a no-go for antonio gattorno
Post #472 • February 8, 2005, 7:27 AM • 46 Comments
A show of work of Antonio Gattorno just went up at the Lowe Museum and the Miami Herald
duly regurgitated its press release wrote a lavishly illustrated article about it for the Sunday arts edition. A couple of people have very kindly suggested that I approach the Herald with my services as an art critic, but frankly, I'm afraid they're going to ask me to churn out pablum like this.
"This retrospective exhibition traces the career of Cuban modernist, Antonio Gattorno (1904-1980), whose life is soon to be documented with a major publication and motion picture," sayeth the Lowe website. Actually, only the publication could be said to be major, at least a major cover price: $75 (the Herald says $100). As for the motion picture, the treatment is still being shopped around and as of yet doesn't have a cast.
The movie website has a gallery of images. (I'm doing you a favor by linking around the introduction, which you cannot skip, like the obligatory, tired strains of the Buena Vista Social Club's Chan Chan in the background. It's in the trailer too.) It would be lapsing into stereotype to say that the art of the former Spanish colonies, on its best days, apes its European counterparts on its off days, but this body of work would seem to prove it: a chop suey of Dali, classical- and rose-period Picasso, el Greco, and Gaugin. Moreover, the images indicate that he pulled from some of the worst that these artists had to offer: Dali's insensitivity to paint, Picasso's tendency to load the center of a painting without addressing the edges, el Greco's histrionic rendering of form, and Gaugin's plank-like draftsmanship in the name of primitivism. And while consistency is not necessarily a virtue, Gattorno really did go all over the place, singlehandedly rehashing a wide range of styles that you hope you're not going to run into, but probably will, at Art Miami.
Miami is overdue for a conversation about the implications of publicizing and collecting artists based on their country of origin. I have seen a great number of press releases, typically out of the Coral Gables galleries, in which the artist's nationality gets mentioned before and nearly contiguously with his or her name - see the above excerpt from the Lowe site for an example. Gallerists have explained to me that this happens because the Gables crowd, in particular, tends to buy art from the country from which they emigrated and that of their fellow expats. Real analysis would have to prove it true, but I've heard it confirmed too many times to be merely anecdotal. I understand why people would do this but I can't get behind this kind of collecting, especially in an increasingly globalized art world. For the Lowe to do it seems unbecoming, to say the least, although it looks like the same kind of attempt to flatter a few local collectors as their 2003 show of Cundo Bermudez.
Ernest Hemingway wrote a biography about Gattorno which characterized him as "a painter for the world," a phrase that lent the title for the monograph and the exhibition, albeit demographically repositioned as "A Cuban Painter for the World." I can't pass final judgment on his work without seeing it, but nothing about it in reproduction tempts me to do so. (I've seen the invitation, too, and the image on it looks like an erratic attempt at imitating Paul Delvaux.) I'm more interested to see whether that movie gets picked up by a major studio. Maybe someone will do it up like Before Night Falls, which I think is the best thing in Julian Schnabel's oeuvre, or the Buena Vista Social Club, which despite my weariness of hearing Chan Chan, presented genuinely great, neglected talent and put Cuban son in its rightful place on the world music map. But I don't see a similar level in Gattorno's work, and I think that he, at most, might be a Cuban painter for Miami. Some Miamians, anyway.