Puerto Rico

Bulletins From a Bustling ‘Undiscovered’ Land • The New York Times


By HOLLAND COTTER    

It’s a little embarrassing to watch the New York art world “discovering” Latin American modernist art year after year, as if forever only half-aware of its existence. And it’s depressing to know that the Museum of Modern Art, which could have been collecting widely in the field for decades, had to wait for a windfall in the form of a gift collection to deal with this material in a serious and committed way. We are, after all, talking about the art of a continent and a century, not just a fad from yesterday. 

No surprise then, given the circumstances that the city is only now getting its first fair devoted to Latin American art. And no surprise to anyone familiar with this art that the fair, called Pinta and installed at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street through tomorrow, looks as good as it does.                                                                                                                                                     With just 35 galleries, Pinta is a big event in a small package. The layout, by the architect Warren A. James, is stylish and airy. In general a less-is-more sensibility prevails. For once, a fair looks like an art exhibition, not a job-lot display. And when a booth is crowded, the pieces can be blamed, as is the case at Appetite, a gallery with branches in Buenos Aires and Brooklyn that shows young artists working in an accumulative mode. 

The thread that runs through Pinta, and partly accounts for its stripped-down appearance, is modernist painting and sculpture from the 1940s through the ’70s. The first thing you see is a group of open-work steel and glass sculptures by the Brazilian artist Waltércio Caldas presented by Gabinete de Arte Raquel Arnaud from São Paulo. “Transparent” is the word Mr. Caldas applies to this work, and it is apt. 

Durban Segnini Gallery of Miami has abstract pieces, including a kind of tabletop tower with a curling window from 1967 by Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, a mini-Frank Gehry before Frank Gehry came into his own. At Leon Tovar there’s a subtly kinetic piece by Jesús Rafael Soto (1923-2005); the slightest breeze will set its curtain of dangling rods into optically shimmering motion. 

A 1952 sculpture in clear plastic by María Freire at Sammer Gallery Miami is exemplary of the soaring utopianism of a heady era. And something like this spirit survives into the present in paintings by Fanny Sanin and Tony Bechara at Latin Collector, of recent date but in classic abstract geometric style. 

At the same time “classic” is defined many ways in Latin American art: by a spidery 1962 León Ferrari ink drawing at GC Estudio de Arte; by figurative paintings by Wifredo Lam at Treart; by a booth full of Xul Solar watercolors at Rubbers International Gallery; and by the marvelous etchings by Gego (Gertrude Goldschmidt, 1912-94) at Cecilia de Torres, a gallery that, along with Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art (not in the show), has long been one of the city’s primary showcases for Latin American material, old and new. 

Pinta has its share of new art too, with up-to-the-minute work by Alexandre Arrechea, Eugenia Calvo, Arturo Duclos, Darío Escobar, Nicolas Guagnini, Marco Maggi and Damián Ontiveros Ramírez scattered here and there. (Don’t miss the witty and moving 2007 video by Liliana Porter at Hosfelt Gallery.) 
Notably sparse, however, is overt religious or political imagery of a kind that still defines contemporary Latin American art for many people. And it is hard not to see a direct correlation between the playing down of such content and the current spurt of interest in Latin American work by the New York art world mainstream. 

In any case all such balances could shift next year when, if things go as planned, the fair will increase the size of its exhibition space and, presumably, the number of participants. If strength really is in numbers, maybe New York, a Latin American city, will finally see what it has been missing all this time. 
But why wait a year? Check out Pinta, and start to get smart now. 
Pinta, the Contemporary Latin American Art Fair continues through tomorrow at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, Chelsea; pinta-art.com.

Tony Bechara • Art Nexus, No. 62, 2006

By Claudia Calirman • November 2, 2006

At first glance, Tony Bechara’s paintings appear very chaotic. This apparent chaos however, is the result of a meticulously orchestrated labor of juxtaposition myriad colorful squares. 

From far away, these canvases appear to be randomly composed, but the closer the viewer is, the more it becomes clear that each work is a very organized, abstract, geometric grid. 

The most striking effect in Bechara’s canvases is the infusion of chance elements into the rigidity of the grid. In their disruption of the organized, geometric grid, bringing to it the Dada element of chance, Bechara’s painting are about the madness of order or the order of chaos. As a matter of fact, they recall Jean Arp’s celebrated work from 1916-17, Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, in which Arp-one of the founders of the Dada movement-randomly arranged torn-and-pasted, uneven squares of paper on a gray surface. 

Each of Bechara’s painting is constructed with a predetermined number of colors. They vary from using twenty-five to one hundred different colors in each work, systematically distributed and randomly applied in small quarter-inch dabs of acrylic paint-first laid out with multiple applications of tape-covering the whole canvas in a grid of thousand of squares. The painting process is mechanical, obsessive, time-consuming, and repetitive, yet the final work is a play of light and color that creates an illusion. 

