“There are two things,” says Willy Castellanos of the Aluna Curatorial Collective. “Gory is a pioneer, a key figure in the Cuban art scene of the 1980s. And, in a certain way, he is a little ignored.”
With that in mind, Castellanos and his curatorial partner, Adriana Herrera, curated the exhibition now nearing the end of its run in the Aluna Art Foundation galleries. “He was one of the first in Cuban photography to introduce change,” says Castellanos, “not only in thematic terms, but in how to conceive and treat the photograph—making alterations, photomontages.” At the time, Cuban photography was still rooted in the documentary tradition—“documentary photography from the press, made in the first years of the Revolution. This was the art scene in photography at the time.”
Gory, Marta María Pérez Bravo, Arturo Cuenca, José Manuel Fors, and other new photographers of the era “came to photography as artists,” proposing what Castellanos calls “a new vision of reality, a new vision of photography—new philosophies of photography. Which was very important,” he adds, “because the art scene was practically a bloc, formed by this kind of vision [of photography] of the press. And politically very conditioned by the system.”
While the dominant trend in those years was to capture a view of the country as a whole, Gory was more interested in “being able to produce an artwork that represented himself inside the country,” says Castellanos. “At the time, this was important. It was an alternative,” a pathway to expressing creative individuality.
“It was very influential among the young Cuban photographers,” says Castellanos. “It is impossible to conceive the [Cuban] photography of the 1990s without taking Gory as an important reference.”
In 1992, Gory left the island, settling in Miami. He has continued the artistic practice begun in 1975, presenting the curators with the task of distilling forty years of work into a highly selective sampling.
Trained as a painter, in the 1970s Gory also worked as a photographer and photojournalist. The exhibition’s earliest works are from the series Sólo entrada (1975–1979), a study of cemeteries in Havana and Cienfuegos. Using poetic metaphor to obliquely critique the society of that era, the series was labeled “iconoclastic," say Castellanos and Herrera in the exhibition essay, but it “contained the essence of that ‘New Documentalism’ which revised in the 1990s the great narratives of official photography.”
The exhibition also includes photographs from two other early series: Retratos (1978–1986), portraits of the Cuban creative community; and Un Paseo por la tierra de las anamitas” (1983), shot while on assignment in North Vietnam for Revolución y cultura magazine. “This is a classic approach to documentary photography,” says Castellanos, based on the most classical documentary point of view.”
Gory was among the eleven artists who participated in the groundbreaking Volumen Uno exhibition of 1981, and a work he presented there—Pieza inconclusa para pintor mecánico (1980–1981)—was his official renunciation of painting. At this time, says Castellanos, Gory was considered an “imperialistic” painter. “He was so influenced by the American school of realism, and at the same time by the Pop movement of the 1970s,” that he was not well regarded in official circles. “So he had some problems,” Castellanos says. “He had some problems.” After Pieza inconclusa…, Gory would not return to painting for more than a decade.
Another image from 1981—here represented in a 2015 C-print and titled Mind Games—reflects Gory’s affinity for American rock music of the 1960s and 1970s. As Herrera and Castellanos put it in their exhibition essay, for Gory this music was the “source of an artistic practice and a culture of resistance which questioned, in the revolutionary context, the limitations of the freedom of the individual, suggesting alternate paths in the relations between aesthetics, politics, and power.”
One of Gory’s best known series internationally is “Es sólo agua en la lágrima de un extraño,” a 1986 work re-created in 2015 C-prints. The title is taken from a song by 1970s rock musician Peter Gabriel.
Gory’s eye for incisive detail, and for the surreal aspects of American life, are reflected in some of his later series, such as Mr. Fantasy and Nowhere Land.
Shot in Miami on nocturnal expeditions with photographer Pablo Soria, the images in the series Moonlight Serenade (2012–2014) were made using only available light.
In the 1990s, after his arrival in Miami, Gory began painting again. Not infrequently, he chose to paint photographs of his that he particularly liked. A photograph from the series Ausencias (1980–1991) was the model for this painting, Personal Mountains (1993).
Gory’s departure for Miami in 1992 undoubtedly contributed to his falling out of the art-historical narrative on the island—all the more reason, says Castellanos, to bring his work back into the public eye for another look. With the heightened interest in Cuban art in recent years, he says, “We have here the roots of contemporary Cuban art.”
Rogelio López Marín, “Gory”: Notes for a Retrospective (1975–2015) runs through next Saturday, January 16, at Aluna Art Foundation in Miami. The closing reception begins that evening at 7.