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About print

Alex Hernández Dueñas
from the project Habana-Miami [2007 - 2011]

A middle space
Without entering into a debate on the term “judgement”, in art it alludes to the sense of appreciating the value of an artwork. Any judgement implies a comparison that, at the same time, validates. On behalf of what measure can we appreciate a contemporary work, the real result of a new sense of the imagination? What genuine reasons exist to invoke that always so generalizing Platonic ideal? When we speak of Cuba, these are questions that immediately come up.
We know that throughout the history of art, the idea of “good taste” has always been advocated as a comparative legitimizing measure. That notion, extremely vague and abstract, has been exalted chiefly by those societies that are prey to the ills of generalization and the love of artificial and illegitimate order. It is a concept that has served lazy or tired sensibilities resistant to changing their habits, and satisfied in eternally imposing aesthetic models to follow.
In a country like our own, whose culture has been forged from symbiosis, exchange and curiosity for everything that is “strange”, speaking about good taste is something very complex. The city of Havana –a special space of transit between the North and the South, the Old World and the Americas– was always a channel for confluences along which information flowed “from here, there and everywhere”.1 This state of affairs has gradually given way to a culture of “ajiaco”,2 whose elements arrived from all over the world in order to come together and “congeal” in these lands.
Art has also been the result of this encounter, in a relationship of acceptance-negation between the autochthonous and the foreign, between the original and the pastiche, between the endogenous and the alien. It is the offspring of the most elitist expressions and the most popular roots; it was engendered during colonialism and its most recent manifestations are the result of the very specific processes of post-colonialism and subalternation.
The work of the Cuban Alex Miguel Hernández Dueñas delves into the universe of the aesthetic preferences of the contemporary individual. From a totally transdisciplinary point of view, it deals with and questions concepts such as: comfort, status, luxury, prosperity and material well being. Such notions are related to hierarchical structures within a society and to qualification indicators of good taste.
To do this, he has managed to take apart the elements composing the life style and the parameters of aesthetic judgement –finally also reflections of a social and economic position– of the Cuban families living on the island and/or in southern Florida and whose zenith can always be found within the domestic space. But Alex does not speak about emigration per se; his work flirts with that subject but his concerns draw closer to those of the American artist Norman Rockwell3 when he depicted the American middle class in his artworks.
In spite of the dilemma and the fragmentation of the Cuban family, of the physical distance and of the conflicts on political terrain, what is most important for the artist is that the bond has survived. This has generated a stable exchange of profound cultural bias possible between the two “shores” that has founded in the union of tastes the possibility of developing what he has defined as “the Havana-Miami life-style”.
In order to deconstruct this world, the methods used have been very diverse: watercolours, silk-screens, videos, paintings. His references have been in the photos, the objects and the home videos resulting from the exchange.
The starting point was the making of the video Inventario, where he overlaps two home videos –without technically manipulating them– on the same screen: the first one was sent by the artist’s family and shows the house in Miami; while in the second one he recorded his own home in Havana. The research became a long-term process, where every element and moment was able to contribute to it. In this way, TISCH School for the Arts’s courses from the University of New York (NYU) had decisive repercussions on the learning and questioning of the technique.
After the manner of a collector, the artist has also made an inventory, of the objects that decorate the interiors of these homes through watercolours, faced with the need to delve into the emotional bonds tied up within the forms. Alex thus endowed scenes and ordinary objects forming part of Havana’s visual being with an aura. He transported them in his style to the noble, legitimate and definitive domain of art. Thus the wandering question would be: why to choose to represent these objects made by industrial reproductive processes, mostly associated to the aesthetics of kitsch?
These were the years when the artist began to assiduously visit and collaborate with the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, an institution where this problematic has been profoundly researched. That relationship also generated a sense of civic responsibility, often absent in other Cuban artists. The possibility of taking part in exhibitions such as Cuantos Somos (How many we are) in 2005,4 and of working with artists such as the Cuban Ernesto Oroza5 (Grupo Ordo Amoris), awakened in him the marked curiosity for a world associated with his own home.
His training in printmaking at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts permitted him an exquisite mastery of the technique. So within the project Habana-Miami, the representation on silk-screens of façades and interiors, sought out points of contact and concurrencies in the distribution of the spaces. Confusion was generated in the loss of limits and in the illusion of apparently common architecture and design. Devoted to the spirit of the German artist Matthias Weischer,6 he created incongruent perspectives and unbalancing patterns that would finally provoke a sensation of estrangement and doubt.
In the group Everglades, he has assembled a palette of colours, textures and motifs present in many of these houses. This has come out of the tablecloths, curtains, walls and house dresses; in short, from every element that on a symbolic level allowed him to explore the concept of beauty for those persons who do not find their references in galleries or art books. Although some of these patterns were already depicted in his work at the Academy, they started to be seen systematically in the new canvases. The graphic language found precursors in the work of Cuban illustrators, Enrique García Cabrera and Jaime Valls,7 and interior design magazines became a mandatory bibliography.
In the spirit of David Hockney, Richard Clifford Diebenkorn and even Peter Doig,8 in his most recent work, the use of flat and shiny colors has simplified the composition. The geometrical surfaces reach their maximum linear synthesis in the representation of façades and other architectural elements, indicating at the same time a possible symbolic rapprochement. Some elements grab your attention as if they were clues for our understanding. The atmosphere becomes rarified: surreal and unusual, it disorients the viewer and alludes to that space in dreams where the expectations and desires of a human group are expressed. Today, the series explores a relationship that is more abstract than referential; it attempts to apprehend that intermediate space that cannot be defined any more as either Miami or Havana.
His style inserts itself into a new art source produced on the island during the last decade. It distances itself from premises advocated by the conceptual art of the 80s whose programs where later pontificated at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) as courses. This new generation proposes art from an ethical position and claims techné as a sine qua non condition of artistic creation after almost three decades where the imposture, the ephemeral and the textual invaded the national artistic production scene.
The work of Alex Hernández without a doubt is a transgressor one on the scene of current Cuban art. In humanistic terms it calls on the concept of beauty that exists in every person and that is always associated with a culture and very specific influences and conditions within a determinate context. His notion of aesthetics placidly follows the course of the same sources of man’s sensibilities, above any consideration of time and place, beyond any contingency. As a creator, he renounces the dogmatic demand of Art, of its codes, judgements and procedures.
Sara Alonso Gómez
Curator and Art Critic
Havana, October 1st, 2011

