Those of us who are familiar with Ricardo Brey’s career know that his work in the public arena began as a founding member of Volumen I (1981), a myth in Cuban art history. Ricardo Brey became known, along with Juan Francisco Elso and José Bedia, as part of a tendency that was concerned with looking into the roots of Cuban and Latin American from the standpoint of anthropology, religion, and myth. (…)
Twenty-two years after leaving Cuba, Brey is returning for a solo show at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in 2014. The unusual news has stirred the Cuban artistic atmosphere. It is an opportunity for a dialogue, but also for telling a story.
When I arrived in Europe, I could have kept doing what I was doing, but that was not what my work was asking of me. I was sensitive to what it was asking of me at the time. And I said,
“It’s not about making a video, or using the most sophisticated material. They’ve invited me for a reason. Why? Because I create magic.” What Jan Hoet sensed in Cuba was the possibility of making art out of nothing, and of surviving like artists the way Robinson Crusoe did. Being capable of creating art that, in a certain sense, reveals the future of the nothingness. They have everything and I have nothing. However, I have one thing: I have the spirit. That is the material that I cannot transfer, or sell, or be without…. And it goes with me.
What do you take from your home country? I didn’t take nostalgia with me, but I have a long antennae. About my work, now that I’ve returned after 20 years, I say to myself: “I was inventing a reality that was functioning here!” And my work has gone through an evolution, because even though I’ve had relative commercial success that has given me total creative independence, my style is to think. I don’t have a painting style. I don’t have a style of sculpture. My style is to think. I think, and as long as this keeps working (he touches his head) and it doesn’t get petrified in an academic thing, I am going to be an artist like I dream of being right now. This is what allows me to have that state of liquid, plasmatic, in the way I work. And that I react organically to sensitivities that are in the air.
In 2014, the temporary exhibitions at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Cuba’s National Fine Arts Museum) will include a show by Ricardo Brey. What are you planning to present to the Cuban public 27 years after your last solo show at the Wifredo Lam Center for Contemporary Art (Sobre la tierra, 1987)?
(Laughter) You know, Ulysses returns, and the war of Troy has not yet started. (Laughter) That is the truth. In the first place, I have to dedicate it to Elso and to Ana Mendieta, because if I don’t dedicate it to them, my humility…I am making a big mistake. They taught me certain “small things”. And the other thing is that you can never forget where you came from. Wifredo Lam knew that. I hope to bring joy to the people who want to be happy seeing that I still the same as always. Plus, “I do have age and merits as well”; this was something Umberto Peña used to say, and I love the expression. Coming back to show what I have done makes no sense. The exhibition could have been proposed as some sort of retrospective, but I am not dead. Right now I am experiencing 20 years of work made in Cuba, which for me is very interesting, and 20 years of complexity outside. I have to fuse those two things. I ran into a friend, something that was difficult, almost impossible, because I didn’t know where she was, and I said to her: “It is possible that you have the first oil painting I made. Can you bring it to me?” She brought it to me this past Sunday. It is from 1974 and I was copying Flemish painting. (Laughter) That’s life. Let’s leave it at that.
An endangered species: Excerpts from an interview with Ricardo Brey, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, from 2:09 p.m. to 3:44 p.m.