About Menéndez’ Portraits In Chinese or The Water Lilies

/ 1 December, 2018

Famous French painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) dedicated close to three decades of his life to recurrently paint the gardens of his home in Giverny, a place that became a space of personal and pictorial refuge. The water lilies cycle (…) emerged from that obsession. His sense of building cycles until he created an environment capable of enveloping the spectator would reach its paroxysm in the monumental sequence of paintings treasured by the Musée de l’Orangerie (…).

Aldo Menéndez recalls that it was in the 1970s when he had the opportunity of (…) seeing the enveloping spectacle, almost divine, of the water lilies. Since then he started reflecting that his creative process was not solely geared at channeling his own ideas or materializing an interior universe, but rather deeply empathizing with the search of the impressionist master in terms of the creation of a space of infinite meditation, in which the spectator would also feel alluded to. (…)

This way of understanding art was the conceptual origin of the portraits cycle that the artist began in 2010 under the suggestive title of Retratos en chino (Portraits in Chinese). However, this cycle also drew from other influences that range from the panoramic sensation offered by the dioramas of battles of the Vienna Weapons Museum—which Menéndez was able to visit during his three-year stay in that city between 1961 and 1964—to the imprint of the Dadaist collage, the composite arbitrariness of surrealism and the plastic resources of the photomontage, the photo collage and the digital printing technique to transfer the collages to the canvas.

(…) The more than 100 portraits that form part of this cycle in progress share a common process: with the patience of a librarian Aldo identifies, cuts out and classifies the images he finds (hunts for) in diverse means of propaganda and communication, which range from a fashion magazine to an art book or a catalog of the most recent Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction. The possible combinations of these dispersed images start later; combinations and recombinations that recall the surrealist game of the exquisite cadaver in which the accumulation of fragments distanced from their stories and original contexts are interrelated to create a new discourse.

(…) The portrait theme has become the window through which the artist looks at his contemporaneity, the meeting point with the present and its dilemmas, which range from the crisis of interpersonal communication and the marketing of culture to the vanity of the fashions and the treatment of the feminine figure in certain contexts. (…)

If we consider that in Cuban popular language “speaking in Chinese” refers to saying something about an unknown subject or in an incomprehensible way, the title of this cycle in which Menéndez has been busy for close to a decade could allude to the ability of those whose portraits have been painted to hide behind apparent masks, or to the audacity of the artist to work the portrait genre in a non-conventional way. (…)

Anelys Álvarez Muñoz

Anelys Álvarez Muñoz

Cursó estudios en la Universidad de La Habana, donde obtuvo los diplomas de licenciatura y maestría en Historia del Arte. Ha cursado estudios de postgrado en la Universidad Internacional de La Florida. Fue profesora de la Universidad de La Habana del 2005 al 2010. Vive en La Florida donde se desempeña como consultante para el Frost Art Museum y como curadora asociada para colecciones privadas y corporativas. Sus intereses investigativos se orientan al estudio del arte y la cultura cubanos.

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