1 All ships coming from Europe first landed in the Port of Havana before sailing off to other lands; the vessels loaded with the Latin American riches would make a stop-over of up to three months on Cuban coasts before starting their return journey to the Old World.
2 A term referring to a type of creole stew, coined by the famous Cu-ban essayist and ethnologist, Fer-nando Ortiz Fernández (Havana, 1889 – 1969) in his book Contra-punteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar (Cuban Counterpoint of Tobacco and Sugar) (1940).
3 Norman Rockwell (U.S.A., 1894 – United Kingdom, 1978).
4 This show involved profound re-search into the universe of the contemporary Cuban visual presence, through the decoration of the surfaces of objects produced as crafts as a response to urgent needs and which presume not only recycling but processes that have been called “technological disobedience”, “reparation” or “refunctionalizing”, accentuating the hybrid, polluted and even unique nature of the results. The show presumed an analysis without prejudices of the behaviours, tastes, habits, flows and procedures of some of the different subjects that have been defining contemporary Havana society.
5 Ernesto Oroza (Cuba, 1968): Cuban designer and artist now living in the US.
6 Matthias Weischer (Germany, 1973).
7 Enrique García Cabrera (Cuba, 1893 – 1949): draughtsman and illustrator for important magazines of the era such as Bohemia, Fígaro and Carteles; he was one of the first to cultivate commercial art. Jaime Valls (Spain, 1883 – Cuba, 1955): a follower of Víctor Patricio Landaluze, he is considered to be the father of artistic advertising in Cuba, of Afro-Cuban painting and of depicting popular types.
8 David Hockney (United Kingdom, 1937); Richard Clifford Diebenkorn (U.S.A., 1922 – 1993) and Peter Doig (United Kingdom, 1959)

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