Bechara cannot predict the shapes that the works will eventually take in the viewer’s eyes. He systematically controls the dabs of paint applied to each square of the canvas, but due to the complexity of his technique-through the mixture of numerous colors in the palette-the element of chance always becomes part of the work. According to the Puerto Rican artist and writer Antonio Martorell, “Bechara’s chromatic grid is woven like a spider’s web though not one that becomes a deadly trap, but rather a trampoline of color that pulsates into new forms that appear and vanish as the eye moves throught ths canvas.” 

The works have some of the impact of George Seurat’s pointillist landscapes, though Bechara ‘s canvases reject all narrative elements. His paintings look as if they reach back in time-from Seurat’s scientific approach to color theory to Clement Greenberg’s ideas about the modernist grid. Bechara has been called the “pointillist of the digital era”, creating a painted acrylic surface that suggests a computer-generated image constructed of thousand of pixels. 

Bechara’s “Random Series” at Andre Zarre Gallery in Chelsea emphasized his continuous interest in the optical effects that resonate between the viewer’s eye and mind and play on visual perception. Born in Puerto Rico, Bechara came to Washington, D.C. in the 1970s to study law and international relations at Georgetown University. Since then, he has substituted his interest in law for his immersion in painting, but he still uses his diplomatic skills in his post as the chairman of the board of El Museo del Barrio, in New York, where he has served for the last seven years. 

Simultaneous to his exhibition at Andre Zarre Gallery, Bechara’s “Recent Paintings at Latin Collector Art Center’s newly inaugurated space on 57th Street showed an artist trying to extend his work into new avenues. In his recent paintings, the artist adopted new formats, creating works like Quadryptich 1, which joins four separate canvases,, each one made with forty different shimmering tones of green, yellow, blue, and red, respectively. He also created small paintings in box-like shapes such as 29 Colors in which the sides of the canvases are also painted; each is approximately 12 x12 inches. 

In these late paintings, the artist also moves into more fluid forms. The paintings are more organic, are more loosely organized, and employ biomorphic and organic shapes, so that the forms are less geometric and rigid than in the earlier works. This new series suggest the interplay of figuration and abstraction inside the geometric grid, and they Bechara’s work in a new invectigation that will be interesting to follow.

Tony Bechara at Latin Collector and Andre Zarre • Art in America

By Jonathan Goodman • November 1, 2006

Since the 1970s, Puerto Rican-born, New York-based Tony Bechara has been making paintings in witch he arranges small, square dabs of colors in patterns resembling mosaics or pixilation. 

For all the artist’s reliance on systems-he uses tape to subdivide his paintings into grids and applies the quarter-inch squares one at a time, having chosen a fixed number and combination of hues-he relies as much on intuition as reason, with the individual colors laid down in random order. These vibrant, energetic paintings play tricks with the eye, sometimes unfolding in organic waves that belie the geometric substratum on which they are based. Bechara’s ultimate purpose is to capture a play og light; most of hi canvases shimmer from a distance. Remarkable, too, is the distinct set of rules he imposes. 

Both galleries showed recent work. At Andre Zarre, Bechara’s 48 Colors (2005) was a standout; the acrylic-on-linen painting, 5 feet square, has a surface dense with pointillistic blues, reds, yellows ad greens. The effect is musical, syncopated and jazzy; the entire composition seems to pulse. Because the colors randomly, the painting cannot be discerned as schematically balanced; the order resonating in 48 Colors comes from chance, which liberates the work from his own strictures. In another large painting, Greys (2005), Bechara creates a striking effect with white, black and gray squares. Looking at the work up close, we notice that the edges between colors have little ridges, resulting in a woven effect and giving it a quality of low relief. Bechara’s show at the Latin Collector was equally brilliant and coherent. Red/Red (2006), a 50-inch-square acrylic on canvas, is constructed of red and orange-red squares that form a series of concentric circles around a deep red nucleus. A contrast is set up between the curved rows and the individually colored squares that compose them. In Yellows (2006), four canvases placed next to each other in a horizontal alignment present animated swathes and stripes. Here and elsewhere, Bechara bring a heat and verve to his closely considered methodological decisions.

Tony Bechara • Andre Zarre and Latincollector • ARTnews, october 2006

By REX WEIL • October 2, 2006

In these two shows, veteran painter Tony Bechara offered very different takes on his grid-based abstraction. At Andre Zarre, paintings from 2004 and 2005 emphasized bright color, high contrast, and chance configurations. At latincollector’s new 57th Street gallery, a series of canvases fro; this year demonstrated the artist’s recent shift to more subtle, controlled, and nearly monochromatic compositions. 

In 46 Colors (2006) at Zarre, Bechara superimposed a grid of quarter-inch squares on the tiny blocks with vibrant shades of red, yellow, bleu, and green. Though he selected the colors in advance, he improvised the placement during the painting procees. The strategy recalls Ellsworth Kelly’s 1950s experiments with large color checkerboards, but because of the minuscule size of Bechara’s colored spaces, the effect was less formal and more animated, like the buzzing pixels of a television image. 

