Skin Eyes – The Brooklyn Rail

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In view

Lehman Maupin
skin eyes
June 26 – July 24, 2022
New York

In skin eyes Large and small-scale works are presented side by side. Curated by Miami-born, New York-based artist Teresita Fernández, the exhibition utilizes both the ground floor and underground level of Lehmann Maupin’s flagship Chelsea gallery with over twenty works on display. Here, each artist explores tactile experiences through bodily memory, engaging in a decidedly introspective practice. Upon entry, Carolina Caycedo’s Yuma, or the country of friends II, (2020), a huge printed vinyl mural, dominates the space. This work combines satellite images of the El Quimbo Dam in Colombia and panoramic views of the region from the 1940s and 1950s. Caycedo focuses on the uprooting of colonial beliefs and perspectives while reflecting on how humans interact with the natural world, and the displacement of indigenous peoples on their own lands is deeply considered in this monumental work. Yuma is flanked by Jeffrey Meris I used to be XV (2021) and Francheska Alcántara Tiger Jaw III and Jaw of the Tiger IV (both 2022). These smaller, but still powerful works are filled with a visceral urgency. In Meris’ monochrome abstraction, the artist reuses roofing paper as a canvas and applies plaster particles from casts of her feet, head and hands – these are taken from her earlier series kinetic sculptures, Now you see me; Now you don’t (2020). At Alcantara Tiger Jaw III (2022) the artist merges Hispano cuaba soap made in the Dominican Republic with an organic wood structure. The soap suggests various functions, as it is used to cleanse the body, treat wounds, and as laundry detergent, while the bespoke wooden structure is inspired by the artist’s time at the Tulsa Artist Fellowship.

Developing work that emerges from their own experiences, the artists included here unearth complex cultural histories through materiality and formal structure. The works are both urgent and imposing, yet calm, thoughtful and reflective. Throughout the exhibition, emotive abstractions give way to striking installations. Layered textile works emerge from the mundane surfaces of the white walls, and fishing net sculptures hang elegantly from the ceilings. The origins and associations of the materials themselves, from Hispano cuaba d’Alcántara soap to leather, silk thread and lead weights, weave a thoughtful and engaging conversation between artists and viewers. At the same time, the obviousness of the movement, the rigor of the gestures and the physical work of production are found in each work. With Star (2019), for example, Esteban Ramón Peréz features the remnants of a deformed American flag, fusing it with the leather of a boxing glove alongside silk, acrylic and wood, all sewn together and assembled into a complex abstract language.

Overall, the exhibition finds its strength in the multitude of cultural experiences that each artist brings to their respective practices, while turning our attention to sensory contemplations of the self and the world at large. Seeking to balance our other, often underused senses, skin eyes implores viewers to explore more than just our sense of sight. Borrowing its title from the book of the same name by Finnish architect and philosopher Juhani Pallasmaa, Fernández encourages the public to feel their way through the works she has selected. In her seminal work on architectural theory, Pallasmaa argues that our reliance on vision and the subsequent suppression of our other senses has had detrimental effects on the way architecture has been taught, critiqued, and discussed. Pallasmaa argues that “our bodies and our movements are in constant interaction with the environment; the world and the self are constantly informing and redefining themselves. A propensity to hold a dominant view of our ability to hear, smell, feel, and touch results in a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us. Developed from a series of essays, the book raises poignant questions that, like the diverse group of artworks that Fernández has assembled here, compel introspection.

With skin eyes Fernández curated a breathtakingly beautiful exhibition that showcases “various degrees of abstraction” by exhibiting a group of artists whose global narratives reveal Indigenous and somatic knowledge through lived experiences. With a career spanning over three decades, Fernández was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in 2011 and is a MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow. His multidisciplinary practice extends beyond studio walls, moving into dynamic and monumental public spaces. In 2021, she received a Design Excellence Award from the New York City Public Design Commission. Drawing inspiration from the natural world, the Miami native notes that her “public works are usually very deliberate about site specificity.”1

The works in Fernández’s thoughtful exhibition take a related approach, using personal experiences to enhance our understanding of the body as a site of artistic exploration, and in doing so they uncover deep and diverse cultural stories. The artists themselves hail from BIPOC communities in the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Colombia, Puerto Rico and beyond. Each artist engages in a practice that reveals their experiences in a world shaped by colonialism, while simultaneously celebrating Indigenous knowledge and addressing issues that impede oppressed people around the world. Fernández’s influence as a curator and artist is a crucial factor here, as Meris points out: “Teresita is an artist for whom I have great admiration and respect. So having her not only see me but give me a platform meant the world to me. Likewise, reflecting on the show and the experience of working with Fernández, Alcántara shared, “It’s all thanks to the vision of Teresita Fernández, who encourages us and paves the way for us to engage in deeper conversations. We activate and breathe new life into established discourses of abstraction, but with new materials, processes and applications that are subjective to our personal experiences.

  1. https://www.surfacemag.com/articles/art-teresita-fernandez-interview-new-sculpture-paradise-parados-brooklyn-academy-of-music/
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