Venezuela is still largely shunned by the international community. Yet as throngs of the country’s residents risk their lives to enter the US via its southern border, Venezuelan art has found its way to Miami.
Two massive, feather-light transparent orbs, from Paris-based Venezuelan sculptor Carlos Medina’s Neutrino Spheres series, greet visitors outside a repurposed former Pan Am hangar in Coral Gables. The venue is hosting the Pinta Miami fair (until 4 December), featuring 48 galleries from Latin America.
Medina is heir to the geometric abstraction of the Venezuelan kineticists: Jesús-Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt) and Alejandro Otero. His Neutrino Spheres, also shown indoors at Pinta in smaller aluminium versions, are a project “to geometricise the cosmos around a new matter”, Medina says. He adds that the “huge dew drops” were a hit (especially with children) when shown by Galerie Denise René at the Palais Royal in Paris in 2018.
Working with a group of five French, American and Venezuelan dealers, Medina hopes that an American museum will show the ephemeral shapes. The ones at Pinta are made in the US.
Medina says his work continues to sell in Venezuela, despite the country’s dire economic situation. “It’s my natural market,” he says, “not like before, but a lot of companies and people still collect.” Artists with lesser reputations say they barely sell anything.
If Medina’s work at Pinta salutes pioneers of abstraction in Latin America, an exhibition at the Juan Carlos Maldonado Art Collection (JCMAC) in Miami’s Design District considers stylistic ancestors farther back in history.
El Universo Ye’Kwana–Vivir en el Medio del Selva (Ye’Kwana Universe–Living in the Middle of the Jungle) shows works by the Ye’Kwana people of the Amazon region of Venezuela. The objects come from the collection of the businessman Juan Carlos Maldonado, who has also acquired works by the kinetic artists who inspired Carlos Medina, as well as abstract art by American artists Josef Albers, Sol LeWitt, Kenneth Noland and Donald Judd.
I wanted to integrate Latin American modernity with European and also with American modernityJuan Carlos Maldonado, collector
“I wanted to integrate Latin American modernity with European and also with American modernity,” Maldonado tells The Art Newspaper from Caracas. A Penetrable sculpture (an environment of hanging PVC strands) by Jesús Rafael-Soto, loaned by Maldonado, is on long-term view at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM).
Maldonado also collects art by Indigenous peoples in Venezuela. In 2017, he acquired the collection of Charles Brewer-Carías, a dentist turned anthropologist and explorer who spent decades studying native cultures and languages, especially those of the Ye’Kwana people, whose hand-woven baskets share a geometry with that of Modern abstract artists.
“There are stories about Modern artists like Carlos Cruz-Diez and Soto, that they always looked behind them and saw the design that the Indians made,” Maldonado said.
The 2018-19 exhibition Convergences/Divergences, Primitive Sources of the Modern at JCMAC explored affinities of Modern works with a quarter of the collection of Charles Brewer-Carías. The current exhibition shows the remaining works. Last year a fire destroyed a lifetime of research by Brewer-Carías, which left Maldonado a crucial custodian of that legacy.
Other works by Indigenous Venezuelans are mixing with contemporary art in the US. Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, a Yanomami from the Upper Orinoco region of the Amazon, showed paintings, drawings and prints at this year’s Venice Biennale and has collected prizes internationally. Hakihiiwe is now represented by Marlborough Gallery in New York and also shown by Abra Gallery in Caracas. One of his collectors is Juan Carlos Maldonado.
Maldonado said that most of his collection is now in Miami and in Spain. He is now also collecting Andean textiles. “There are no cheap textiles,” he says, “this requires a serious investment.”
Next spring, Maldonado will loan works to the Gego retrospective, Measuring Infinity, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.