Indiana Jones, or Hunting for the Hidden Treasures

It is the dream of every true researcher to discover something radically new, something that dwarfs everything known up to date. The researcher seeks immortality through the definition of a new chemical formula or the discovery of a species to name after oneself. In much the same way, the art collector—who is also a hunter—passionately searches for the unrecognized genius to help bring out her or his light from under the bushel…

The thrill of the discovery: Los Carpinteros

Discoveries are by nature fascinating and exciting. At the same time, hardly anything exists that hasn’t already been “discovered” by someone before. It is nevertheless deeply rewarding to chance upon a quality in artists or artworks that is spontaneously and immediately convincing.

Such has happened with Los Carpinteros, whom I met in Cristina Vives’s house in La Habana in 2000. Then as now, Christina is the ever bustling art agent, always intent on quality and exchange, and I owe her a great deal in terms of information and knowledge. So there we are, Dagoberto, Alexandre, and Marco, the trio of 30-year olds, sitting opposite to me and scrutinizing me with their glowing eyes. They all but peppered me with questions; by no means were they willing to hand over their wonderful drawings to any Tom, Dick, or Harry of a curator. And I am talking about a time when each dollar was worth inordinately more in Cuba than it is today! Thank goodness I passed their crossfire interrogation and did not have to leave empty handed. Exporting the drawings I purchased was easy as pie in those days: All I needed in order to walk out of the country literally carrying the artworks under my arm was the official Cuban customs papelito.

The international career of the artist collective was kicked off a few years later (then already without Alexandre Arrechea, who left the group in 2003), when they were discovered by the Brazilian art market and attracted increasing international attention. Today, the Señores are already part of the art establishment, and American collectors converse at international art fairs about their latest purchases of Carpinteros works.

Subtle sophistication: the Capote brothers

Likewise Cubans, the brothers Yoan and Ivan Capote come across as unassuming, modest, and very low-key, almost like two provincial sideliners. Beware, though! We are dealing with two absolutely subtle artist personalities that are acutely sharp-minded, analytical, and witty all at once. Both their way of thinking and their works are entirely unpretentious, of simple yet precise elegance and exquisite consistency. Pretentious artists, by the way, are rarely good artists…

Love at first sight: art by Adán Vallecillo

I first lighted on works by the Honduran artist Adán Vallecillo at a small exhibition in Tegucigalpa in 2005. Bonnie de García, a protagonist of the art community in Honduras, was presenting a few works by the then 26-year old Adán Vallecillo in a small place, where Bayardo Blandino, director and curator of the alternative art space „Mujeres en las artes“, had taken me. Art love at first sight is an apt description of this encounter. At any rate, I purchased a few works from the young artist on the spot—thus, I presume, also helping his career. In such instances with no gallery yet to act as go-between, I always tried to pay a fair price. If anyone has a different impression, please speak up!

Javier Castro, Dimensiones variables, 2008, Video still, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

Passion and profession: Javier Castro

Then there was Javier Castro, a young Cuban with an artistic consistency beyond doubt. His videos of his fellow people mercilessly record what Joe Blow says. His art is always unconditional: it can be only as it is, and not one bit different—and this an absolute criterion of quality in art! Quick-witted and sophisticated both in observation and realization, he manages the balancing act between closeness and distance to his subjects—again an unmistakable indication of high professionalism! With apparent ease, he gets to the heart of Cubanity, to the very essence of his people, like no other—full of affection, with a wink in the eye, and employing his intelligent irony all at the same time.

Eduardo Berliner, Otite, 2013, Oil on canvas, 170,5 x 150 cm, Photography: Edouard Fraipont, São Paulo, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

Unpretentious talents: Campins and Berliner

And finally we have these two exceedingly talented young painters, Alejandro Campins from Cuba and Eduardo Berliner from Brazil. Painting nowadays has become a difficult issue. Erudition is a scarce resource; the colleagues are clueless when it comes to the history of painting; illustrative material is scanty—and thus, nearly all “art theorists”, “critics”, and “curators” have lost hold of what little judgment they had, with devastating results for art as a whole and for painting in particular. Yet, it would not be hard in the least to discern between good and mediocre painting! I will go into more detail on that another time…

Neither Campins nor Berliner boast or brag, both have a modest and calm demeanor. They go about their work diligently and well organized. They are resourceful and eager to stake out new visual worlds beyond any commonplace market opportunities, simply by drawing upon their brimming inner cosmos that creates the space it needs in their paintings! The whole world and all its matter serve them as a rich fund for their painting, playfully leading them on and on. Perhaps, outstanding painting compares to singular love: if it’s really good, there’s no point in pondering what comes next…

  1. I look forward to you expanding in your ideas of what good and mediocre painting is. I’d be interested if it’s related to traditions, location, access at all. Thanks again for an always enjoyable blog. I hope one day you can also talk about how your financial support system worked and how it changed over time. Good luck. Charles.

Leave your Reply