Four Cuban Artists Investigate History and Memory at Galleria Ca’ d’Oro

In order to get one’s bearings in “Cardinal Points,” an exhibition of contemporary Cuban artists at New York’s Galleria Ca’ d’Oro, one might choose to begin by considering the title. The cardinal points referenced are not the fixed directions devised to assist with orientation; rather, they seem to gesture to the four artists involved, each of whom works in a different, singular direction through their art, but all began at the same place.

Selected by curators Vicky Romay and Frances Sinkowitsch, artists Esteban Blanco, Jose Ney, Antonio Nuñez, and Geandy Pavon present works that encapsulate personal memories and their cultural heritage. The various works on view conjure a personal reliquary, stocked with amulets and trappings of childhood, or a mini-mausoleum, where everyday objects and ephemeral artifacts are given importance.

A conceptual synthesis of artifact and anecdote is the shared motif running through each of the pieces in this show. Representing a broad range of media—photography, painting, sculpture, ceramics, and collage—each of these works considers the ways that seemingly inert objects can be animated by, and serve as impetuses for, memory, narrative, and meaning. Blanco’s toy-like works conflate child’s play with sinister overtones, pointing to very grown-up themes like war, empire, and mortality. Meanwhile, Ney’s “Unfinished Spaces” series takes real and imaginary topographies not merely as places, but rather as charged spaces where something has taken or is about to take place; the landscape itself is a placeholder for past events and other associations. 

In a similar vein, the curious objects and assemblages created by Nuñez point to the capacity of material objects to be charged with meaning, whether in their visual associations or by virtue of being stripped of their original context. Likewise, Pavon’s oil paintings of crumpled and folded photographs of national monuments are elegies to structures that memorialize historically significant events and personalities, while each one serves as a sort of monument in and of itself.

—Grace-Yvette Gemmell

Cardinal Points” is on view at Galleria Ca’ d’Oro, New York, Nov. 24, 2015–Jan. 16, 2016.

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