TRILOGIA DEL CARIBE
NOW EXTENDED TO JAN 20, 2024
Curated by Andres Villamil & Nitza Tufiño
Rafael Villamil is one of the grand masters of Puerto Rican art. Today, he is virtually unknown. In Puerto Rico, if you ask around informally among people about his work, the responses are practically the same: most have not even heard of him. Older people may remember the exhibition that caused a considerable stir in 1961. And that’s it. So the collection at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo of the last twenty-five years of Villamil’s work opened the box of surprises that held the mysticism of a significant national and international career.
Rebirth of a Legend after the Electric Chair of Censorship
The immense silence surrounding this work is only comparable to the circumspect career of a ground-breaking artist who has been mindful of an essential aesthetic, formally and philosophically, while paying no mind to the vagaries of the market. We are in the presence of an artist with fifty years of history who continues to work tirelessly, creating art that is profound in all its facets. How could Villamil have gone unnoticed for so long, even by those who follow art more closely? A chain of acts of censorship sent the artist first into exile and then into ascetic reclusion, and the consequence has been our ignorance of Villamil’s vibrantly vital work.
Rafael Villamil’s first work dates from 1954—that it sprang from the deity’s brow is confirmed by Villamil’s direct insertion in the Avant-Garde. The intellectual proclivities of the then-young Villamil led him to devour the Avant-Garde of the time. While he studied architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, besides acquiring a thorough knowledge of the latest trends in his field, Villamil cultivated his pictorial work not as a pastime but as an expressive need parallel to his architectural activity. In 1957 he was already attaching objects to his paintings and using industrial materials such as car paint, wrought iron, ornamental millwork, and plastic resin.
In 1961 Villamil, along with his friend and fellow artist Rafael Ferrer, had his first show at the Museum of Art, Anthropology, and History at the University of Puerto Rico. The exhibition was titled “Two Painters,” it turned out to be the most disquieting exhibition of the 1960s in Puerto Rico. There were protests before the museum, and the event moved from the art pages to the headlines of the day’s newspapers.
This exhibition was seminal in more ways than one. The simple title was a kind of morsel thrown out to make spectators pause to think about the forms used in the exhibition since the show included painting, “picto-sculpture,” and sculpture. Besides, the paintings and sculptures were placed on or between greased wood frames in a labyrinth designed by Villamil. The viewer was forced to address questions such as what is and is not painting, what is art, and what kind of society produced this art. Did not arranging these works in this aggressive and greasy environment presage the installations to come on the scene in the mid-1960s? Villlamil’s work had the air of a surrealist nightmare, with a gestural composition akin to the most corrosive expressionism. And as a crowning touch, aside from these two razor-edged tendencies, industrial materials dealt a final blow to the generally accepted notion of what was permissible as art in Puerto Rico in those years. A case in point is El Rey y sus
siete reinas [The King and his Seven Queens] (1957), which, although not part of the exhibition, is perhaps the most emblematic of those aspects during the period. In this work, we are faced with a fearsome image, a kind of monstrous anthropomorphic figure with a Kafkaesque insect face, holding photographs of sexual content in one of its’ sketchy arms. This image would provoke total censorship in an exhibition in Washington. The baroque accumulation of sinuous textural ornamentation creates a hallucinating topography that intentionally intensifies the feeling of distastefulness in the spectator.
This critical vein in Villamil’s work has persisted in different ways. It can be seen in development in the results of those earlier years, such as A-1-3, also exhibited at the University in 1961, and in later works such as Bonaparte in Action (1964) or Go Join Othello in Venice (1965), among many others.
The result of Villamil and Ferrer’s show for the viewers at that time was what could be expected: total revulsion and no earlier referents on the island. It should be borne in mind that the Avant-Garde was a tiny minority. If to this day, there has not been a thorough study of surrealism in the likes of Julio Tomas Martinez, beginning as early as 1910, or the flat painting, cubist in origin, of Narciso Dobal around 1930, and the cubism and abstraction of Rene Golman Trujillo, also in 1930, Villamil and Ferrer were much less palatable for the public of 1961, even though other artists had been cultivating tendencies such as abstract expressionism from the late 1940s, among them Olga Albizu and Julio Rosado Del Valle, and the unleash surrealism of the fifties, with the Mirador Azul group, inspired by Eugenio Fernandez Granell. Possibly the only artist besides Villamil and Ferrer who attached objects to his works then was Roberto Alberty, known as Boquio. For the bourgeois spectator of the time, it was unthinkable to acquire a Ferrer sculpture, welded out of automotive junk, or a Villamil “picto-sculpture”, with balustrade posts or parts of furniture or other recontextualized discarded paraphernalia, which represented a critical questioning of what materials could be used in a work of art.
