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Indepth Arts News:

"José Antonio Hernández-Diez: His First Major Museum Exhibition"
2003-07-11 until 2003-09-21
New Museum of Contemporary Art
New York, NY, USA

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 Brotherhood].

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.

Myth Making

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 Technologies 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 United States.


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.

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