Contemporary art is a constant reflection of culture. Its story lines are based on existing topics that dance around the approval or disapproval of what is and what is not. This waltz circulates around the nucleus of the collective consciousness where aesthetics don’t stray too far from home. There is no doubt that great work can come from that center, but it can only be as great as that which it surrounds. In order to do things differently there needs to be space for an untapped inspiration that can only be found when stepping away from the central thought. I recently had the honor of seeing what I consider to be one of the best solo shows, not just all year but in general. Cause living just isn’t enough, solo exhibition by Hugo Montoya at Guccivuitton Gallery in Miami, Florida.
First, let’s discuss the location. Guccivuitton Gallery is an avant-garde creative space tucked away to the north of Miami's art districts. Its location feels real and integrated within the city of Miami in a way that really allows its cultural inspirations to fill the space, while creating a distance from the nucleus that allows for the expansion of thought. This is a hidden treasure in the Miami art scene that should not be overlooked. In fact, all eyes should play close attention to what will take place here.
Hugo and I have been friends for nearly ten years. We went to school together and I have forever been a fan of his work. It’s been a long time since he’s had a show and I can see why. There’s been a nursing of thought and an evolution of ideas that are far ahead of their time. He gave me the honor of a personal walk through the show last week, sharing the story behind each piece, all of which are found objects adapted and placed with careful precision. For an exhibition strong enough to stand any interpretation, the stories behind the scenes are what add to its value. It’s the culmination of details and the perfection of every angle in which you experience the art.
There’s a small center for worship next door to Guccivuitton, which creates a magical entrance into the space, should you catch it at the right time. We arrived at the space around 7:30pm, well after sunset but still in time for the church choir. As we walked up to the gallery the echos of Haitian gospel increased in volume and you could feel the energy surround the gallery’s entrance. Hugo spent six weeks in the gallery, something that artists don’t regularly have a chance to do. The energy of the gospel choir filled the space that night just as it did throughout those six weeks. From every angle this show presents a new perspective, regardless of the stories behind it or the academic interpretations. It has the ability to stand alone.
I took my first steps into the gallery and immediately halted at the sight of a giant neon boulder suspended by an iron rod in the front center of the room. Stolen Boulder is a 300lbs concrete rock on a thin steel rod. Its placement is as organic as the story behind it and as intuitively calculated as the rest of the show. A reference to the late artist Franz West but with the physical might of what it takes to carry a 300lbs boulder, which takes things a step further than the constructed paper mache versions by West. Three of its four sides are painted with neon colors, giving it a playful feeling of weightlessness, like the tiny stones in an aquarium of tropical fish. One side of the stone was kept unpainted and organic, it’s pores and grains bring the reality of its natural state back to the piece.
Directly behind Stolen Boulder is Black Beach, a floor to ceiling wall created with clay off the coast of Key Biscayne. Excavated from the Jim Crow-era’s “colored-only” beach of Virginia Key, the piece was made entirely by hand and completed within a single night. The clay is a sustainable material that can be recycled, reproduced, or returned back to the land. The exhibition itself comments on race and contemporary culture, but that’s just one of the many layers to the whole. The sun rose when he plastered the last piece of the wall with his hands allowing it dry as a whole to reflect earth’s natural patterns.
The next piece is my favorite of the show. It’s so White it’s Wong, a mixed-media piece of two found photographs as controversial as their placement. Mounted on two white pillars that come down from the ceiling, the photographs are placed facing each other at eye level. The first image is a thrifted find of a family portrait with layers of wong. “There’s seven layers of white in this one image, I can’t even come close to understand it,” explained Hugo. The white frame, white matte, white background, white shirts, on a white family, etc. Their faces are unapologetic and made to stare directly at the chimpanzee photo in front of it. Its corresponding image is a photograph of a chimpanzee behind zoo bars. This particular image comments on the artists' disapproval of captivating any species, an underlying element to the discomfort he creates for his audience with the piece. The chimpanzee’s facial expression and body language reflects defeat, disinterest, and solitary confinement. Issues of race, class, and structure circulate the piece with a yin and yang balance that juxtaposes its implied reactions. I live for the way Hugo shakes his audience through his work, what he says, and the way it says it. There’s a highly sophisticated approach to tongue-in-cheek humor that is refreshingly light despite the adverse subjects explored.
To complete the series is Oscar’s Mom, a name that brings the whole thing together and a piece that Hugo has always wanted to include in a show. Oscar’s Mom is a giant print rendition of a painting made by his friend’s mother. Oscar was always reluctant to the idea of Hugo showing his mom’s painting as he felt it would be exploited, but that just adds to adds its perfection in the show. Hugo would be the guy that creates an obnoxiously large print of your mom’s painting and places it as the center piece. The painting was originally made by a Colombian woman and echoes Hugo’s grandmother’s most noted piece of advice. Her last words (but not really) were “ten cuidado con las Colombianas, esas si son arrechas,” (be careful with Colombian girls, they’re wild). Did I mention I'm Colombian?