Carlos Garaicoa at the Royal Ontario Museum

The Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents Carlos Garaicoa, an exhibition of one of Latin America’s most high-profile artists, Cuban contemporary artist Carlos Garaicoa. The exhibition explores themes of architecture, urbanism, politics, history and human culture through architectural models, drawings, renderings, photography and video.

Organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, this will be the most extensive exhibition of Carlos Garaicoa’s artwork in North America to date, as never-before-seen pieces will be added for the ROM’s engagement. For its sole Canadian stop, Carlos Garaicoa will be on display on the main floor of the Weston Family Wing from September 9, 2006 to December 31, 2006.

Born in Havana in 1967, Carlos Garaicoa is among the most original of the generation of Cuban artists born after the 1959 Cuban revolution. Taking a multidisciplinary approach, Garaicoa reflects on such provocative issues as the importance of architecture as an historical force, the failure of modernism as a catalyst for social change, and the decay of 20th-century utopias. From a futuristic city made of rice-paper lamps to photographs capturing Havana’s deteriorating cityscape, the exhibition features 15 recent artworks, dating from 2001 to the present.

“We are pleased to present the works of Carlos Garaicoa as the ICC’s first exhibition in the newly renovated southeast gallery in the Weston Family Wing,” said William Thorsell, ROM Director and CEO. “Through his thought-provoking artistic interventions, Garaicoa has transformed and re-imagined his city’s architecture and explored the relationships between the city and its inhabitants. With this exhibition, the ICC continues its important role of presenting relevant current cultural issues at the ROM.”

Working since the early 1990s, Garaicoa has built an impressive body of work exploring Cuban culture, where political idealism seems disconnected from the reality of day-to-day living. Through the examination of modern architecture, his artworks reveal the contrast between urbanism and utopian ideals, modernity and history, and symbol and reality. Although Garaicoa did not formally study architecture, he is a keen observer of it. Architecture is symbolic of the state of his native Havana, as some buildings have crumbled over the past 40 years since the revolution. Garaicoa has embraced this damaged urban space as an important reference in the majority of this work.

“The streets have been the blood of my work I try to see them like a big text, where I’m a fragment (a way, an instrument) for their interpretation, and their deconstruction,” said Garaicoa in an interview at the MOCA engagement. “My work blends sociological ideas, a symbolic archaeology, and architecture, each of them intended to change urban space into a utopian space, a new symbolic and political space.”

Garaicoa’s interest in urban planning is revealed in the exhibition’s first installation, De la serie Nuevas arquitecturas (From the Series New Architectures) (2003). Uniquely positioned on site by Garaicoa, a myriad of rice-paper lanterns of different shapes and sizes, represents buildings in a fictional utopian city. In a dimly lit environment, the piece possesses a floating quality. Opposite the lanterns, covering an entire wall, is the thread-drawing Porque cada ciudad tiene derecho a llamarse Utopa (Because every city has the right to be called Utopia) (2002).

Garaicoa contrasts old and new, past and present, traditional and contemporary through six diptychs (of which two are new) and two new photographs in the Sin Ttulo (Untitled) (2001-2005) series. Using a process that he developed, Garaicoa pairs black-and-white photographs of some of Havana’s collapsed buildings with a second image where he has reconstructed the missing parts with coloured threads and pins. By illustrating the absence of these once-great structures, he gives the buildings new meaning.

Three pop-up books depict architectural projects and buildings that were left unfinished or abandoned in Havana after the Cuban revolution. The ROM’s engagement also includes the new pop-up Minneapolis, Mills (2004) inspired by photographs of the old Pillsbury factory in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Garaicoa again addresses the idea of utopian spaces in the exhibition’s final piece Campus o la Babel del conocimiento (Campus, or the Babel of Knowledge) (2002-2004). The multimedia installation comprises a model of a tiered building and a model of a university campus, accompanied by architectural renderings and videos. Despite the highly structured and technologically advanced environment, the building is a place of confusion rather than a temple of higher learning.

Garaicoa’s works have been displayed internationally. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London, England have acquired works for their permanent collections. Garaicoa participated at the 2005 Venice Biennale and won the 2005 Prix Monaco (Contemporary Art). The ROM has the unique opportunity to work closely with Carlos Garaicoa, as this is the first time he can participate in the installation and attend the exhibition opening in North America. Due to the U.S. government-imposed travel restriction, he was unable to attend his exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York. Following the ROM’s engagement, the exhibition travels to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in January 2007.

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