art.es: What’s going on in…Puerto Rico?
By Fernando Galán
A new art fair in the Caribbean? The idea sounded original and was based on two solid motives: the artistic tradition of the region and its recreational offerings, which, as we all know, has proved to be an important factor in the commercial viability of today's fairs, in addition to the confidence inspired by the project's backers. But when I was invited to participate in CIRCA's first edition last year, my art fair agenda was too full and the dates coincided with those of arteBA (Buenos Aires) and KIAF (Korea). Nonetheless, this year, apart from moving the date up to the beginning of April and not coinciding with other fairs (an unusual circumstance in the current art world calendar) I had already planned to visit along with the magazine.
It's the first time I've been in Puerto Rico and I have the same sensation I had when I visited Cuba: it's as though I've never left Spain. María Reina de la Puebla, who as representative of CIRCA met me at the airport, told me a lot of things during my first few minutes on the island, but there's one thing I especially remember: "We've always been a colony, for the last 500 years, so we don't know what it's like to be an independent country. For 400 years we belonged to Spain, and now we belong to the United States." But in contrast with other historical blunders, in this case the U.S. showed itself capable of establishing a unique statute with Puerto Rico, known as a Freely Associated State, with a governor heading the administration who is elected via universal suffrage, which, however, hasn't hindered the islander's feelings of still being a colony. Puerto Rico seems to be destined to be 'special,' because already in 1809 it was liberated from its condition as a colony and was proclaimed an overseas Spanish province (similar to the Canary Islands, for instance); when Napoleon occupied Spain and installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne, all the American colonies took advantage of the situation to proclaim their independence, except Puerto Rico, which maintained its loyalty to King Carlos IV, for which it was awarded with this provincial status.
Looked at with the presumed objectivity of an outside perspective, I think that Puerto Rico has preserved its marks of identity, based on a secular hybridization, quite independent and without particular contamination by supposed colonialism; many Puerto Ricans don't speak English and its artistic production (within today's world of general globalization) doesn't seem especially effected by the dominant trends of the continental territory. On the contrary, the interests and idioms of its artists seem to me closer to those found in the culture of other Latin American countries such as Brazil and Cuba. The Caribbean character seems to be indomitable and gifted with its own strong personality. That's true to such a degree that of the four and a half million Puerto Ricans or descendents of Puerto Ricans that live in the U.S. a million live in New York and its surroundings, which has given rise to a term that specifically designates them within the immense Tower of Babel which is the Big Apple: "nuyoricans" (newyoricans), synonymous also with signs and customs characteristic of what anthropologists would call an urban subculture, and which were already reflected long ago in the film Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955). New York's Nuyorican Movement features innovative tendencies in numerous artistic fields (poetry, music, visual art, hip hop, film, theater…) and since 1975 has had its general headquarters in the legendary Nuyorican Poets Café (www.nuyorican.org).
The country (we refer to is as such for purely practical reasons, instead of the awkward Freely Associated State) has a population of four million, which means that the diaspora of Puerto Ricans in 'exile' is one of the highest in the world in terms of percentage. It's somewhat reminiscent of the Jews, who have also adamantly conserved aspects of their own identity. Taking this into account, along with the fact that the island has an area of just 9,000 km2, one of the first reflections I had to the discovery in situ of its artistic fabric was that it possesses one of the highest densities of collectors that I know of in the art world. In just two editions, Roberto Nieves, director and 'owner' of CIRCA, has managed to articulate a close and enthusiastic collaborative relationship with these collectors, which means that guests could have breakfast and dinner in the homes of five of them, whose collections we could enjoy with relaxed pleasure. They were: Diana and Moisés Berezdivin; Alberto de la Cruz (son of the well-known Miami collectors Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz); Chilo Andreu; Pedrín Muñoz Marín; and Mari Olga and Ramón Lugo. Generally speaking, Puerto Rico's collections are very international in character (the last couple cited, for example, specialize in German painting), which is evidence of a very open temperament that avoids falling into impoverishing localisms.
Ixone Sádaba, Phlegmone I (2004)
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