Nestor Arenas. Coming from the future
By: Dennys Matos
Visiting Néstor Arenas’ painting in all its dimensions, as this book shows, allows a wider and deeper understanding of his rich and diverse trajectory. It should be noted that Arenas has also worked on sculpture, video art and photography. However, this publication focuses only on painting, where his work has had a more extensive and unique production, placing him as one of the most important neo-figurative artists of his generation. A trajectory recently awarded by The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which has served as material support for the realization of this editorial project, the most ambitious and comprehensive (so far) around Néstor Arenas’ work.
I do not remember when I personally met Nestor Arenas, but I am sure it was sometime in May 2011 on my first trip to Miami. I say personally, because back then I already knew the unique work he had developed in Cuba and Spain between 1995 and 2002, but little or almost nothing of the one he had been developing in the United States. So I passed by his studio and from there a wide collaboration arose, leading us to carry out three curatorial projects on his work in the United States but in successive stages: “Transformed landscapes I, II and III”. Trilogy of solo shows exhibited at Farside Gallery (Miami, 2014), Zona Franca- XII Havana Biennial (Havana, 2015) and at the CCEMiami (Miami, 2016). Three curatorial projects covering approximately five years and the most recently showed “Looking forward” (Carleton College, Minnesota, 2018).
This publication, with an important emphasis on the works of recent years, also includes works and documentation on different stages. Without claiming an exhaustive chronology, these stages (or perhaps it would be better to say periods of time) are exposed in relation to the changes experienced in the artist’s personal history, marked by three stops: Cuba, Spain and the United States. Hence, in summary, this book articulates three large groups outlined here succinctly. Accordingly, the reader will verify that the last group contains, on the one hand, a selection of those works that were part of his graduation thesis at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) in Havana. On the other, a wider selection of works of different exhibition projects in which Arenas participated during its intense period in Spain. The second group covers approximately his first years in which, after some visits, the artist establishes residence in the United States, Miami (2001 -2012 approximately). The third part, that introduces the book, collects a selection of the most recent paintings until 2020, where the reader will be able to perceive the novel poetic and discursive solutions developed by the artist in the most current paintings.
Looking at it in perspective and synthetically, it can be said that his poetic and discursive trajectory articulates two fundamental elements. “On the one hand, systematic research on the expressive possibilities of the landscape as a fundamental genre in the history of painting and its symbolic power in the context of contemporary visual culture. On the other, the way in which the cultural political ideologies of modernity and postmodernity have represented – and represent – the reality and the world of utopia, life and the feeling of death, the nation and the individual, technology and the desire of the body ”(1). This general vision is marked by the particular accent that Arenas’ work projects, between experiencing what life had been and the way of seeing art under the Cuban totalitarian utopia of the revolution. What is to assume life and art in the midst of the capitalist culture of consumption in times of the global village. In other words, to see oneself committed, to live and experience the antithesis between the two systems that have marked culture and modern society: Capitalism and Communism. To think about these tensions is to think somehow of the tensions that have marked the cultural and artistic expression of modernity in the twentieth century and also the Cuban geopolitical culture and map of the last five decades. And at that point, in that temporal space frontier where the consciousness of both systems collide, emerges an imaginary whose iconography Néstor Arenas expresses with great poetic distinctiveness.
As part of this approach to the work of Arenas, essays have been compiled from two important Cuban essayists who are familiar with the artist’s career: Jorge Brioso and Iván de la Nuez. Two texts written on the occasion of this publication addressing from different perspectives, poetic and discursive aspects present in the artist’s work. Iván de la Nuez takes up the figure of the landscape, boldly developed by Arenas in Spain, as a scenario where the antithetical positions capitalism-versus-communism come out after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But he recovers these antithetical positions, seeing them as a kind of post-capital era whose images, stripped of the respective ideologies (capitalism-communism) that gave rise to them, are timeless. “For three decades,” says Iván de la Nuez, “Arenas has been shaping these landscapes of a world in which everything that vanished in politics gained strength in iconography. As soon as they decreed its burial by ideology, it was resurrected by aesthetics. Thus the concrete case of communism, with the Russian Avant-garde being reborn in the museums of the West, Chernobyl on Netflix, the Soviet territories in Hollywood, Lenin in a mobile phone company or Marx himself in a Mastercard of unified Germany ”(2). That is why Iván de la Nuez affects the consequences of the discursive treatment of the present-future relationship as a temporal (dis) utopian space dimension. “In that future and with that double sense of joy and alertness,” he says, “is located the work of Néstor Arenas. A kind of chaotic museum in which art and history, communism and capitalism, architecture and nature, obedience and revenge crowd each other and therefore do not kill us. (Although sometimes they get to predate each other or expel us from their respective paradises) ”(3). If de la Nuez emphasizes the discursive aspect, Jorge Brioso instead abounds in the poetic dimension of Néstor Arenas’ work , when he reflects on the prosthesis as a symbolic element that is very present in the artist’s career. An element that has functioned as an expressive bridge between the elements of Abstraction and Figuration, contributing poetic singularity to his career, particularly present in the works of the last fifteen years. In these paintings, prostheses are the metaphor that goes beyond the antinomies of two worlds: one devoted to merchandise and consumption (the eternal capitalist present); the other, delivered to heroic ideals (eternal and post-historic communist future). Thus, as Brioso points out:
“These prosthesis are orthopedic devices that glue the huge masses of concrete that were built by Communism with emblematic icons of global capitalism.” (4) In that iconography that moves between what was and what is to come, constructions and scenarios emerge on startling and quirky at the same time; constructions that take us to pre-modern scenarios of constructive and manufacturing signs, just as they also move us to an extra-planetary occupying of a hallucinated futurism. Describing ruptures of temporalities that are sewing and filling each other indistinctly. “ This false temporality (…) binds the emptiness with the presence. These grafts bring together what is absent, or in ruin, with what is artificial. The union that prosthesis propose is paradoxical since one of the elements does not exist anymore, or just exists in a very precarious way, and the other has a form of existence in which what is real and what is fictional, what is actual and what is possible are blended.” (5)
(1) Dennys Matos. Néstor Arenas. Abstracción y sintáxis de la utopía. El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Especial de Arte y Letras. January 11, 2018
(2) Iván de la Nuez. Un museo caótico. In this book
(3) Ivan de la Nuez. Idem.
(4) Jorge Brioso. Néstor Arenas: The Art of Prosthesis or How to Imagine the Temporality After Communism. In this book
(5) Jorge Brioso. Idem.
My work is the representation of architectural “landscapes”, constructions, and geometric structures of a world where the past, present and future mergers. Outlandish machines with iconographies references of modern culture.
These are pre-modern scenarios of constructive, factorial and “pixel graphic” similarly as they move us to an extra-planetary daydreamed modern natural surroundings. They are cities and spaces seen from a “bird’s eye” that focuses on the world of urban and architectural structures. Emblematic architectures with constructivist references from the European avant-garde meet in one spot along side with the fanciful structures of cities taken from the most current Hollywood video games and sci-fi films.