Jugando con la adversidad (Playing with Adversity), 2001
A 2002 work by Quisqueya Henríquez, on view at the Bronx Museum.
By KEN JOHNSON
Published: October 26, 2007
In a cryptic black-and-white photograph by Quisqueya Henríquez, the shadow of a woman lying on a Bauhaus-style recliner is cast on a blank wall. At the Bronx Museum of the Arts, where the picture is included in a lucid, compact survey of Ms. Henríquez’s wry, cerebral art, a label explains that the picture is a takeoff on a photograph of Charlotte Perriand on a chaise she designed with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. Ms. Henríquez’s work shows only the shadow — of herself, in a similar chair — and thereby, the label says, “makes a telling comment on the assumption that Modernism in Latin America was a mere shadow of European Modernism.”
In whatever form she works — sculpture, installations, collage, video — Ms. Henríquez tends to come up with ideologically suggestive one-liners generated by her preoccupation with the gap between international modern art and the local, vernacular arts and cultures of Latin America. Born in Cuba in 1966 and now living in the Dominican Republic, she has been included in numerous solo and international group exhibitions in North and South America, but is still not well known in New York.
A recent video called “On the Map (Yellow on Yellow)” presents a blank yellow screen with subtitles in yellow type displaying transcripts of sensational television news reports from Spanish-language television: stories about a kidnapping, the births of a deformed horse and a premature baby, and so on. While the color and the text refer to yellow journalism, the blank screen and the parenthetical title “Yellow on Yellow” refer to the famous Malevich painting “White on White” and to the Modernist dream of pure abstraction.
In a computer-animated work called “Bumpers,” high-definition flat screens present all-white images of tubular bus bumpers that become progressively filled in with vibrant colors. This refers to Dominican bus drivers’ practice of painting their front bumpers in beautiful decorator colors. At the same time the disembodied images call to mind abstract paintings of the 1960s by artists like Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland.
A video called “Intertextuality” that shows a chicken wandering around on a city street has been altered to give it the high-contrast darks and lights and the intense, fruity color of an Andy Warhol painting.
The effect of such works is to conflate in the viewer’s mind two habitually separated realms: that of rarefied high art and that of popular culture and ordinary life. The larger significance for Ms. Henríquez is in the perception that the world’s ruling cultures have tended to claim high art for themselves while granting to the Southern hemispheres the “lower” orders of vernacular, folk and tribal arts.
The problem is that academic discourse has made these themes familiar. Lately, legions of critics, art historians and curators have been rushing to analyze and redress the North’s historic devaluation of Latin American modern art. So her works tend to read not as challenging revelations of cultural blindness but as clever, formulaic affirmations of currently accepted truths.
There is, moreover, something too pat about many of her efforts. An early work consists of two piles of cotton thread produced by unraveling a piece of canvas. One pile is the warp, the other the weft, and thus the art of painting is deconstructed into its material essentials. A little too neatly, perhaps.
Recent sculptures consist of various balls produced by major sporting goods manufacturers that have been altered as if by indigenous folk artists. Tennis balls, footballs and basketballs have been cut up, turned inside out and otherwise manipulated and transformed into wallets, purses, hats and other useful or decorative commodities. Again, it’s about the intersection of international corporate culture and local folk culture, with an implied critique of deracinating global capitalism added.
If there is a certain psychic shallowness about all this, it may be that Ms. Henríquez tends to favor a high-minded, programmatic intellectualism over more intuitive, imaginative possibilities. In her attractive color street photographs she seems to be searching for a deeper engagement with the world, but her pictures of juxtaposed objects that are like found sculptures are so much like photographs by Gabriel Orozco that you feel that she’s working not from life but from a kind of ready-made template.
There is one unusually poignant video in which you look out from a dark room through a rough hole in the wall near the floor. You see the feet of a man who is dancing to the sound of a merengue song. It creates a sad sense of longing to get out, to get free of the imprisoning cell and to join the dancer. It’s as if Ms. Henríquez herself were yearning to escape the strictures of her cool, formulaic conceptualism.
“The World Outside: A Survey Exhibition 1991-2007” continues through Jan. 27 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, at 165th Street, Morrisania; (718) 681-6000, bronxmuseum.org.
link: the bronx museum