22 May 2013


© Brandon Queen, 2013
The Muestra Nacional 2013 (National Expo 2013), organised by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, takes the country's artistic pulse with a multi-generational survey of artists working in Puerto Rico. The exhibit, held in what used to be the Spanish marine's armoury, combines work from well-established and emerging artists.

Although time was short and the exhibit closed before I could see the whole thing, I can say that the work is of a very high quality, particularly the paintings, which are the high points of this show. Some of the sculptures and video works are out of place in comparison to the more refined pieces, but overall this exhibition shows that artists in Puerto Rico are producing world-class art.

While the paintings in the show are reason enough to check out the exhibit, the skill displayed in the mixed-media installations is especially striking. In the two rooms I was able to visit there were three pieces that stood out for their plastic sophistication and visual composition, all three from established artists.

One of them, by Franklin Graulau, is a three-piece sculptural installation in ceramic, enamel, and fibers entitled Jardín de media noche. Calling to mind 3D Surrealist flowers with Freudian undertones, each component has rounded edges and is a soft greyish colour, thus heightening the sense of dream-like playfulness.

Next to Graulau's work is a large-scale installation by Daniel Lind Ramos, Guardacosta(s). I will unreservedly admit that this was my favourite piece in the entire show (at least what of it I saw). An assembly of painted wood panels, palm fronds, pots, pans, machetes, and hoes, it sweeps the viewer away with its game of visual seduction and then invites them to consider the significance of each of the components. Referencing the name of the work (which means "coast guard") are the palm fronds, a bag of sand laid at the foot of the piece, and a background painted to recall the sea's horizon, all of which bring Ramos' biography into play since he is from Loíza, one of the country's oldest towns and located on the northern coast.

In the same corner with Graulau and Ramos' works is a piece by Spanish artist Luis Ivorra, who has been in Puero Rico since the late seventies and studied at the prestigious Escuela de Artes Plásticas (School of Applied Arts) in San Juan. His mixed-media sculpture Tránsito combines metal work, wood work, and ceramics to produce an austere and surreal effect. The apparent minimalism of this sculpture belies the skill necessary to produce such a clean but large-scale work.

All three of these works hearken to the Arts and Crafts Movement and take as a given the place of craft in contemporary art. They demonstrate that traditional techniques such as ceramics and wood working can be used to achieve a contemporary artistic vision without wallowing in a more traditionalist past.

The exhibit runs at the Antiguo Arsenal de la Marina until 8 October 2013.