Since Cuban Art News began publishing in 2009, a new generation of artists has come of age—US-born, of Cuban descent, with work that reflects the full range of their heritage and culture. Here (in alphabetical order) are 6 US-born Cuban artists to watch—emerging, emerged, and on the cusp of broader success.
Ivan Toth Depeña. With a Masters degree in architecture from Harvard and a Bachelors in architecture from the University of Miami, it’s not surprising that Depeña has made his mark with public art projects that use the surrounding environment as a design element—and that digital technology figures prominently too.
Living and working between Miami and Charlotte, NC, Depeña often uses responsive technology to invite viewers to engage with the work—as in Lapse (2015–16), the hybrid public art project–augmented reality app that debuted a little over a year ago in Miami. Commissioned by the Knight Foundation and Miami Art in Public Places, the project’s six components are sited around the city, including Museum Park and the downtown Metromover. Viewed through the app, murals, sculptures, and the space itself acquires another creative dimension. Watch the 2-minute video below.
Taking a more architectural approach, Inside/Out (2015) turns a wing of the University of New Mexico’s Pit Arena into a responsive color box—sampling the environmental light of each day’s sunset and converting it into colors projected through the building, or responding to the noise of stadium crowds with bursts of color. (Watch the video here.)
Depeña also pursues a studio practice as an artist. Last summer, Praxis Gallery in Chelsea presented Matter, a series of Depeña’s paintings of the same title, in which traditional painting techniques are combined with random patterns derived from software.
Vanessa Díaz. As a sculptor and installation artist based in South Florida, Díaz uses the often overlooked terrain of domestic interiors—from curtains and sofas to stair rails and door jambs—to examine and disrupt notions of home and space itself. She dismantles these and other found objects, reconfiguring them into evocative installations.
A 2016 CINTAS fellow, Díaz was also an artist in residence at the University of Wisconsin in Madison last year, and has a residency this year at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans. Her site-specific installation, Expecting a Step Where Non Exists, was just shown in the South Florida Cultural Consortium exhibition at MoCA North Miami, and an exhibition pairing her with artist Sylvie Rosenthal opens in October at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Milwaukee.
Jillian Mayer. If you happened to wander onto the terrace at the Pérez Art Museum Miami last December, chances are that you encountered at least one Slumpie. Part sculpture, part seating unit, Mayer’s colorful, freeform objects are just one of her strategies for examining (and subverting) the relationship between the viewer and the object.
There’s a Slumpie factor, too, in Mayer’s participation in Past Skin, the group show on view through September 10 at MoMA PS1 in New York. Also on view there is Mayer’s 2014 video, You’ll Be Okay.
Her Slumpies are also included in No burden as heavy, the group show running through August 31 at Miami’s David Castillo Gallery. A group show at Andrew Edlin Gallery on New York’s Lower East Side recently presented paintings of figures absorbed by the screens of their digital devices.
A literal child of the Eighties—born in Miami in 1984—Mayer playfully contrasts the optimism and expectations of upward mobility she was raised with against the disillusionment of the current moment. Installation and performance art, video, drawing, photography, and digital experiences are all part of her creative toolbox.
José Parlá. With a list of commissions that includes a 90-foot-long mural at One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan and an upcoming work destined for a 160-foot-long wall at the University of Texas, Austin, in 2018, Parlá is among the most high-profile artists in this group.
Born in Miami in 1973, the Brooklyn based Parlá also has a strong connection to the island and his roots there. For the 11th Havana Biennial in 2012, he collaborated with the French artist JR on Wrinkles of the City, a series of oversized portraits of Havana elders installed on building walls around the capital, then returned for the 12th Biennial with Segmented Realities, a series of sculptural paintings that appeared in the Detrás del muro/Behind the Wall exhibition. His grandfather, pioneering Cuban aviator Agustín Parlá, was the inspiration for his recent exhibition, Roots.
With a heavily layered painting style that at times recalls graffiti or distressed urban walls, Parlá’s work has been seen frequently in New York galleries. In 2015, his show Surface Body/Action Space was jointly presented by Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery and Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea.
Emilio Pérez. In terms of exerting a presence, there’s not much that can compare with Dream Season, the animation/installation that took over Times Square for three minutes each night in November 2016. Even when he’s painting on canvas, the Brooklyn artist often thinks big: one of the works in Pérez’s 2014 show at New York’s Galerie Lelong literally stretched around a corner.
Using a technique that involves applying multiple layers of paint and then carving them away, Pérez creates complex, flowing abstractions that incorporate rich, saturated colors. Like Parlá, Pérez participated in Detrás del muro/Behind the Wall in 2015, contributing an oversized, multipart mural installed on a wall opposite the Malecón.
Here, a 3-minute video of Dream Season.
Antonia Wright. She documents herself in video, but as the New York Times and Artforum observed, for Wright, the true medium is her body. Blurring the line between video and performance art, she uses surprise and discomfort to evoke strong responses in viewers.
In Be (2014), she’s seen practicing Tai Chi while covered in 15,000 honeybees; in Suddenly We Jumped, shown that year at Art Basel Miami Beach, she launches herself, nude, at a pane of glass, shattering it in slow motion. And for her show last year at Miami’s Locust Projects, she re-created a traumatic teenage fall through broken ice in Under the water was sand, then rocks, miles of rocks, then fire (2016) , below.
Born and based in Miami, Wright studied in New York at New School University and the International Center of Photography. Recently the Miami New Times voted her “Best Artist” for 2017. “Is it hard to watch?” they wrote. “Sure. Mesmerizing? Absolutely. But the word that best describes Wright’s work is fearless.”
Wright’s 2011 video, I Scream, Therefore I Exist, is on view at PAMM through September 1 in On the Horizon: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection. Her work is also included in the upcoming Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago, opening next month at the Museum of Latin American Art as part of "Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA."