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The Space between Dream and Utopia

The Lobby Gallery of the Deutsche Bank in New York is currently showing the exhibition Dreamspaces / Entresuenos. An interview with guest curator Holly Block.

Dreamspaces / Entresuenos, the current exhibition in The Lobby Gallery of the Deutsche Bank New York, brings together more than twenty works by Latin American artists working in the US and Latin America. Slipping in and out between dream and daydream is an experience that serves these artists as a foundation for their reflections on cultural identity, childhood, urban architecture, and utopian forms of society. In a conversation, Holly Block explains the connections between Cuban art and Calvino’s “Invisible Cities.”

How did this show come about?

Holly Block: Liz Christensen, Deutsche Bank's curator, asked me to do a show on Latin American artists because she knew about my involvement with Cuba. I was happy to do it, especially since Deutsche Bank has been a generous supporter of Art in General. I thought it would be a great opportunity to reach a different kind of audience and to give these artists visibility in another venue.

Dreamspaces/Entresuenos in the Lobby Gallery
Deutsche Bank New York

I like your title, Dreamspaces/Entresuenos: it's very poetic. The English and Spanish are not quite the same, however. In Spanish, wouldn't it be translated as "between dreams" or "among dreams?"

I think of entresuenos as a space between reality and fiction; it's a metaphysical space that incorporates notions of transformation and building, a building that is both internal and external. All of the artists in the show deal with these themes in one way or another.

Jose Bedia, Lungoa, 1999, Courtesy of George Adams Gallery, New York

Jose Bedia, for instance, creates a spiritual space, basing his paintings on Afro-Cuban religious imagery that is part of his Cuban heritage. Janaina Tschäpe, who is from Brazil, draws self-portraits in series that transform from a human face to that of an animal. She is also a filmmaker, photographer, and performance artist, and these drawings – with their storyboard format and cinematic qualities – reflect these other disciplines.

Janina Tschape, Raven, 2002, Courtesy of Galerie Catherine Bastide, Brüssel

Several other artists derive their work from childhood memories. Javier Tellez, a site-specific artist who was born in Venezuela, re-configured his piece for this show, installing it along two long window ledges; with its found objects and unexpected materials such as soap, sponges, small colored balls, and empty boxes of drugs to which he attached wheels, it resembles a city built by a child – a very imaginative and gifted child. It's playful, but it's also a critique that draws an analogy between institutions and society. There is a specific reference to Jean-Luc Godard's film Alphaville as well as to utopian structures.

Exhibition view: Javier Tellez, Alpha 60 (4Milles)
©Javier Tellez, New York

Deutsche Bank New York, 2003

Ernesto Pujol, another artist from Cuba, uses the image of shoes to refer to his childhood memory of flight and what it means to lose your home and all your possessions. When they left Cuba, his family was allowed to pack only one suitcase and pack it quickly, fitting whatever they could into it. Cartoons and fairy tales are the Venezuelan artist Arturo Herrera's themes, whose collages and cut-outs merge popular images from Walt Disney and fairy tales with modernist icons such as Malevich. With their geometry, the drawings in the show also refer to architecture.

Exhibition view: Los Carpinteros , Escalera (Oven step), 2001
Courtesy Grant Selwyn Fine Art, NY

Carlos Garaicoa, Los Carpinteros, and Maria Elena Gonzalez, all originally from Cuba, also employ references to architecture, sometimes ironically, sometimes nostalgically. Franco Mondini-Ruiz from San Antonio uses food as a metaphor, piling up cast ice-cream sundaes, cocktail glasses, Viennese porcelain figurines, tacos, candy, and much more until it all resembles a fantastic architectural structure. I thought Esterio Segura's image of himself with a crocodile for a head was a particularly pivotal image, and I used it for the announcement because the crocodile's outline resembles the island of Cuba. One could interpret the image to mean that Esterio carries the weight of Cuba with him, that he has Cuba on his mind, that he is Cuba.

