Eyes of the Skin
On ViewLehmann Maupin
Eyes of the Skin
June 9–August 12, 2022
In Eyes of The Skin works of grandiose and small scale are presented side by side. Curated by Miami born, New York City-based artist Teresita Fernández, the exhibition utilizes both the ground floor and subterranean level of Lehmann Maupin’s flagship gallery in Chelsea with over twenty works on display. Here, each artist explores tactile experiences through bodily memory, engaging in a decidedly introspective practice. Upon entry, Carolina Caycedo’s Yuma, or the Land of Friends II, (2020), a massive printed vinyl mural, dominates the space. This work combines satellite imagery of the El Quimbo Dam in Colombia and panoramic views of the region from the 1940s and 50s. Caycedo focuses on uprooting colonial beliefs and perspectives while thinking through the ways in which humans interact with the natural world, and the displacement of indigenous peoples on their own land is deeply considered in this monumental work. Yuma is flanked by Jeffrey Meris’s I, Used To Be XV (2021) and Francheska Alcántara’s Tiger Jaw III and Tiger Jaw IV (both 2022). These smaller, yet still mighty, works are flush with visceral urgency. In Meris’s monochrome abstraction, the artist repurposes roofing paper as a canvas and applies plaster particles from molds of his feet, head, and hands—these are taken from his previous series of kinetic sculptures, Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2020). In Alcantara’s Tiger Jaw III (2022) the artist fuses Hispano cuaba soap manufactured in the Dominican Republic with an organic wooden structure. The soap suggests diverse functions, as it is used for cleansing the body, treating wounds, and as a laundry detergent, while the custom-made wood structure is inspired by the artist's time at the Tulsa Artist Fellowship.
By developing work that emerges from their own experiences, the artists included here unearth complex cultural histories through materiality and formal structure. The works are at once urgent and commanding, yet quiet, reflective, and thoughtful. Throughout the exhibition, emotive abstractions give way to arresting installations. Layered textile works emerge from the banal surfaces of white walls, and sculptures made of fishnets dangle elegantly from ceilings. The origins and associations of the materials themselves, from Alcántara’s Hispano cuaba soap to leather, silk yarn, and lead weights weave a thoughtful and engaging conversation between the artists and viewers. At the same time, evidence of movement, rigorous gestures, and the physical labor of making can be seen in each work. With Star Spangled (2019), for example, Esteban Ramón Peréz presents the remnants of a distorted American flag, fusing it with the leather from a boxing glove alongside silk, acrylic, and wood, all stitched together and assembled in a complex abstract language.
As a whole the exhibition finds its strength in the multitude of cultural experiences each artist brings to their respective practices, while turning our attention to sensorial contemplations of the self and the world at large. Seeking to balance our other, often underutilized, senses, Eyes of the Skin implores viewers to explore more than just our sense of sight. Borrowing its title from the Finnish architect and philosopher Juhani Pallasmaa’s book of the same name, Fernández encourages audiences to feel their way through the works she has selected. In his seminal work on architectural theory, Pallasmaa argues that our reliance on vision and the subsequent suppression of our other senses has had detrimental effects on the way that architecture has been taught, critiqued, and discussed. Pallasmaa contends that “Our bodies and movements are in constant interaction with the environment; the world and the self inform and redefine each other constantly.” A propensity to hold vision dominant over our ability to hear, feel, smell, and touch results in a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us. Developed from a series of essays, the book raises poignant questions that, just like the diverse group of artworks that Fernández has gathered here, compels one to introspection.
With Eyes of the Skin Fernández has curated a breathtakingly beautiful show that highlights “varying degrees of abstraction” by exhibiting a group of artists whose global narratives reveal Indigenous and somatic knowledge through lived experiences. With a career spanning over three decades, Fernández was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the US Commission of Fine Arts in 2011 and is a MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow. Her multidisciplinary practice extends beyond the confines of studio walls, moving into dynamic and monumental public spaces. In 2021, she was honored with an Award for Excellence in Design by the New York City Public Design Commission. Drawing inspiration from the natural world, the Miami native notes that her “public works are usually very deliberate about site-specificity.”1
The works in Fernández’s thoughtful exhibition take a related approach, using personal experiences to enhance our understanding of the body as a site for artistic exploration, and in so doing they unlock deep and diverse cultural histories. The artists themselves come from BIPOC communities in the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. Each artist engages in a practice that uncovers their experiences in a world shaped by colonialism, while simultaneously celebrating Indigenous knowledge and addressing issues that hinder oppressed people throughout the world. Fernández’s influence as both a curator and artist is a crucial factor here, as Meris remarked: “Teresita is an artist for whom I have a great deal of admiration and respect. So having her not only see me but give me a platform meant the world to me.” Similarly reflecting on the show and the experience working with Fernández, Alcántara shared, “This is all thank you to the envisioning of Teresita Fernández, who is encouraging and clearing the way for us to engage in more extensive conversations. We are activating and bringing new life to established discourses of abstraction, but with new materials, processes, and applications that are subjective to our personal experiences.”