Heriberto Nieves

e-mail: heriberto@nieves.com

 




The history of sculpture has been particularly disturbing in the western world over the last few decades. It has been both iconoclastic and fertile while at the same time it has changed definitions and proposals. Although the evolution of sculpture in the Caribbean has been calmer, there are considerable differences from one country to another. Puerto Rico is undoubtedly one of the more dynamic, if not the most advanced in this field, both with respect to esthetics as well as regarding the techniques employed.
It seems to us that one of the reasons for the upward trend in this neighboring island is the energy of the art to be found in its public spaces and the influence they have on sculptural creation. In what other neighboring land can one find such monumental works rising up in parks, intersections and highways? We immediately think of Maestro Pablo Rubio -with his incredibly huge monuments - who not only serves as the teacher of the younger generations but is also a model worthy of admiration who continues to create important works while gaining fame abroad.
One such sculptor presently in the prime of his creative powers who has established a brilliant and promising career is Heriberto Nieves. Many of us in Santo Domingo consider ourselves lucky to have him with us on the occasion of two expositions and we are even happier that it was here that he created the large format works that have been presented to the Museum of Modern Art. While other Puerto Rican artists, particularly María Elena Perales, had their bronze sculptures cast in the Dominican Republic, we believe that in the past none had completely executed their pieces within the setting of a Dominican industrial workshop. We would like to make two important observations regarding what we have just mentioned with respect to the exhibition at the Museum and the making of the sculptures. In spite of its size, the basement of our most important artistic institution is a very different environment as compared to a public space and therefore the works exhibited there are perceived in a different manner. In a public plaza, for example, the work is integrated into an open urban surrounding and sky and does not forcibly capture the attention of passersby but instead contributes to their environmental well being.  In a gallery or inside a museum, our attention is concentrated on the sculpture, which occupies a volume that is proportionately much greater, both on the floor and on the walls.
The intrinsic quality of the pieces - or their failed gigantism - comes to the fore. In the case of Heriberto Nieves, this new scale enables us to more fully enjoy the form, color, and detail as well as to consciously accommodate our optical reception while better appreciating the works¿ energetic charges as a masterly touch. With respect to the nature of Heriberto Nieves sculptures, he uses metals - iron and steel - with a rigor that combines the artisan¿s trade with the resources of industrial production. We have not observed this artist at work, except in photographs, but we are led to believe that he makes use of techniques ranging from the most basic to the most sophisticated along with mechanical and electrical tools. However, his work communicates the stamp of experience, both in his creations made from scratch as well as in his other pieces involving such recycled ¿ready-made¿ materials as giant screws. The spectacular and powerful showing of ¿Diffraction Circles¿ serves as a record of materials and assemblies in accordance with architecture, machinery and heavy-duty work. However, it functions visually and emotionally as the work of a human being, or rather as art made by man for man. We do not perceive these works as cold or overwhelming but instead as having been created by someone who was thinking about us while wanting us to enjoy them up close as well as to touch and listen to them.
Therefore, to emphasize only the impact of the iron and of the sculpture¿s dimensions, its construction and in the final analysis its force, as tends to be the custom when commenting on this type of sculpture, would be tantamount to impoverishing the expression of a generous and sensitive work. These minimalist forms, whose size is so uncommon in our medium, along with their impressively geometric precision and almost brutal volumes, upon closer inspection become organic wholes that palpitate with life and capture a pluralized perception: vision, tact, movement and the tinkling of tiny vibrant circles.
Then, integrating chromaticism and adding nuances and gradations to the primary colors - red, yellow and blue - the sequence shows how this contemporary and technological art can capture the light while lyrically dematerializing almost monumental structures and creating unexpected poetry.
The Caribbean, with its luminosity and its sun are present and refute the absolutely abstract character that is customarily attributed to geometry and minimalism. Geographically and climatically, we undoubtedly associate ¿Circles of Diffraction¿ with our Antillean region.
This exposition confirms that Heriberto Nieves transforms sculpture that appears to be most given to deployment in the open air, but that also tolerates installation in a closed space, into sources of enjoyment and spirituality that are accessible to everyone. His works, in an overall sense, have multipurpose virtues! It is therefore of fundamental importance to particularize this type of abstraction that becomes a conspiratorial reality and transforms itself into familiar objects while requiring reflection, attention and prolonged contemplation on the part of the spectator.
At this point, to the extent that we write and become enthusiastic about Heriberto Nieves¿ sculptures and in spite of the fact that we enjoy them immensely in temporary exhibitions, we realize how fascinating it would be to have the opportunity to enjoy one of the larger works of this excellent Puerto Rican sculptor in the open air, at an esplanade or park in Santo Domingo.

Marianne de Tolentino
vice-president of the international asociation of critcs art (AICA)