Franco Mondini Ruiz, Baby Taco, 2002
Courtesy of Frederike Taylor Gallery, New York

Franco Mondini Ruiz, The Blue Room, 2002
Courtesy of Frederike Taylor Gallery, New York

When did you first become involved with Cuban artists?

I'd already worked with Cuban artists in New York, and that made me want to experience Cuba directly. I went there for the first time in 1994, when I was invited to attend the Havana Bienal, an international exhibition and theoretical conference at the Centro Wifredo Lam. Back then, 100 Americans attended the opening of the Havana Bienal; I'd brought 23 of them with me. In 2000, 3,000 Americans were present, to cite just one measure of the change that had taken place. I met many exciting young Cuban artists in the course of my various visits there, and I eventually realized that I wanted to put together a book about them; this generation of artists from the 90s had never been documented and was unknown outside of Cuba. A book would serve as an important reference and give them a much greater visibility. As a consequence, I took a sabbatical from Art in General for nine months and went to Cuba to work on this project. The result was ART CUBA, The New Generation, published in June of 2001.

Ernesto Segura, Espacio Ocupado por un Sueno (Space Occupied by a Dream), 2000
Collection Martin Weinstein and Teresa Liszka, NY

So you virtually discovered a generation of Cuban artists?

I suppose I was instrumental in bringing many of them here. I was able to introduce them to New York and elsewhere. Several of them now have New York representation. It helped make this show possible, for instance, because I was able to borrow work from their galleries here, which is considerably easier than getting the works out of Cuba.

Would you tell me the story again about Carlos Garacoia's string drawings as an example of the difficulties?

Carlos couldn't come here because of visa problems, and the work couldn't be shipped here, either. We solved the problem by having it sent to Madrid while ARCO (Madrid's Contemporary Art Fair) was on. We picked it up there and brought it back to New York and installed it without him, from his instructions. Of course, we wished he could have come himself.

Exhibition view: Lobby Gallery, Deutsche Bank New York

As Cuban art is one of your areas of expertise, could you define what characterizes it?

I wouldn't want to generalize, and I prefer to think beyond national identity, but some themes do appear consistently, such as the city of Havana itself, the effects of living on an island, its complicated relationship with America, its politics and sense of loss, as well as Cuba's colonial history. Dreamspaces/Entresuenos, however, is a Latin American show; I thought it would be a good idea to put all of these artists from Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, Miami, San Antonio, and New York together to create another context for their work. I also thought it would be good for us to learn more about artists working outside of this country and Europe.

Exhibition view: Franco Mondini Ruiz, Pink Lady, 2002
Courtesy of Ferederike Taylor Gallery, New York

Exhibition view: Franco Mondini Ruiz, I love New York, 2002
Courtesy of Frederike Taylor Gallery, New York

How is Art in General involved with this kind of internationalism?

I've participated in many international projects over the years. I am currently working as the co-curator representing Paul Pfeiffer at the Cairo Biennial. While visiting these projects, I get to see a lot of artists who don't normally show in New York City. I try to bring them back to Art in General. It's part of our mission to sponsor cultural exchange, which we do through our residencies and other programs. Half of the artists in Dreamspaces/Entresuenos have shown at Art in General.

You had referred to Italo Calvino's novel Invisible Cities in describing this show. Were you thinking of any particular city of his?

No. I was thinking about how it was to walk through the streets of Havana. It was then that I made the connection to Calvino's cities. Havana and colonial cities like it – these were Calvino's invisible cities, and they all have dreams incorporated into their structure, creating a kind of dream space that blends the 15th century with the present. It became the central curatorial image for this show.

Interview by Lilly Wei.

Holly Block is the guest curator of the exhibition
Dreamspaces/Entresuenos. She is the Executive Director of Art in General, a downtown arts non-profit and recent editor and author of ART CUBA, The New Generation, a book on contemporary Cuban art published by Harry N. Abrams.

Lilly Wei is an independent curator and art critic who writes frequently for Art in America; she is a contributing editor to ARTnews and Art Asia Pacific .