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Living in Havana
Marlborough Chelsea    May 19 - Jun 18, 2011

The Directors of Marlborough Chelsea are pleased to announce that an exhibition featuring the contemporary Cuban artists Abel Barroso, Roberto Diago, Kcho, William Pérez, and Ernesto Rancaño will open May 19 and continue through June 18, 2011. The extensive exhibition will be held on both the first and second floors of the Marlborough Chelsea Gallery and will include works varying in size and media, from intimately-sized etchings on acrylic board to large-scale sculptural works.

Each of these five artists addresses life in the city of Havana with their work, exploring the paradoxes associated with inhabiting a place with a magnificent recent past and an impoverished, yet culturally prosperous present. What is unique about this group of artists is that they all thrive and produce work in Cuba, and the challenges they face there inform their art. Each of these artists is operating in the precarious space of a politically charged environment, and working to articulate, artistically, their journeys throughout this social landscape. Corina Matamoros, chief curator at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, wrote that the selection of artwork in this exhibition, “draws us inward to the dark corners, to the coarseness of the materials and their implied meanings, to the sublimely humble, to the environment that brings the works together, to Habana profunda (deep Havana).”

Abel Barroso combines printmaking and sculpture to create humorous yet biting social commentaries that address Cuba’s, and the world’s, problems from a decidedly “third world” point of view. His works often invite the viewer to participate, frequently incorporating a crank, which significantly, upon turning, always produces the same result, no matter how many times it is attempted. Barroso participated in the 7th Havana Biennial, and his works can be found in collections in Canada, Cuba, Germany, and the U.S.

The work of Roberto Diago is explained by the artist himself: “I concern myself with universal subjects like slavery, but not in a cold, detached way…I bring the subject from the past and put it out there for people today. Here in Cuba, you see a lot of big billboards advertising unity and solidarity for the common good. I think that’s cool, and I told myself that I could also propagandize for things I feel. So I developed a kind of graffiti style, trying to be more and more succinct, writing things like ‘love each other, kiss each other,’ and recycling things I find in the street.” Cuba’s National Fine Arts Museum awarded Diago the Juan Francisco Elso Prize and his work has been shown at the 47th Venice Biennale.

Kcho, internationally recognized for both his sculptures and paintings, tackles the universal issue of migration via the personally poignant hazardous journey of Cubans across the Strait of Florida. He frequently incorporates in his work imagery from found objects associated with the sea: boats, propellers, driftwood, and inner tubes. This choice of imagery, in the words of Rosa Lowinger, “draws directly from the raw collective psyche of his nation. These are works that break your heart, evoking the loss felt by those who leave their country, as well as those who stay behind.” The central work of the exhibition, El Camino (The Road), consists of two huts connected to each other by a tunnel constructed of inner tubes from tires. One hut contains the signs of a life of poverty with scant furniture and old, reused objects. The second hut, decorated with beautiful objects such as a crystal lamp and a stylized vase, suggests a life of wealth and comfort. It is possible to look from one hut into the other. This work represents the aspiration to transition from impoverished living conditions to a life of prosperity. Kcho’s works are included in many important public institutions, including Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Trained as a sculptor, William Pérez explores a different medium in the works included in this exhibition, using the drypoint technique on acrylic board. Based on the subjects of his three works here, José Marti, Che Guevara, and Cuba itself, it appears that Pérez is a devoted nationalist. But upon inspection his disagreement with some deep-rooted ideas of Cuban politics emerges. Pérez is a founder of Grupo Punto, a group of young sculptors in Cienfuegos, and has exhibited internationally, including Mexico, Germany, and Denmark.

Ernesto Rancaño, in a divergence from his earlier works on canvas, evokes rage and pain with his sculptures, drawing from the anguishes that beset others. His renderings of a hammer and a shovel, typically symbols of humble labor and tenacity, are covered with thick barbs, transforming the useful tools into torturous, useless objects. Rancaño’s works can be found in permanent collections in Panama, Mexico, Jamaica and Spain.

An illustrated catalogue with an essay by Corina Matamoros will be available at the time of the exhibition.

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