Wednesday December 13, 2017

Arrechea in New York: Testing the Limits of Sculpture

Former “Los Carpinteros” member envisions a “dancing”city

Installation view of Elasticity, on view at New York's Magnan Metz Gallery; work in foreground depicts the Chrysler Building, with work depicting the John Hancock Building behind it

Courtesy of Magnan Metz Gallery

Elasticity, the latest solo exhibition by Alexandre Arrechea in New York, runs through May 22 at the Magnan Metz Gallery (directed by Alberto Magnan and Dara Metz). It’s the the third Magnan Metz exhibition by this Cuban artist, who from 1994 to 2003 was a member of the Cuban collective Los Carpinteros and now well established as a solo artist.

The works on view continue the direction introduced in Arrechea’s most recent exhibition at the Casado Santapau Gallery in Madrid, where he now lives.  The pieces in that show featured well-known architecture from his native Cuba and the U.S., including the Chrysler Building in New York and Chicago's John Hancock Building. Several of the works in the show fused such buildings to the bodies of spinning tops, like overgrown, dreamlike versions of the classic children’s toy.

Working from this simple and powerful metaphor of the city’s unceasing transformation, Arrechea built two large-scale sculptural tops, including a 13-foot-high replica of the Bacardi Rum headquarters in Havana, a 1930 Art Deco-style building designed by Cuban architect Rodriguez Castells. The Magnan Metz show also features watercolor drawings of true and imagined buildings in perpetual motion. In designing these utopian creations, Arrechea used a graphic style typical of American advertising during the 1940s—a subtle nod to the classic era of the “American way.”

Another whimsical architectural form that Arrechea explores in Elasticity is the rolled-up skyscraper, here constructed from aluminum. The artist describes this as metaphor of the constant changing forms in the evolution of our minds. As with the soft watches of Salvador Dalí, the ironic result is a version of elapsed time: a building that can be fed out or reeled in like a garden hose. In these works, the movement is more suggested than real; by contrast, in the last Havana Biennal, Arrechea presented a large sculptural work that literally expanded and contracted in response to data from the New York Stock Exchange.

In addition to the Magnan Metz show, Arrechea has had two other exhibitions in the U.S. this season: The Rules of Play at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, on view through July, and Ideational Architectures, which closed this past week at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. His video, Black Sun, was also recently projected on the NASDAQ building in Times Square.

Arrechea’s projects have certain traits in common: a sophisticated artistic vision; the unexpected use of materials and the outsourcing of the actual production; ironic reflections on everyday objects and their contradictory re-purposing; and a concept of “lo cubano” in art as a sly, questioning attitude more than the use of traditional motifs. For Arrechea, tropical themes are not what contemporary Cuban art is about.

However, his repertory of images has expanded to include social phenomenon gathered from the world at large. His work easily incorporates the signs and symbols of foreign cultures, filtered through his particular intelligence and genius. Arrechea is a post-conceptual artist who plays with the sensuality of objects and recognizes their communicative values.

In the 19th century, artists traveling from Italy, France, and Belgium arrived in Cuba intent on depicting exotic local color. In the 21st century, Arrechea, a small-town boy from the distant village of Trinidad, goes around the world creating art with an open, unbiased mind.