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"Within the Light Trap: Cruz-Diez in Black and White" opens at Americas Society in New York
Washington Bridge, Nueva York, Estados Unidos, 1947. Image courtesy of the artist.
NEW YORK, NY.- Americas Society presents Within the Light Trap: Cruz-Diez in Black and White, the first exhibition in New York and the United States to show the photographic works of this renowned Venezuelan-born, Paris-based modernist artist. Although internationally recognized for his chromatic research, Cruz-Diez’s formation began with an in-depth exploration of mechanical reproduction techniques that included black-and-white photography. As a teenager he built his first minutero camera, a pinhole device that consisted of a frontal lens attached to a wooden box with a cloak at the back. Cruz-Diez developed his skills by learning from Venezuelan street photographers who worked in local plazas—they were called minuteros as they revealed the prints within minutes. Shortly after, he acquired a Rolleiflex camera, which in the 1940s he used systematically to capture everyday life as well as to document popular culture, a subject central to the debates that characterized his generation. He would then develop the photographs and bind the prints to create intimate personal albums, now on view for the first time.

Using a keen ethnographic eye, Cruz-Diez’s beautiful photographs bear witness to a country on the brink of modernization and social economic transformations. His photographs capture the emergence of shantytowns in Caracas, high rises, and infrastructure developments—such as the Plaza O’Leary by architect Carlos Raul Villanueva. He also documented the richness of music and folkloric dance traditions celebrated throughout rural communities in Venezuela that were experiencing significant transformations brought about by rapid demographic changes. Reflecting the racial diversity and cultural hybridity of the country, these images show a distinct local vernacular that was not documented by artists until much later. Some of the photographs on view also show syncretic popular traditions such as “El Velorio de Cruz de Mayo” (“The Wake for the Cross of May”), which consisted of prayers, fulias (call-and-response songs) and décima poems asking for good crops, health for the sick, and protection against evil. Even after over a century of independence, Venezuelans from coastal towns adapted and carried on this ritual held yearly on May 3.

Within the Light Trap: Cruz Diez in Black and White includes nearly 50 exhibition and vintage prints, as a well as drawings, illustrations, books, and documents spanning from the 1940s to 1950s. Some of the series on view includes pictures depicting La Burriquita (“The Little Donkey”), a dance performed during the Christmas season in Venezuela in which a male dancer dressed as a woman parades through the streets pretending to ride a donkey while accompanied by musicians, as well as Los Diablos de Yare (“The Devils of Yare”), a religious feast celebrated on Corpus Christi Day that represents the struggle between good and evil. Taking photographs of these local events also inspired Cruz-Diez to translate this imagery into realist paintings, some examples of which will be on view.

The artist has publicly acknowledged his creative debt to photography and the discovery of Polaroid as an important foundation for helping him shape his Fisicromías series (1959). “What fascinated me…was the light trap, the fact that with light and black and white one can do those things.” His deep fascination with the transformative possibilities of color is rooted in his study of the technical processes of photography, film, black-and-white photography, and printmaking. This consistent knowledge was perfected in Cruz-Diez’s Fisicromías, two-dimensional abstract works organized through a chromatic scheme, and later culminated with Cromosaturación (1965), in-situ environments conceived to be participatory experiences of color projected into space. In 2008, Americas Society organized Carlos Cruz-Diez: (In)Formed by Color, the first exhibition in the United States to focus on the artist’s chromatic research. We are honored to present a crucial aspect of the artist prolific investigation in Within the Light Trap: Cruz-Diez in Black and White, which brings an important, yet little-known chapter of his artistic journey to New York.

The exhibition is accompanied by a hard-cover, bilingual publication entitled Cruz-Diez in Black and White. Edited by The Cruz-Diez Foundation, the book includes the artist’s black-and-white photographic work from the early days of his life in Venezuela to his travels in Europe and Asia, along with texts by Carlos Cruz-Diez and Edgar Cherubini Lecuna.

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