The New Museum of Contemporary Art is pleased
to present José Antonio Hernández-Diez, the first major museum exhibition in
the United States of works by this acclaimed Venezuelan artist. Organized by
the New Museum and curated by Senior Curator Dan Cameron and Adjunct Curator
Gerardo Mosquera, the exhibition will be on view from July 11-September 21,
2003. This presentation concludes a national tour that included the Palm
Beach Institute of Contemporary Art and SITE Santa Fe.
One of the most important South American artists to have emerged in the last
decade, Hernández-Diez creates candid, poetic, and at times disturbing and
irreverent multi-media installations inspired by the vernacular culture and
traditions of his home country. Hernández-Diez is part of a new generation
of Venezuelan artists who emerged in the late 1980s -at nearly the same time
that Venezuelans began a public process of searching for a solution to the
economic and social crises in their country-to challenge the aesthetic
traditions that had dominated Venezuelan art since the 1950s. Using unusual
materials culled from urban life-such as skateboards, sneakers, pool tables,
fake nails, and pork skin-Hernández-Diez elevates street and domestic
culture, while commenting on the harsh economic and political realities of
South American life.
The New Museum exhibition will include fourteen works created by
Hernández-Diez between 1991 and 2000, chosen to convey several overlapping
themes that inform his work: technology and the body; marginality and
vernacular culture; myth making; and an intimate, spontaneous, and enigmatic
use of communication and industrial technologies. Examples of works dealing
with each theme are outlined below.
Technology and the Body
A guiding principal of Hernández-Diez's early work is the discomfort of the
human species caught between its animal state and something more exalted. In
a 1991 installation titled San Guinefort [Saint Guinefort], the cadaver of a
dog is locked inside a septic glass container. The viewer is able to reach
his arms inside the glass case through rubber protusions in order to touch
the dog's body. San Guinefort evokes South American Catholic faith and
superstition-the proof of touch is considered a remedy for religious
doubt-while introducing Hernández-Diez's interest in issues of mortality,
which he subsequently explores in such works as Vas p'al cielo y vas
Ilorando [You Go To Heaven and You Go Crying] and La Hermandad [The
Marginality and Vernacular Culture
One of Hernández-Diez's most visceral installations, La Hermandad [The
Brotherhood], 1994, comments upon the uselessness of a common urban pastime
such as skateboarding in a country as troubled as Venezuela. La Hermandad
consists of a room in which the dominant sculptural element is a large metal
drying rack. Attached to the rack are dozens of makeshift skateboards
created by attaching four wheels to a slab of fried pork. The skateboards
are in various stages of decomposition, some dripping fat into troughs
beneath. On three small tables are monitors showing the three stages of the
skateboards' existence: birth (in a frying pan), life (careening through the
street), and death (chewed apart by dogs). To learn that fried pork skin is
a favorite snack among the disenfranchised classes in Venezuela only adds to
the intimations of waste and uselessness.
S & M (Ella Perdió un Dedo) [S & M (She Lost A Nail)] is the title for a
series of current sculptural pieces. The works are gigantic women's
fingernails, installed in different ways, sometimes together with large
pieces of sandpaper. They establish a minimalist inclination in
Hernández-Diez's art that nonetheless carries a wide spectrum of meanings.
The title alludes to a famous Spanish B-movie actress of the 1960s and
relates, both nostalgically and ironically, to stereotypes of mass media
icons in South American culture.
Intimate, Spontaneous, And Enigmatic Use of Communication And Industrial
One of the defining factors of Hernández-Diez's work is humor. At times, his
humor is biting and sarcastic; other times, it is the playful and
idiosyncratic humor of a child. For example, Que te Rinda el Dia [Have a
Prodcutive Day] (1995) is an installation of several sets of unpainted
pegboard furniture bearing what appear to be bite marks from a gigantic
human mouth. To achieve this effect, Hernández-Diez employed a mechanical
press adapted to actually bite the furniture. While his previous works were
based mostly on video installation and often juxtaposed medical technology
with religious subject matter, a mechanistic performative quality appears in
this unexpected and playful example of Hernández-Diez's art.
About the Artist
José Antonio Hernández-Diez was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1964.
Currently, he lives and works in Barcelona, Spain. He has had solo
exhibitions in New York, Madrid, Sao Paulo, and Caracas, and is increasingly
represented in international exhibitions and biennials.
Over the last twelve years, José Antonio Hernández-Diez has created a
remarkably diverse yet conceptually consistent body of work. Vernacular
culture and social issues inspire Hernández-Diez's work but his work also
represents a reaction against stereotypical views of South American
identity. He works from within his culture, breaking expectations to address
popular culture and society in a poetic, indirect manner. Many of the works
in the exhibition at the New Museum have never been seen before in the
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated 96-page catalogue,
featuring essays by curators Dan Cameron and Gerardo Mosquera, and critics
Monica Amor and Jesús Fuenmayor.
The catalogue is made possible by Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros,
Caracas, and the Penny McCall Publication Fund at the New Museum of
Contemporary Art. Donors to the Penny McCall Publication Fund are James C.A.
and Stephania McClennen, Jennifer McSweeney, Arthur and Carol Goldberg,
Dorothy O. Mills, and the Mills Family Fund.