Running Until July 29, 2023
Born and raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a native Nuyorican living on Rivington Street between Norfolk and Suffolk streets—in a culturally diverse tenement building in the 60s. Occupied by musicians, dancers, seamstresses, bakers, and painters, with varied backgrounds, tenants interacted like family with no preconception of race, color, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. My interaction with this family stimulated my artistic curiosity and my intuition for art.
Los Pleneros de la 21
Running Until July 29, 2023
From notable photographers to candid community captures to distinguished graphic and visual artists, Los Pleneros de la 21’s performances, programs, musicians, and the experiences they have crafted for four decades have been a source of inspiration for many culture bearers, Bomba and Plena practitioners, and the Puerto Rican community in New York City.
For more information: email@example.com | 212.427.5221
Marcos Dimas 1975
Lolita / 1971 Silkscreen by Marcos Dimas
A Historic 1969 Short 16mm Film About the Founding of Taller Boricua
Albizo / 1972 Silkscreen by Marcos Dimas
Taller Boricua 6'x 3' Linoleum Print
Top Row: Ralph Salicrup, Fernando Salicrup. Jorge Soto,
Papo Colo Mid Row: Manny Vega, Nestor Otero,
Gloria Rodriguez, Marcos Dimas, Lower Row: Jose Rodriguez
READ ABOUT TALLER BORICUA at WHITEBOX
Taller Boricua emerged in East Harlem within the cultural landscape of New York City in 1969, alongside the artistic effervescence that took place Downtown, particularly in SoHo, Tribeca, and the Lower East Side. Their objective was to activate, through art, processes of social resistance in frequently neglected, underserved communities. From their inception, they have been part of the Nuyorican movement that originated in the late 1960s in neighborhoods like Loisaida, Williamsburg, and East Harlem aka El Barrio; visual artists, writers, especially poets, and musicians converged in El Taller (The Workshop), where prints, Spoken Word and Salsa developed within the environment of Latin American culture, today deeply rooted in New York.
El Taller Boricua (The Boricua Puerto Rican Workshop), From the Art Workers Coalition to the Present, is the first exhibition in the “New York Artscapes” series in which WhiteBox is creating a platform to welcome and make visible cultural processes that have fundamentally constituted the cultural landscape of this city but dwell outside the hegemonic discourse due to race, gender, and/or social class. The show presents a panoramic view of the 50-year history of the Workshop, which reveals the volume and complexity of their artistic production directly linked to the social and historical problems of their community. It is an ongoing archival exhibition because it is understandable that after 50 years of uninterrupted work, their work methodologies have been transformed along with their own life stories. Thus, our pondering over New York City’s storied past is quite different now than in 1969.
In New York, the 1970s were characterized by the growing activism within the artistic movement; in May 1970, those the artists demonstrated in the commonly known “Art Strike” against racism, sexism, repression, and the Vietnam War. Likewise, artists based in the city began questioning the essence of art, transforming how contemporary art was created and exhibited, seeking to push the limits of the white cube. For its part, Taller Boricua has worked from what is known today as “insurgent aesthetics.”, where their artistic practices are defined as collective, relational, and situated; therefore, they are an expansive form of manifestation against extant forms of domination. Their trajectory reveals their resistance to racial and social class violence exerted on the non-white population, especially upon the Puerto Rican population in New York City.
The Workshop was founded by the artists Marcos Dimas, Adrián García, Manuel Otero, Armando Soto, and Martín Rubio, who in parallel were linked to the AWC movement (The Art Workers Coalition), where (among various statements) museums were required to become more open and less exclusive regarding exhibition policy regarding when working with the artists they exhibited and promoted. One year after the founding of Toleration, the community of Latin American visual artists, writers, and musicians, especially Puerto Ricans, had expanded: Nitza Tufiño, Ada Soto, Carlos Osorio, Olga Alemán, Rafael Tufiño, Dylcia Pagan, Edwin Pitre, Julius Perri, Juan Gonzales, Bobby Ortiz, Jimmy Jiménez, Abdías Gonzales, Sammy Tanco y Vitin Linares, among others. Early on, they had the vision of developing programs that revolved around the reclaiming of Puerto Rican roots, including the rescue of the Taino past and processes of social and educational resistance in schools and public spaces in East Harlem, direct links with the socio-political activist group The Young Lords, support for families of young people killed by the police and dissemination of Nuyorican cultural production.
Realidades was the first national Latino television series in public television history in the United States of America.
The groundbreaking television series highlighted various events, activities, organizations, and individuals, significantly illustrating and defining our ”Realities” during the 1960s and 70s
Taller Boricua Gallery
1680 Lexington Ave.
New York, NewYork, 10029
RT Printmakers Studio
Visits by Appointment
121 East 106 Street
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Taller Boricua Board of Directors
Chairman of the Board
William Cruz Colon
All programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the NYC Department of Youth & Community Development, UMEZ Cultural Aid Fund, the NYC Council Deputy Speaker, Hon. Diana Ayala and the Puerto Rican Workshop Inc..