Miguel Luciano: Curated by Juan Sanchez

Miguel Luciano was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1972. He received his BFA from the New World School of the Arts, in Miami, FL and an MFA from the University of Florida at Gainesville, FL. His work has been exhibited internationally at The Ljubljana Biennial, Slovenia; The San Juan Triennial, Puerto Rico; and Zverev Center for Contemporary Art, Moscow, and nationally at The Newark Museum, NJ; Jersey City Museum, NJ; El Museo del Barrio, NY; Bronx Museum of Art, NY; Exit Art, NY; Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, Inc., NY and The Chelsea Art Museum, NY. Solo exhibitions include the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT; and Galeria Tinta Roja, Chicago, IL.  Luciano has participated in the LMCC/Workspace 120 Broadway Artist Residency, the Bronx Museum of Art A rtists in the Marketplace (AIM) program, and the Kitchen's Music Image Sound Text in Community (MISTIC) Residency. He has received a NYFA award for painting and two Artists and Communities Grants from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation (MAAF). His work is featured in the permanent collections of El Museo del Barrio, NY and the Newark Museum, NJ. The exhibit at CUE Art Foundation marks Luciano's first solo show in New York.

Juan Sánchez was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1954 from parents who emigrated from Puerto Rico. He earned a BFA degree from The Cooper Union School of Art, NY in 1977 and in 1980, an MFA from the Mason Gross School of the Arts of Rutgers University, NJ.

His paintings, prints and photography have been exhibited throughout the United States, Europe, Egypt and Latin America. Sánchez has had solo exhibitions at Exit Art, NY; P.S.1Contemporary Art Center, NY; El Museo del Barrio, NY; the 1994 5th Habana Bienale, Cuba; The Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY; and El Museo de Historia, Antropologia y Arte, Universidad de Puerto Rico. JUAN SÁNCHEZ: Printed Convictions: Prints and Related Works on Paper, a 1998-2000 national tour exhibition, was curated and organized by Alejandro Anreus, Ph.D. and The Jersey City Museum, NJ.

Sánchez has been awarded fellowships and grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation; the Pollack-Krasner Foundation; the New York Foundation for the Arts; and the National Endowment for the Arts. His work is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; El Museo del Barrio, NY; El Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, Cuba; and El Centro Wilfredo Lam, Cuba. Juan Sánchez is Professor of Art at Hunter College, the City University of New York.

Artist's Statement:

My work addresses playful and painful exchanges between Puerto Rico and the United States - questioning a colonial relationship that exists to the present and problematizing the space between the two cultures. I am interested in examining how colonial subordination is extended through globalization as communities have shifted gears from a production based society to one that is grounded in consumption.

Exploring different mediums, from painting and drawing to interactive sculpture and public art; community interaction and accessibility have always played an important role in my work. From cereal boxes and children's books, to vintage product labels and historic publications, my work draws upon a range of visual references, often reorganizing popular, religious, commercial and consumer iconography into fluctuating new hierarchies - creating meaning anew from a site of resistance.

I recently began a body of work entitled Pure Plantainum, which centers on a sculptural series of actual green plantains that are plated in platinum. The plantain (plátano) is la Musa Paradisiaca, or the Muse of Paradise, a stereotypical yet iconic Puerto Rican and Caribbean symbol. It proudly signifies national culture, yet also references a history of labor and exploitation among Caribbean banana republics. In Puerto Rico, the plantain is further embedded with vernacular references to race and class. For example, plantation workers could be identified by the notorious stains that harvesting plantains left upon their skin and clothing. La mancha del plátano, or the stain of the plantain has long been a euphemism that refers to skin color, equating blackness to a stain upon skin or culture. However, the expression's meaning is often inverted when used colloquially, as an assertion of pride of ones roots. Plátano references were also applied to Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants in New York who had "just arrived" and struggled to assimilate.

Pure Plantainum is a commemoration of the plátano, both a celebration and lament of its symbolic capital. The exterior of the plantain is covered in platinum, its surface precious, pristine, and jewel-like, while the actual fruit decomposes on the inside. With its emphasis on exterior and superfice, it alludes in part to the hapless pursuit of materialist fetish, while also extending a more fragile metaphor towards the duality of external vs. internal consciousness, and the balance of pride over shame.

Curator's Statement:

by Juan Sánchez

"I try to use my music as a machine to move these people to act - to get changes done"
- Jimi Hendrix

Miguel Luciano is a cognizant and dynamic artist. His paintings, sculpture, videos and combined media installations raise critical questions about globalization and colonial dependency, in particular examining the social and political impact on Puerto Rican and Latino communities. Luciano's individual and collective consciousness fuels his art. His semiotic use of religious, popular and commercial iconography, appropriated product labels, graffiti and text are visually arresting, exciting and conceptually provocative. Luciano critically reconstructs, subverts and establishes new hierarchies, meanings and allegories that redefine the Puerto Rican paradigm. Electoral politics, consumerism, poverty, racism, sexism, demoralization, stagnation and alienation under the dense and dark clouds of U.S. colonialism are articulated through cultural nostalgia, humor and sometimes carnivalesque hysterics. Popular Puerto Rican and North American icons often duel and compete, from Super Vejigantes and Jibaro Colonel Sanders, to Cosmic Tainos and Ronald MacDonald Conquistadors. Relationships that are both appealing and absurd, painful and playful - this is Luciano's visual and conceptual strategy.

Miguel Luciano's work is often interactive, stressing community access and participation as a priority. Coin-operated kiddie rides, Hot Wheels® car races and supermarket vending machines are among the many amusing and entertaining devices Luciano engages to stimulate ethnic pride and community consciousness, especially among youth living in dire and depressing urban environments. Through art workshops, mural projects and other creative encounters, Luciano inspires young people to explore their potential, emphasizing creativity and the boundless freedom to express themselves. Among his most effective public art/activist projects was the Vieques Peace Kites, where young people designed kites that flew over the fences of an occupying U.S. military base on the island of Vieques. Life-size portraits of Vieques residents were photographically printed on every kite, giving the impression of people flying as the kites were launched. This art-activism project followed numerous acts of civil disobedience, public protests and demonstrations in Puerto Rico and in various cities in the United States to stop the U.S. Navy from using Vieques as a bombing practice zone. In 2003, the Navy finally closed its base, but left unresolved contaminated lands and soaring cancer rates for the population to overcome.

Luciano's art is at the core of universal relevance because it effectively connects, unites and celebrates humanity's will for freedom, respect and self determination. Though art of social and political content is not new, there is clearly a need for daring, appealing, reflective and persuasive art. Miguel Luciano's visually dynamic and determined work eventually will impress and attract the art world, but it has already begun to impact and touch the needs of the real world, as well it should.

 

YOUNG ART CRITICS: Chen Tamir on Miguel Luciano