Island Culture: Running with the Art Pack in Puerto Rico

Departing our Brooklyn digs on a dark, wintry Friday morning to board a plane on its way to Puerto Rico, we could not have anticipated the fun that awaited us. We were heading down to San Juan for CIRCA ’10, the Puerto Rican contemporary art fair. The good times started to roll when we got upgraded to first class on the outbound flight and didn’t stop until we touched ground in NYC three days later.


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The fair was a lively mix of art from the US, Europe, Asia, and Latin America, which represented the majority of the work on view. The heart of the exhibition, where Circa Labs presented shipping containers with emerging art from young galleries in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and Peru, was the most energetic. Standouts in the fair’s regular booths included Jacob Karpio Gallery, which displayed a massive Fabian Marcaccio abstraction; Magnan Metz Gallery, where Sofia Maldonado painted Dunny action figures and made a live-painting, while accompanied by local musicians; Pedro Barbieto’s solo presentation of abstract paintings and drawings at Charest Weinberg Gallery that employed late Picassos as a point of departure; and surreal photographs by Lluis Barba at Galeria Sicart, Carlos Betancourt at Walter Otero Gallery, and Rafael Trelles at Puerto Rico Fine Arts.

Before the opening night reception ended, a fashion show broke loose in the convention center’s lobby, where models strutted the latest designs of Namibia Viera and struck poses, while altering their outfits atop stage-like platforms. Jumping on a shuttle bus, we soon found ourselves at the Museum of Art Puerto Rico, which was hosting the CIRCA after-party. A newly opened exhibition by Jose Bedia featured paintings, drawings, and an installation that poetically engaged the history of the island, while a group show of international artists, organized by Spanish curator Paco Barragan, smartly addressed concerns of painting through video.

On Saturday, we headed over to the Museum of Art at the Caribbean University for a show of local artists using colonial windows to make contemporary works. Brunch at the museum was followed by a visit to Luis Gutiérrez’ architecture office, which displayed a marvelous mix of contemporary Latin American women photographers. Shortly thereafter, a second brunch ensued at the hilltop apartment of Dinorah and Horacio Campolietto, whose collection of contemporary art featured Andres Serrano’s controversial photograph Piss Christ; a striking Matthew Barney portrait of a young Brazilian woman, from his De Lama Lamina series; and a massive, new, mixed-media canvas by Shinique Smith, amongst other gems.

Next on our journey was a private tour of Arnaldo Roche Rabell’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is stylishly housed in a former school. Roche, as he is locally known, walked us through his powerful show of gigantic works on paper, made by rubbing paper directly over naked bodies with oil stick and by scratching away paint to make an impression of a real-life object, such as a chair, cabinet, and plate. Inspired by the conversation and visit, we returned to the fair to share the stories of the day, while engaging more people to discuss more art.

Ready for the first real meal of the day, we piled on a shuttle bus going to the Plantation Village resort in Dorado Beach, about 40-minutes outside of San Juan. There, collectors Carolina and Federico Stubbe hosted a sit-down dinner for more than 100 artists, dealers, critics, curators, and collectors. The sumptuous setting featured an arched-wall aqueduct with an enormous wheel that brought water to the top of the wall, where it spilled like a waterfall into a pool. We ran into ArtNews publisher Milton Esterow and his wife Jackie, who were vacationing in Puerto Rico, and shared a table and amusing conversation with SoHo art dealers Jesse Washburn-Harris and Michael Lieberman, who were staying at the Stubbe’s resort.

Rising early on Sunday morning for a dip in our hotel’s pool and whirlpool, we arrived revitalized at Diana and Mosies Berezdivin’s collection, which is housed at Espacio 1414 — a large, tri-level, exhibition space. Conceptual works in a wide range of media by international artists — including Puerto Rico residents Carolina Caycedo and Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla— illuminated the galleries and kept visitors engaged past the allotted viewing time.

By late afternoon, we were ready for another adventure, which began with a studio visit to Melvin Martinez, a local painter with a growing group of international admirers. Martinez shared his new work, which was nearly ready for his April solo show at Yvon Lambert in Paris, with a small assembly of visitors— including Milton Esterow, the Art Newspaper’s Charmaine Picard, and Art Beijing VIP director Carol Na — who were all taken by his colorful and commanding abstractions.

Our next stop was the penthouse apartment of Maria and Alberto de la Cruz. Alberto is the son of Miami mega-art collectors Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz and, like his parents, he has a true passion and great eye for contemporary art. His collection features major works by German painters Sigmar Polke, Albert Oehlen, Jonathan Meese, and Neo Rauch, as well coveted works by American artists Wade Guyton, Kelly Walker, Dana Schutz, and Rachel Harrison. Our host treated us to freshly prepared tapas, endless glasses of champagne, and fascinating stories about the acquisition and meaning of the works on view.

Next door, in an adjoining tower of the apartment complex, we stopped to visit the collection of Olga and Ramón Luis Lugo. Like their neighbors, the Lugos possess a passion for the Germans, including Georg Baselitz, Jorg Immendorff, and Joseph Beuys, in addition to a more recent, large, dot painting by Damien Hirst. Meanwhile, the ocean view from the balcony of the apartment was nearly as mesmerizing as the collection.

Back to the fair for one last look, we surprised ourselves by still finding more to see and talk about. We stayed until closing and then jumped the shuttle to Cafe La Plage, on the beach in Isla Verde, for another view of Namibia Viera’s fashions, albeit this time beachwear. A fire-dancer and a five-member band, playing percussion instruments and a sax, followed the scantily dressed models in the show. Exhausted from the nearly non-stop activity, we walked to water’s edge — our first time to step on sand — and watched the waves roll in and out under the full moon.

View additional images of the weekend’s players in Art in America’s The Scene.