Untitled  2003, by Ramón Alejandro, at the Spanish Cultural Center's "De ida y vuelta"
Untitled 2003, by Ramón Alejandro, at the Spanish Cultural Center's "De ida y vuelta"

Cubans New and Old

The Spanish Cultural Center (Centro Cultural Español, or CCE) for years has been a unique place for interesting cultural exchanges in Miami, and the current display continues that tradition. "De Ida y Vuelta" (roughly, "Going and Coming") is a show of works, mostly on paper, curated by Carlos M. Luis.

It presents eleven artists of Cuban descent who traveled to and worked in Spain before settling in Miami. Luis sees their work as "free from pseudo-nationalistic tendencies which no longer serve a purpose." (Though he doesn't explain what this means, I gather it refers to the ideologically driven work of the so-called Generation of the Eighties.) According to Luis, two other themes differentiate the works: humor and the sheer diversity of themes.

At times I felt "De Ida y Vuelta" was filled with too many contrasting voices, and yet given the quality of their craft, one could expect a sort of amicable resolution. What's the topic of this gathering?


"De Ida y Vuelta"

Centro Cultural Espaol, 800 Douglas Rd., Suite 170, Coral Gables

Through November 19. 305-448-9677 (www.ccemiami.org).

Yovani Bauta, Julio Antonio, and Arturo Rodriguez have in common their Expressionist language against the background of our human existence. Bauta's painting has developed a great deal and his two gouaches representing the human anatomy are well-realized. The execution is deeper in content and darker; its monochromaticity conveys something less accidental and more fundamental to the body than -- paradoxically -- the body itself. Bauta's pieces are among my favorites of the show.

Julio Antonio generally probes personal and socially veiled traumas. His work has a stream-of-consciousness feel and is a bit politically subversive -- and rightly so. In spite of fads, Antonio sticks to his own tribulations in his search for metaphors. I've always preferred his smaller works, where the figures and their environment come together more powerfully. These are no exception.

Two small watercolors of young male nudes by Arturo Rodriguez may not be enough if you don't know what his work is about. A very idiosyncratic painter, somewhat against the grain, Rodriguez keeps exploring a narrative in which humanity's faded stories seem to unfold all at once in front of our very eyes.

Now the humor: Do animals deserve better treatment in our world? For some reason, Néstor Arena's surrealistic and ecological photomontages make me think of this. Imagine a world of tiny people who spend their lives confronting gigantic insects and amphibians. We seem to be the subjugated ones, but actually it's the other way around; insects are Arena's protagonists. In our eyes they may be creepy, but in truth they represent a voiceless, undefended, and nearly exterminated majority. Equality may never exist for nonconscious animals in our human world.

Ramón Alejandro's works on paper for this show are simply exquisite. One can be misled, because his mannerist pulse can at times work against his art: He often says too much. This time he's more restrained, not by form, but by content. The two little works on display here exalt the pleasures of the flesh. See these male and female mulattos engaged -- each playing his or her respective gender and social roles -- in an exaggerated dance of hyper-affected and yet picturesque lust.

Gustavo Acosta is as skillful with the pencil or crayon as he is with the brush. In fact there are aspects of his canvas execution that are very similar to these drawings. In the paintings you perceive the zigzag texture executed with the brush -- as if it were a pencil. Acosta makes me see the city in a less rational and a more emotional way. I can idealize the solitude of a highway, the heavy silence of a building's bare concrete wall, or the introverted brightness of a streetlight seen from below a bridge.

Florencio Gelabert and Baruj Salinas offer more abstract visions. Salinas's landscapes exude a sort of Romantic symbolism, though for some reason I found these (visually speaking) too far apart. Gelabert has worked for some time with the image of the ax as a symbol of violence, division, potential force, and togetherness. The ax is a heavy and ominous instrument, but Gelabert employs it to suggest other poetic possibilities as well. His pieces may appear plain, since they are based on the simplicity of the ax's movement, but once you comprehend their context, Gelabert's drawings become clean and elegant.

Heriberto Mora makes attractive little canvases where texture and pattern meet in a single vision. You'd be attracted to his somewhat repetitive iconography (whether abstract books, houses, or whatnot) rendered with heavy impasto and infused with an ecological and numinous significance. I rediscovered Mora's work after seeing his recent solo exhibition at Books & Books. He's clearly an intense artist with promise.

Not far apart from Mora's paintings are Angel Ramirez's aquatints -- crisp, minimal, and somewhat dramatic. The works are small, carefully unpretentious, and poetically cryptic. They play well against Joaquín González's oils on paper, showing masked busts engaged in puzzling dialogues, perhaps sanctioning the possibility -- or the obscurity -- of our present human engagements.

Also in Coral Gables, Cernuda Arte is showing "Jewels on Paper," an exhibition of 60 works from some 26 Cuban masters, among them Esteban Chartrand, Wifredo Lam, Amelia Peláez, Carlos Enríquez, Nicolás Guillén, and Tomás Sánchez. The pieces exhibited, salon-style, express an array of ideas and themes too wide-ranging to explore in detail here.

My favorites: Víctor Manuel pieces from the Fifties. They are unsurpassable renditions of the Cuban mulata's face -- beautiful, sincere, smart, and not anything like the received stereotypes. Carlos Enríquez's little gouache Las Comadritas (two baroque-style rocking chairs) is a masterpiece.

I also loved Antonio Gattorno's works from the Forties (rendered in a Cubistic style), Raúl Milián's Flower from 1954, and Tomás Sánchez's esperpentos (monsters) from the early Seventies.


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