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José Toirac Exhibition Includes Premiere of Works Suppressed in Havana
José Toirac, "A Brief History of Cuba As Told By Other Things", 2001.

MIAMI, FL.- artwithoutwalls, a new non-profit arts organization, will present "José Toirac: Censure and Celebration in Cuba" at the PULSE art fair in Miami, December 3 through 6. The exhibition will include the premiere of 1869-2006, a series of portraits of Cuban leaders which was to debut at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana in 2007, but was canceled due to the works’ political nature. Also on view will be works from the series "Orbis: Homenaje a Walker Evans" (Homage to Walker Evans), which replaced the canceled exhibition, and for which Toirac won Cuba’s highest cultural honor, the National Curatorial Prize for best exhibition 2007. "José Toirac: Censure and Celebration in Cuba" will also feature "A Brief History of Cuba as Told by Other Things", a series of paintings the artist completed during a 2001 residency in the U.S., and Toirac’s recent video work, Opus, which is based on a 2003 speech by Fidel Castro. Most of the works on view have never before been seen outside of Cuba.

"José Toirac: Censure and Celebration in Cuba" includes more than 60 works created within the past decade. Toirac draws imagery and subject matter from historical sources, mass media, and the arts. His work questions these sources and their manipulation, encouraging viewers to think critically about political and social issues. “The main purpose of my art,” said Toirac, “is to redirect this way of ‘looking’ that is the gamut of visual habits that condition our world view.” artwithoutwalls, which launched earlier this year, is presenting the exhibition free of charge at PULSE at the Ice Palace in Miami.

“This project directly expresses the mission of artwithoutwalls—to enable contemporary artists to present challenging projects that otherwise would not be realized,” said Alice Gray Stites, director of artwithoutwalls. “Toirac speaks clearly about the Cuban experience, while also exploring questions which are universally relevant. Through his incisive, courageous works, he compels us to examine vital issues relating to history, the media, and cultural identity. Toirac considers himself a realist artist, not just because he paints figuratively, but because his intention is to expose hidden truths, to excavate what is real from events or ideas that may have been fabricated to suit political or commercial ends.”

Previous projects organized by artwithoutwalls include "Today Could Be a Day of Historical Importance", which transformed the front page of Louisville’s The Courier-Journal newspaper into a hand-drawn work of art by artist Serkan Ozkaya, reproduced and distributed to 200,000 readers. artwithoutwalls also presented Dune 4.0, an interactive techno-hybrid landscape by Daan Roosegaarde, which was installed in a construction scaffolding on a major downtown thoroughfare in Louisville. Roosegaarde’s work responded to the motions of passersby, engaging them in playful interactions with the work, each other, and their surroundings.

"José Toirac: Censure and Celebration in Cuba" draws from Toirac’s most ambitious bodies of work to date. Making its public debut, the censored series 1869-2006, created in collaboration with art historian Meira Marrero, appropriates images from news media and historical texts to represent all the men who have held the office of governor or president of Cuba from the time of the first insurgency against the Spanish in 1869 to the present. This pantheon of campaign-like portraits illuminates 137 years of Cuban history, while highlighting a range of issues, including the subjectivity of history and the governmental control of information, and the complex relationship between Cuba and the United States. 1869-2006 incorporates 40 works—portraits of 39 leaders displayed in chronological order from Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo to Raul Castro. Also included is American president Howard Taft, who governed Cuba briefly during an internal revolt that occurred when Taft was U.S. Secretary of War. The series concludes with a single nail without a portrait suspended from it, raising the question of who will govern Cuba next. Such provocative ambiguity animates all of Toirac’s work. “My art,” he explains, “explores the whole gamut of the yes and the no, and the pros and the cons of socialism.”

The exhibition will also feature a selection of ten works from the 2007/2009 series, "Orbis: Homenaje a Walker Evans", which was exhibited at the National Fine Arts Museum in Havana in lieu of Toirac’s censored work. Also a collaboration between Marrero and Toirac, the series includes 74 mixed-media pieces based on images taken in Cuba by American photographer Walker Evans in 1933. Executed in acrylic on wood, the works are accented with gold leaf from Seville, Spain—the port city which received gold from the Americas during the period of Spanish colonial rule. The title, Orbis, translates from the Latin as a horizon, as something yearned for; Toirac describes the series as “a reunion project with Havana.” Orbis enacts a return of aesthetic resources—gold and Evans’s photographic evidence of beauty, poverty, and terror in Depression-era Havana—through the artist’s re presentation of imagery and materials.

The five-minute video work 'Opus' (2005) is based on a speech given by Fidel Castro in 2003 at La Plaza de la Revolución in Havana. The audience hears an audio track of the speech edited to include only the numbers that Castro spoke. Simultaneously, the digits corresponding to those numbers appear in white on a black screen. “In 'O'pus, Toirac reduces Castro’s verbose ramblings to numbers referencing the fixation of politicians with quantification, the reduction of individuals to numbers, and evoking accounts of both loss and accumulation,” said Stites.

Also on view will be paintings from 2001, entitled "A Brief History of Cuba as Told by Other Things", in which Toirac appropriates historic Cuban photographs or images from the media, integrating logos for Western commercial brands to create charged juxtapositions between politics, history, religion, and consumer culture. In the work Apple, Toirac combines the iconic photograph of Che Guevara taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Diaz in the early 1960’s with the Apple logo, referencing the company’s “Think Different” advertising campaign of the late 1990’s. “In this series, Toirac uses ironic visual commentary to create provocative and darkly humorous statements on subject matter spanning Cuban history from the pre-Columbian era to the present day,” said Stites. Opium presents the perfume logo and a 1998 press photo of Pope John Paul II shaking hands with Fidel. Clearly alluding to Marx’s famous dictum that “religion is the opiate of the people,” Toirac’s work illuminates the fallacies of all heroworship— of politicians, religious leaders, and of consumer goods—that promises salvation, happiness, beauty, and more.

José Toirac
José Toirac was born in Guantanamo, Cuba in 1966. The artist’s work has been exhibited internationally in North and South America, Europe, and Asia, in exhibitions including "The American Effect" at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2003), and "New to the Modern: Recent Acquisitions from the Department of Drawings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York" (2001). Toirac’s work has also been recently featured in: "All’s Fair in Art and War" at 21c Museum in Louisville, KY (2009); the 7th Gwangju Biennale in Gwangju, Korea (2008); and "¡CUBA! Art and History from 1868 to Today" at the Museé des Beux Arts de Montréal in Québec, Canada (2008). His work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museé des Beaux-Arts de Montréal in Québec, and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, among many other institutions.

PULSE Art Fair | José Toirac | Alice Gray Stites |

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