 

Though the new paintings at Latincollector were also built on quarter-inch grids, their colors were more restricted, with each canvas limited to light and dark variations of one basic hue. The exuberant visual noise of the earlier canvases was sacrificed in favor of o more definitive suggestion of pictorial space and overt wavelike patterns. One of these works, Jaune/Jaune (2006), is a disciplined study in yellow. The painting vibrates, the way its predecessors do, but more gently recalling simultaneously Bridget Riley’s optical illusions and the undulating shadow-and-light treatment that articulates robes and drapery in classical oil paintings.

Tony Bechara • Art Nexus, No. 50, 2003

By Chairman Picard • October 2, 2003

Las pinturas recientes de Tony Bechara exploran la oposición entre proposiciones controladas y efectos accidentales.Como estrategia, el enfoque conceptual y formal de Bechara establece una interesante oposición entre la rigidez matemática de la cuadrícula modernista y la incorporación de elementos imprevistos y casuals sobre el lienzo.

De las once nuevas pinturas expuestas, seis incorporan a sus títulos los términos “estratagema” y “fortuito”. La palabra –por lo general un artificio o truco- diseñada para burlar o sorprender al enemigo. Pinturas tales como Stratagem in Gray (2003) saldan una deuda con el arte Op, creando un diseño tridimensional que retrocede y a la vez avanza en el espacio. En este caso, el truco se le hace al ojo humano que percibe un motivo en forma de estrella sobrepuesto a patrones similares que parecen alejarse en el espacio. Este tipo de imaginería meticulosa y controlada puede contrastarse con pinturas como Random:125 Colors (2003), en la que Bechara íntegra coincidencia y azar en su aplicación de colores y formas geométricas repetitivas. El resultado final es una intrincada y deslumbrante matriz de contrastes de color y vibración cromática.

La obra no tiene importancia, más bien, Bechara está interesado en la forma como el espectador interactúa y responde a la pintura. Cómo distingue entre casualidad y propuestas controladas, y cómo los efectos de pura luz y color percibidos por el cerebro son un punto fundamental para el artista. Bechara juega con nuestra percepción visual:mientras que algunas obras se ocupan de la teoría del color y sus efectos sobre el ojo, otras investigan la psicofisiología de la discriminación del patrón y cómo la mente crea significado a partir de la fragmentación y la abstracción visuales. Menos interesado en la figuración y la narrativa que en los efectos gestálticos, Bechara está fascinado con el deseo del espectador de interpretar el significado y trasladar sus abstracciones a patrones y formas reconocibles.

Obras como Yaller y White Out, ambas de 2002, introducen a la mezcla una paleta mucho más monocromática. Los sutiles matices de color modulado crean un efecto moaré que genera la ilusión de un espacio tridimensional rico en textura y profundidad de retirada.                             Los patrones geométricos de Bechara incorporan el toque humano a la ecuación, dándoles un gesto pintoresco y expresivo a la severidad sistemáticas del marco subyacente. El resultado es un efecto sensual y frecuentemente decorativo que integra sutiles imperfecciones y sorpresas fortuitas.

Entre las muchas influencias históricas citadas por Bechara, el artista incluye el movimiento Patrón y Decoración, de mediados de la década de 1970, Artistas asociados con el grupo, principalmente en el sur de California, desafiaron el tabú contra las artes decorativas, inspirándose en una serie de Fuentes, incluidas las producciones artísticas celtas, bizantinas y navajas. Bechara mismo fue influenciado por mosaicos de Ravena de los siglos V y VI, y esta asociación se hace clara cuando uno compara sus intrincados patrones geométricos de pequeñas unidades repetitivas de pintura con las elegantes piezas de teselas empleadas para estructurar elementos pictóricos en las iglesias de San Vital y San Apolinar. Para el espectador contemporáneo, las monumentales cuadrículas de luz y color de Bechara parecen una matriz de píxeles –los diminutos componentes que codifican una pintura en la memoria de un computador- y es precisamente nuestro deseo de ver significado y crear analogies lo que más intriga al artista. La influencia del modernismo sofisticado de artistas como Piet Mondrian, Joseph Albers, y Jesús Rafael Soto,,entre otros, es también visible en los lienzos de Bechara, que dependen en gran manera de suposiciones formalistas con respecto a la naturaleza autónoma de a pintura y la desinteresada contemplación del espectador.

El meticuloso proceso y la sistemática aplicación de la pintura de Bechara nos permiten comprender la mente analítica del artista. Su rigurosa exploración de la ilusión de la perspectiva y la tensión cromática enfatiza el movimiento y el dinamismo a la vez que investiga sus efectos psicológicos en la percepción visual. Al mezclar la precisión de la cienda con el potencial expresivo del arte decorativo, Bechara crea una halagüeña amalgama que atrae tanto el intelecto como la emoción humana.