January 26-May 8
Exhibition: Fluid Ecologies: Hispanic Caribbean Art from the Permanent Collection
Fluid Ecologies features works on paper by nine twentieth-century artists including Wifredo Lam (Cuban, 1902-1980), Marisol (American, b. France, 1930), Rafael Ferrer (Puerto Rican, b. 1933), Luis Fernando Roldán (Colombia, b. 1955), and José Bedia (Cuban, b. 1959).
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Focus Gallery
Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.
The history—and art—of the Caribbean region is bound by the sea, by the ebbs and flows of myriad sea crossings that, beginning with Columbus’ fateful encounter, thrust the “sugar islands” onto colonial economies, global trade, proto-capitalism, and ultimately modernity. The region’s historical role as “crossroads of the world” has engendered cultures, literatures and art born of dynamic intellectual and creative networks linking writers, artists and ideas across the Caribbean Sea, its islands and continental shores, and the world beyond.
The artists featured in this exhibition, a cross-section of the region’s most celebrated Hispanic-Caribbean artists of the last five decades, are linked through this sea-as-history, echoing in their work the fluid ecologies—momentous European encounters, the slave trade and the sugar plantation, a costly reliance on tourism, the slow violence of environmental mismanagement, ever-repeating cycles of diasporan departures and returns—that constitute the salient markers of the region’s history. Born out of a history of Caribbean representation that equated the region with Eden, they have sought to disavow this reduction of the tropical landscape to a tourist’s paradise, offering instead intense renderings born of an art created from the crossroads of the world, emerging from a history of fluid navigations of a multifarious space.
Most of the works included in this exhibition were acquired for the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s permanent collection through the Barbara Doyle Duncan, class of 1943, Fund for Contemporary Latin American Drawings. Mrs. Duncan, a noted collector, curator, and scholar, is credited with introducing Latin American art to galleries and museums in the United States through numerous exhibitions organized between the 1960s and her death in 2003. Her generous gifts to Vassar for the acquisition of Latin American drawings attest to her lifelong commitment to an art marked, in her own words, by its “reluctance to give up the subject of the human condition.”
Rafael Ferrer’s Untitled was a gift from Philip and Lynn Straus, class of 1946, whose Foundation has supported a broad range of artistic, educational, and civil rights projects, many of them in the Caribbean. Enoc Perez’s Ponce Inter-Continental Hotel, Ponce, Puerto Rico was a gift from Exit Art, the path-breaking gallery founded by Puerto Rican artist Papo Colo and curator Jeanette Ingberman, whose exhibitions have been noted for their consistent inclusion of Latino and Latin American art.
I am deeply grateful to Elizabeth Nogrady, Coordinator of Academic Programs for the Art Center, and to Margaret Vetare, Coordinator of Public Education and Information, for their encouragement and constant support in the organization of this exhibition. Thanks are also due to George Laws and Daniel Lasecki of Vassar’s Office of Communications. The Hispanic Studies Department’s Antonio Márquez Fund kindly sponsored a visit by art historian Judith Bettelheim to speak to the Vassar community about the José Bedia works in the Vassar collection; I thank my departmental colleagues for their support. The Environmental Studies Program contributed to the publication of the accompanying brochure, and I thank the participating faculty for their generosity. My thanks go also to the Creative Arts Across Disciplines initiative for their support. Judith Bettelheim, Ivette Romero-Cesareo, and Carolyn Poulton Miles (Vassar class of 1963) have my heartfelt thanks for all the conversations about the artists featured in the exhibition, as does Nicholas Sorensen for his help in researching artists and works and for his thoughtful evaluation of both.