Any avid Metrorail rider who has handed by the Santa Clara station in Allapattah or walked beneath the pedestrian bridge of Florida International University’s College of Engineering & Computing has borne witness to the late Carlos Alfonzo’s dazzling ceramic tilework. Scattered all through these site-specific murals that also stand greater than 30 years after their creation is the story of Alfonzo’s inventive trajectory. With an rising profession in Havana by the Seventies and into exile by way of the Mariel boatlift, he was processed by Arkansas and at last settled in Miami in July of 1980.
Alfonzo’s identification as a homosexual Cuban man and an artist is highlighted by “Carlos Alfonzo: Late Paintings,” which opened on April 21 on the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Covering two of the museum’s ground-floor galleries, the exhibition undertakes an in depth examination of the ultimate 12 months of Alfonzo’s life earlier than his loss of life in February 1991 from AIDS-related problems. Ten work showcase the realities of the artist’s grotesque battle with the illness, which might take his life solely a month earlier than his work was showcased within the prestigious Whitney Biennial in New York City.
In 1990, the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach showcased “Carlos Alfonzo: New Work,” which carried an analogous tone of darkish work. In a brochure for the exhibition, the late artwork critic Giulio V. Blanc famous how the language in Alfonzo’s work throughout this era references Jackson Pollock’s personal “black paintings.” This reference also alludes to the bleak era of work by Spanish painter Francisco Goya and comments on an especially troublesome aspect of an artist’s body of work.
For the exhibition’s curator, Gean Moreno, who also serves as director of the ICA Miami’s Knight Foundation Art + Research Center, this era of Alfonzo’s work has elevated in vitality. “In the three decades since these works’ creation, and since Alfonzo’s untimely death in 1991, his last paintings have continued to grow in their meaning and cultural resonance,” Moreno tells New Times. We can now look at these final works by the artist and interpret them against Alfonzo’s practice at large, his biography and their social context — and significantly, their witness to the AIDS crisis.”
Upon coming into the exhibition, the viewer is greeted by imposing large-scale works, beckoning to be studied up shut so as to perceive the complexity of texture and approach whereas taking in symbols and visible language from afar. Each canvas isn’t just stuffed with black, however illuminated with grey, darkish greens, deep reds, and burnt oranges that signify the complexity of feelings Alfonzo endured throughout his painful closing years. The works exude regret and remorse, with sharp iconography of impaling nails and ghastly shadows scattered all through.
Yet a combat is depicted in every work. The horizontal compositions of Cimetière marin (Cemetery by the ocean) (1990) and Blood (1991) are jumbled and packed to the brim with the hallucinatory, haphazard communications of an in poor health man. The first alludes to French poet Paul Valéry’s 1920 meditation on mortality and loss of life, whereas the latter is among the final work the artist labored on earlier than his loss of life. One can solely try and empathize with the bodily, emotional, and psychological toll the illness took on Alfonzo, particularly given the period’s stigma towards homosexual males and the disproportionate impression of AIDS on the group.
“The exhibition will only help further cement Alfonzo’s place as one of the preeminent painters of the 1980s.”
The set of ten work conjures this concept of reckoning with one’s mortality, whether or not meaning discovering peace with the inevitable or the other: preventing on your life and doing no matter it takes to endure and survive. For Alfonzo, the repeated imagery of bent knees, in reverence and even in a fallen state, is in steady movement. It’s a cyclical act of submission to the divine if one believes or the uncontrollable forces if one doesn’t that ends in the works’ non secular high quality. The artist was recognized to attract upon Santería rituals, Rosicrucianism, and Catholic ideology all through his life and physique of labor, igniting the texture of a cathedral or beatific sanctuary.
The potential analyses of Alfonzo’s closely layered and charged compositions are countless. Yet Miami, as the first basis and customary thread from which to attract data and analysis pertaining to the artist, is mirrored in Alfonzo’s decade within the Magic City. “We consulted with a number of Alfonzo’s peers — those who best knew him during his productive years in Miami,” Moreno explains. “We also consulted as many archives as were available to us, including Alfonzo’s own archive, which he left with friends and holdings at Vasari Archive at Miami-Dade Library and the Cuban Heritage Collections at the University of Miami.”
Appropriately for an artist who gave a lot again to town the place he lived and died, “Carlos Alfonzo: Late Paintings” honors Miami’s place within the ongoing discourse surrounding Alfonzo’s work.
“One of the greatest rewards has been to be able to bring all these powerful paintings together once again,” Moreno says. “It is hard to explain the emotional range and grave energy of these works to anyone who has not stood in a room full of them. They imbue the museum space with an almost-liturgical air. The other reward has been to think through some of the deep questions about human mortality that the paintings address while constantly being reminded that they come out of a very specific moment: the tragic one in which Alfonzo’s friends were dying of AIDS-related diseases, and he himself was on the way to a premature death.
“The exhibition — the ability of seeing all these late works collectively — will solely assist additional cement Alfonzo’s place as one of many preeminent painters of the Eighties. I believe that the exhibition can even have the constructive impact of reminding us — and younger artists particularly — of the kind of severe questions that portray continues to be capable of deal with and the highly effective emotional tones that it may generate.”
“Carlos Alfonzo: Late Paintings.” On view through November 27, at Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, 61 NE 41st St., Miami; 305-901-5272; icamiami.org. Admission is free.