Deathsheads revisited–Antonio Martorell at Taller

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Thoughts of death vs. breath abound in internationally renowned artist Antonio Martorell’s installation of woodcut prints at Taller Puertorriqueno. The exhibit, La Plena Inmortal, embraces celebration and mourning, beauty and horror, the past and the present, humor and seriousness, vanity and all-is-vanity in a most Latino way.

Antonio Martorell, Condotiere Montefeltro. The installation La Plena Inmortal, is full of art historical references.
Antonio Martorell, Condotiere Montefeltro. The installation La Plena Inmortal, is full of art historical references.

The installation, which is arrayed through the three main gallery spaces, is at its strongest in the front room, where the printed panels are arranged to form a floor, wall decorations, and hanging baubles–a ballroom of sorts, perfect for dancing La Plena, the Puerto Rican dance and music form of the installation’s title. The space is coherent and bright, and the work has an overwhelming, glittery Christmas-ornament beauty that balances out the dark subject matter. The rest of the space, with its rowhouse-bowling alley conformation, causes what was intended as a full immersion installation to lose its gusto, alas. But as individual pieces, the beautifully drawn, art-historically rich work is worth a look.

La Goloue, Goya, Van Gogh, Lectora de Fragonard, center, Octagons, Filiberto, plastic board, 46 x 46 inches, xylography, collage, mixed media, 2007. Goya looks a lot like Michael Jackson to me!
clockwise from bottom left, La Goloue, Goya, Van Gogh, Lectora de Fragonard, center, Octagons, Filiberto, plastic board, 46 x 46 inches, xylography, collage, mixed media, 2007. Goya looks a lot like Michael Jackson to me!

Martorell, a Puerto Rican internationally known for his art as well as other accomplishment, has created a series of homages to artist heroes, on wood and on plastic panels. The work’s inspirations are many, from Hans Holbein the Younger’s Dance of Death to Van Gogh’s bandaged self-portrait.  (Hey, in the upcoming Jan. 4 issue of the New Yorker,  an Adam Gopnik story reports a theory that Gauguin was to blame for Van Gogh’s severed ear). Speaking of Gauguin weilding the rapier on Van Gogh’s ear, the portraits are both amusing and amazing, sometimes rapier witty.

Antonio Martorell, Rodolfo Valentino as a kite!
Antonio Martorell, Rodolfo Valentino as a kite!

Posada’s skulls and skeleton woodblock prints, with their pop culture energy, and scathing social and political commentary come to mind. Martorell, who has a gentler touch, did spend part of his life in Mexico working as a printmaker. Taller’s gallery is named after Lorenzo Homar, who was Martorell’s teacher in Puerto Rico, and Martorell himself formed a workshop in Puerto Rico to create posters as a means of political and social criticism, so this show seems particularly apt here in Taller Puertorriqueno’s space.

The work travelled here from Hostos Community College in the Bronx, to where it will return as a permanent installation. The show is up to Jan. 23, 2010.

Tags

antonio martorell, taller puertorriqueno

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