Arnaldo Roche Rabell, Liars and Deceivers, 2007.
The Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University presents Beyond the Canvas: Contemporary Art from Puerto Rico showcasing the work of Zilia Sánchez (b.1926), Julio Suárez (b.1947), Arnaldo Roche Rabell (b.1955), Pedro Vélez (b.1971), and Elsa María Meléndez (b.1974). The exhibition, on view from April 26 through July 9, coincides with the 100th anniversary of Puerto Ricans’ U.S. citizenship.
Spanning several generations, these ﬁve Puerto Rico-based artists challenge the notion of the canvas as a ﬂat surface for painted images. Through tension-based strategies applied on the fabric—whether pulling, rubbing, folding, slashing, ripping, sewing, or warping—they lend their works a distinctive three- dimensionality. Exhibition co-curator and architect Warren James discovered this shared approach, explaining, “There is a particular way these artists in Puerto Rico are manipulating the canvas that has not been seen before.”
Their provocative treatments also allude to the island’s current socioeconomic crisis in works that suggest rupture, tension, and escape. Puerto Rico’s staggering debt, record emigration, and referendum on political status set for this June have all garnered headlines in the mainland United States. James reﬂects, “This is the perfect time to take the pulse of the island—to see what artists are saying with their work.”
Beyond the Canvas will be accompanied by a smaller exhibition envisioned, curated, and designed by Tulane students from “Women, Community and Art in Latin America: Puerto Rico.” Co-taught by Edith Wolfe, Assistant Director of the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, and museum Director Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, the class asks how Puerto Rican socially engaged activists and artists address problems of gender, food access, blight, loss of traditions, and other issues affecting their communities on the island.
The student-curated show, Culture, Community, and Civic Imagination in Greater San Juan, will document citizen-led projects, including a community-run educational center in an industrial area of San Juan that organizes a “theater of the oppressed”; the collective painting-interventions on houses in the hillside El Cerro neighborhood aimed at increasing visibility of marginalized populations; the recuperation of lost artisanal traditions through intergenerational workshops known as Escuelas Oﬁcios (Trade Schools); participatory urban design projects restoring blighted properties in Santurce, and the reclaiming of public space through feminist street art and performance.
Ramírez-Montagut, observes, “Puerto Rico and New Orleans—often called the northernmost point of the Caribbean—share a rich cultural history. Tulane is widely recognized for its expertise in Latin American and Caribbean studies, especially through the work of the Stone Center, and we are fortunate enough to leverage that expertise in this pair of exhibitions exploring the current situation in Puerto Rico.”
The show opens on Wednesday, April 26 with two events that are free and open to the public. Starting at 6:30 pm, exhibition co-curator and architect Warren James and Stone Center Assistant Director Edith Wolfe will speak in a conversation moderated by museum Director Monica Ramirez-Montagut. The talk will take place in the Woldenberg Art Center’s Freeman Auditorium. The public reception will follow from 7:30 until 9 pm in the art center’s Woodward Way Breezeway.