April 6 - 29, 2023
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 6th, 5:30-7:30 PM
Dolby Chadwick Gallery is thrilled to announce Bretonian Slip, an exhibition of new work by Gonzalo Fuenmayor.
Fuenmayor’s large-scale drawings in charcoal immediately captivate viewers with their stirring and unexpected imagery. To create tension between light and shadow, and the appearance of being lit from within, Fuenmayor uses the full range of values offered by the opacity of the charcoal and the white of the bare paper. The sense of depth this generates is enhanced by the scale of the drawings, some of which reach over 7 feet tall and 10 feet wide. In fact, viewers can almost feel the physical effort required to create these monumental works. Evidence of the artist’s hand also reverberates across their surfaces: Fuenmayor trained as a painter, and his astonishingly naturalistic images are distinguished as much by painterly gesture as they are by precision.
As with past exhibitions, Bretonian Slip explores questions of identity and power, particularly as they relate to Latin history and heritage. Fuenmayor—who was born in Colombia, studied in Boston, and now lives in Miami—is known for adeptly juxtaposing symbols of Latinness with imagery that alludes to the Western imperial order. In so doing, he reveals and challenges, with great insight and humor, the stereotypes that underpin popular understandings of what it means to be Latin.
Fuenmayor’s use of charcoal has been a particularly powerful means of pushing back against expectations around Latin identity, which is often associated with bright, vivid colors and visual flamboyance. By choosing an aesthetic devoid of color, he subverts these reductive understandings while adding an enigmatic dimension to the work: Although the drawings are black and white, in the mind's eye they are anything but. This is evident in a piece such as Utopias, for example, which features flamingos, an “exotic” tropical bird often associated with Latin America. The birds are shown gracefully gliding past a vintage theater marquee announcing “UTOPIAS,” its base curved to form an arrow that points in the direction opposite to the group’s flightpath. The meaning also departs in different directions: What was once a utopia is no longer, now overrun by outside forces. Or there never was a utopia, it was always a construct of the West. Or perhaps our notion of utopia is merely a mirage or projection of the real thing.
Fuenmayor approaches his drawings past and present as if they were individual scenes in a movie he has been making since the start of his career. Thinking about himself as a director and his oeuvre as a film opens up greater possibilities for the individual images as they relate both to one another and to the larger narrative. When the drawings are experienced together, an alchemy is created in which the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts; the implied conversations between works hold wisdom, messages, and questions that although not always explicit are nevertheless deeply felt.
This cinematic unfolding resonates at a thematic level in Bretonian Slip, which is particularly concerned with performativity in the wake of recent world events. After the pandemic, Fuenmayor notes that he “became even more aware of power dynamics within society, and this idea of control, of controlling the stage, controlling the performance.” Such concerns surface in imagery related to the theater, cinema, and circus. The scene-stealing seal in The Ambiguity of Glory and the show-stopping swan in Music for Cannibals, who remains elegantly unruffled despite being blasted by noise, reveal “a collision between the wild and the tamed.” Other works move the narrative in a different direction, demonstrating how nature retains ultimate power when all is said and done. In The Etiquette of Agony, for instance, the trunk of a palm tree swoops low across a grandiose dining table like an uninvited dinner guest; in Tyranny of Illusion, a lush tropical forest grows up and around a magnificent Baroque-style staircase. Wealth confers power, but nature, we’re reminded, is sublime.
At their core, these works are about “slippages.” If a Freudian slip reveals one’s subconsciously held feelings, then a “Bretonian slip” could be said to reveal one’s innermost views about identity. Andre Breton, the show title’s namesake and the French author of the Surrealist Manifesto, declared upon a visit to Mexico that the country and its people were surrealist by nature—an essentializing proclamation that has regrettably endured. Fuenmayor unpacks such a slipup, especially in those works featuring the banana, a recurring symbol of Latin America in his practice. The banana is, quite literally, something that one slips on. But the metaphor here runs deeper. At first blush, the banana is funny, even silly, as evidenced in a drawing like Circus, which adapts Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop Art comic-book tropes. But the banana is also a deeply loaded symbol that carries with it the weight of transnational power dynamics; underestimate its meaning or influence and you’re in for a surprise. As the drawing Bretonian Slip demonstrates, that is the ultimate mic drop.
Gonzalo Fuenmayor was born in 1977 in Barranquilla, Colombia, and lives and works in Miami, Florida. He earned his BFA in 2000 from the School of Visual Arts, New York, and his MFA in 2004 from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His work has been exhibited extensively across the United States, Latin America, and Europe, and recently his monumental quadriptych Tropicalypse was acquired by the Pérez Art Museum Miami for their permanent collection. His work can also be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Minuto de Dios, Colombia and the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, Bogotá, Colombia. Fuenmayor has been accorded numerous awards, including a Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant in 2022, the 2020 EFG Bank Latin American Award, a 2018 Ellies Creator Award, and was showcased in the The Florida Prize 2020 exhibition. This is his fourth solo show at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery.