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The Fresh Morning of the Vegetables

Solo Show
Arturo Montoto

ArtNexus #66 - Arte en Colombia #112
Sep - Nov 2007

Havana, Cuba
Galería Villa Manuela

Attended by great numbers of visitors, the Cuban Writers and Artists Union's Villa Manuela gallery presented ¿Conversación en el huerto,¿ an exhibition of paintings by Arturo Montoto. The works belonged to a series the artist has been developing since 2005. The conceptual and formal elements of these works were first unveiled in the show ¿Islas o el camino de cada cual,¿ presented at Espacios Gallery in Madrid, Spain. In Cuba, only a small section of the series could be seen in 2006 as part of the group show ¿Isla interior¿ at the Havana Club Foundation Museum, and in ¿La fábula del hortelano,¿ a solo show sponsored by the Centro Cultural and by the Animación Misionera San Antonio María Claret, in the province of Santiago de Cuba,

In the Villa Manuela catalog, Montoto published a statement that rejected the exclusivity of these works and emphasized the degree to which they harked back to previous works; he also denied the emergence of new concepts or procedures and reaffirmed his same abstract-informal inclinations. But this preliminary comment-something increasingly frequent in Montoto's exhibitions and performances-was not able to diminish the general reactions of surprise with which viewers received the twelve medium- and large-format canvases in the exhibition.

This series did not signal Montoto's rejection of the kind of painting that has distinguished him in the Cuban visual arts, in which both the subject of the city and its architecture partake equally in the formation of meaning, as a subversive investigation about reality and its representations. Although the artist's most recent productions did not include recognizable structures and symbols, he has not abandoned them. If one reviews his recent catalogs or editorial projects, or visits his study in Gunabacoa, one can see finished or in-progress paintings still featuring the lugubrious corners, the somber portals, the books leaning on a step, and even the sumptuous fruits of his early work. Thus, the works gathered in ¿Conversación en el huerto¿ were conceived from a standpoint of the complementary, of interconnection; they recycled ideas and aesthetic notions that have accompanied the painter since he became known in the 1980s.

But one cannot say, either, that the public reaction was unfounded. Montoto's show verified a technical distillation and purification in his experimental imagery; the allegory and method in his compositions contrasted with what was familiar to his viewers on the island. Formerly linked to scenes, the object now, in the words of the artist, ¿abandoned the topos of the everyday in order to invoke its permanence and protagonism in an undefined context that does not disturb it, to focalize the entirety of its dual meaning.¿ Not only was the presence of the utensil or the tool magnified above more sublime or finer elements but also the selection of these items was keener and based on their connotations-how they were involved in the struggles between benefit and aggression, satisfaction and torture, dichotomies that seemed to inundate Montoto's current scenes. This was evidenced the works Arrastres, El maná que se espera, La tostadora, Vagina, El monte de los olivos, and La fresca mañana de las hortalizas, the exhibition's strongest work.

The irruption of the abstract in Montoto's painting, after several attempts and announcements, was a novelty although not an unpredictable one. Yet, he continued to submerge the object in the same unsettling, distressing atmosphere generated by urban spaces. There were even some works in which the artist made no attempt to suppress the remnants of tangible reality, such as Ayer se ha mondado el jardín and Los dos extremos del peligro. This proved the degree of progress and fluidity with which the artist has moved between one expression and another, reassembling each of the artifices derived from them. The gestural and imprecise brushstrokes, the dripping backgrounds, and the interrupted lines were intuitive sketches of a deeper visual perception, the recreation by synthesis or suppression of the density that also belongs to certain urban spaces, where the object gravitates and disconcerts with the weight of its meaning.



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