influential museums on the island, and a prestigious showcase for the 15 established and emerging artists whose work is featured.

"It's important for the people to see what Puerto Rican artists are doing, and also for them to see that contemporary art by Puerto Ricans is being taken seriously elsewhere," says Diana Berezdivin, who chairs the museum's committee on acquisitions and exhibitions.

"Museums validate," says Berezdivin, a noted collector of contemporary art. "It will be interesting to see the reactions here."

As in Hartford last year, some of those reactions are likely to be strong. The show's three co-curators have adopted an expansive definition of Puerto Rican, to include not only those artists working on the island but also their counterparts in the United States and overseas.

Some pieces - outsized reproductions by Enoc Pérez of hotel postcards from the 1950s heyday of island tourism, a film by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla of a man riding around Vieques on a motorbike fitted with a trumpet for a tailpipe - concern themselves specificallywith island issues.

Others seem to look elsewhere for inspiration: the fantastical climb-in weapon constructed by Arnaldo Morales, the soft-sculpture re-imaginings by Chemi Rosado Seijo of cubes made famous by Swedish artist Claes Oldenburg, the electronic music-influenced bead-and-canvas works of Carlos Rolón.

Marysol Nieves, the museum's curator of contemporary art, says, "What's important to note is the variety of perspectives. Many of the works respond to issues important to Puerto Rico, but it's not necessarily the defining factor in the work. These are artists who are very much engaged internationally in addition to locally."

One of the pieces talked about most at Real Art Ways has expanded since its appearance last year. "I-scream (resist!)," a full-size armored car (rendered in plywood) that mingled the music of an ice-cream truck with memories of the 1983 Wells Fargo robbery in West Hartford to fund Puerto Rican nationalists, is reduced to toy dimensions by a gigantic Popsicle made of green currency coated in brown soil.

Those pieces are flanked by a series of electrified images fashioned from glowing resistance coils set in concrete; creator Charles Juhász Alvarado plans to serve ice cream during the opening.

"It's going to be a different experience for each person," says Juhász, who studied at Yale. "There's the truck, which for me is a very powerful symbol of Puerto Rican nationalism. But it also represents capitalism, or it could be an ice cream truck. There's the contrast between the heat from the resistance wire and the cold ice cream. For some people, it might be a question of how much can you take?"

A second piece in the show also refers to Connecticut. In "Hartford Revisions Plan: Park and Main I, II and III," Manuel Acevedo embellishes a triptych of photographs of a downtown vacant lot with proposals for new construction.

The title "None of the Above" refers to the most popular choice in the 1998 plebiscite on political status options for this Caribbean U.S. territory. Confronted with official definitions of commonwealth, statehood and independence, a plurality of islanders voted to reject all three.

Similarly, the show's co-curators have sought to transcend what Nieves calls "the traditional curatorial models of politics or identity" to explore the variety of inspirations, methods and creations at play within the community.

"It's looking beyond geography, beyond identity, beyond race, beyond political relationships," says co-curator Steven Holmes. "It comes together as the work of Puerto Rican artists, but in the art world, at least, one could easily argue ... that this work needs to be understood and thought of and taken seriously simply as art taking part in global, universal conversation."

"None of the Above" and the book of essays to be published in conjunction with it can be seen as deepening the connection between Real Art Ways and the Puerto Rican artistic community. A decade ago, the organization commissioned Pepón Osorio's landmark installation "En la barbería no se llora" - "No Crying Allowed in the Barbershop" - now in the collection at the Museo.

The arrival of "None of the Above" in San Juan is the latest development in that relationship.

"From the very first, we had it as a goal that we wanted it to be able to go to San Juan," Holmes says. "It was important that the cultural community of San Juan and of Puerto Rico understand how highly their artists and the culture that produces these artists are regarded in the larger art world."

The exhibition will run at the Museo through April 17.

At Art Party In San Juan

Patricia Seremet

January 26, 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved.

Will K. Wilkins, director of Real Art Ways, called from a San Juan café Tuesday, and not just to lord it over us that it's 80 degrees there and tundra conditions here.

He and his wife, Catherine Blinder, and an entourage of about 15 from his arts group were happily ensconced there all week for an opening at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. It was the island's debut of an exhibit of work by Puerto Rican artists that premiered at Hartford's Real Art Ways, called "None of the Above: Contemporary Work by Puerto Rican Artists."

"It was a very fancy opening with about 200 people," Wilkins said. "Everybody knows Hartford is a very Puerto Rican city. There's New York, Orlando, Philadelphia and Hartford."

"It was la crème de la crème from Puerto Rican society," Kelvin Roldan from Mayor Eddie Perez's office told Blinder.

"Lots of sparkles," she added.

Among Hartford people there were City Councilman Calixto Torres; head of SINA (Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance) Luis Caban ; Brian Smith of the law firm Robinson & Cole; former city corporation counsel Alex Aponte; Courant publisher Jack Davis and his wife, Mimi; and Hartford developer Phil Schonberger, with his wife, Robin.

Wilkins was thrilled with the role that Real Art Ways is playing in Puerto Rico, but when asked for colorful anecdotes, he wisely turned the phone over to his wife.

"It's an island full of old hippies," Blinder said. "We were at a restaurant last night called Chez Shack owned by a former member of the Mamas and the Papas. There were no doors, no windows. Everything here is late '60s. There are wild horses and wild goats all over the island."

Will and Catherine will be home Thursday. As the expression goes, wild horses or goats couldn't keep them from coming back. (Just a note: The segment that Blinder taped for the "Today" show on feminism - originally planned to be live - is scheduled for Friday between 8 and 9 a.m. on NBC.)


January 28, 2005

*Members of a Real Art Ways entourage attending an art exhibit in San Juan, Puerto Rico, later visited Cafe Shack on Vieques, not in San Juan, as a "Java" item on Page D2 Wednesday incorrectly reported.

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