The Artsy Vanguard 2022: Felipe Baeza

Nicole Martinez
Nov 15, 2022 5:11PM

There is a quality of religiosity in the way Felipe Baeza begins each of his works. Though his large-scale pieces could be seen as paintings on paper, the artist insists they are more like skins—permeable, fragile, and perfect by their very design.

Baeza starts by layering a substantial amount of both pigment and water onto the floor, then sets the paper gently on top, before pressing and allowing it to absorb the pigments over the course of a day. Gently peeling it back to see what he has created, Baeza looks for a marbling effect in this initial skin, cutting away scraps that don’t quite settle with his vision.

Every sliver and shred is saved in his studio, stored for use as part of the collage phase of his work. He layers these discards to form figures that are outlined with twine. These protagonists are inspired by the archival images that cover the walls of his Brooklyn studio—a selection of corporeal vessels from both ancient Mesoamerican and colonial religious histories. Ultimately, each finished work inspires the same solemn awe one feels in the presence of stained-glass windows in a cathedral.

Portrait of Felipe Baeza in his studio. Photo by Clifford Prince King. Courtesy of Felipe Baeza.

Felipe Baeza, A shadow that won’t materialize, 2022. © Felipe Baeza. Photo by Brad Farwell. Courtesy of the artist and Maureen Paley, London.


“I grew up surrounded by religious imagery in a very Catholic upbringing, where the body is central,” Baeza said. “I’m thinking about how the body is depicted and pushing that in many ways with materiality, considering how I can transform the body to be different things.”

Baeza’s work has both defied classification and been spoken of in ways that somewhat suffocate what the artist is trying to do. The market wants to call his large-scale prints “paintings” as a better way to capture the craft that goes into the work, though somehow this achieves just the opposite. Many curators and critics who discuss his work center his undocumented status as crucial to its reading, pigeonholing the interest surrounding it to the market’s current fascination with identity.

Felipe Baeza, Unrecognizable form, refusing to be governed, 2022. © Felipe Baeza. Courtesy of the artist and Maureen Paley, London.

Felipe Baeza, The pounding of steel chopping away at your flesh, 2022. © Felipe Baeza. Courtesy of the artist and Maureen Paley, London.

My hour-long conversation with Baeza revealed that the artist is most concerned with journeys of self-acceptance; with grieving our past selves while holding onto pieces of them; and shunning whatever labels or beliefs might want to be assigned to us. The body is the subject matter, but it’s merely a vessel for the hundreds of thousands of fragments that make up a whole self. Baeza is an artist who joins The Artsy Vanguard because the materiality of the work so effortlessly conveys our humanity, etched into history, religion, and politics.

The artist’s work has certainly been met with considerable attention, especially in the last year: While Baeza’s trajectory was making a steady climb since 2018—with exhibitions at Maureen Paley in London and The Mistake Room in Los Angeles, among others—interest in the artist surged in 2022 following the inclusion of his work in the 59th Venice Biennale’s international exhibition, Cecilia Alemani’s “The Milk of Dreams.”

Felipe Baeza, installation view in “The Milk of Dreams” at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 2022. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia.


In the months since that major exhibition debuted, Baeza has opened a solo exhibition at Fortnight Institute, received the coveted artist-in-residence post at the Getty Research Institute in L.A., and will soon debut his second book produced by Small Editions, Adiós a Calibán. In this and much of his work, Baeza meditates on the idea of fugitivity—as a person whose body falls short of compliance with the state—by creating amorphous figures who are in a constant process of realization.

No one doubts Baeza’s brisk ascent into the upper echelons of the contemporary art market, but the artist himself perhaps both embraces and resents it. “I worry that I run the risk of sacrificing the process and the work to meet other people’s desires,” he said, reflecting on the unlikeliness of this path for a young Mexican boy who immigrated to the U.S. across the border alone with his sister.

Felipe Baeza, The fragile sky has terrified you your whole life, 2022. © Felipe Baeza. Photo by Brad Farwell. Courtesy of the artist and Maureen Paley, London.

Felipe Baeza, Encuentro Mágico, 2022. © Felipe Baeza. Photo by Brad Farwell. Courtesy of the artist and Maureen Paley, London.

Making the journey to join his parents in the United States when he was just seven years old, it would be another year before Baeza could reunite with his parents in Chicago. He grew up in the Pilsen neighborhood of the city, known for its large Mexican community, and was drawn to the way it was “both Mexico and not Mexico.” He explained, “In a sense, it’s a sort of this Mexican hybridity; you leave Mexico and you try to recreate Mexico, and you recreate it with what you remember.”

Though he wasn’t raised with much means, Baeza felt privileged to grow up around the murals that colored his neighborhood and with easy access to the National Museum of Mexican Art. While his first interest in art was in making photographs, that quickly turned into a more sculptural practice. Despite consistently making art throughout high school and encouragement from his parents, Baeza was a little stunned when he learned he had been accepted to Cooper Union in New York. Baeza’s experience at the esteemed art school was “transformative,” laying the foundation for his printmaking practice and exposing him to the type of conceptual art training that would lead him to the subject matter of his current work.

Felipe Baeza, installation view of “Unruly Suspension” at Maureen Paley, 2021. Courtesy of Maureen Paley, London.

After Cooper Union, Baeza worked the odd jobs that many artists do, while exhibiting his work at various galleries and project spaces in New York and Philadelphia. But in 2016, the opportunity arose to complete his MFA at the Yale School of Art. “I think I was really looking at it as, ‘How can I just get time off and space? And how can I find a fully funded program?’” he said. “The plan was really for me to graduate and return to the job I had at a print shop in New York.”

The prestigious grad program with a reputation for churning out art stars had other plans. Pretty soon, Baeza found himself on a trajectory he hadn’t necessarily envisioned for himself. Upon graduating in 2018, Maureen Paley took Baeza’s work to Frieze New York, and he began landing both solo and group exhibitions at institutions like the Brooklyn Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, alongside shows at galleries all over the country. His show at The Mistake Room would be the one that led to his big break: It was there that Alemani first learned of his work.

Felipe Baeza, Made Into Being, 2022. © Felipe Baeza. Photo by Brad Farwell. Courtesy of the artist and Maureen Paley, London.

Post-Venice and the other commitments he held throughout the year, Baeza is savoring the fact that he doesn’t quite know what he’ll do next. “I’ve been back to back with projects for the past three years, so I saw [the Getty residency] as an opportunity to just take a break and ground myself and not really focus on the making, but more on the research,” he said.

He might lean further into the ideas of fugitivity that have lately filled his thoughts when making the work—what a fugitive body is, what it could be, and the agency it has to simply exist. For Baeza, who remains in his own state of migratory limbo, that work feels personal.

“It’s a reflection of living in that condition, and thriving,” he said.

The Artsy Vanguard 2022

The Artsy Vanguard is our annual feature recognizing the most promising artists working today. The fifth edition of The Artsy Vanguard features 19 rising talents from across the globe who are poised to become the next great leaders of contemporary art. Explore more of The Artsy Vanguard 2022 and collect works by the artists.

Nicole Martinez

Thumbnail image: Portrait of Felipe Baeza in his studio. Photo by Clifford Prince King. Courtesy of Felipe Baeza.

Header: Felipe Baeza, from left to right: “Made Into Being,” “Encuentro Mágico,” and “Don’t draw attention to yourself you’re already...,” all 2022. © Felipe Baeza. Photos by Brad Farwell. Courtesy of the artist and Maureen Paley, London.