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Leandro Erlich wins 2017 Roy R. Neuberger Exhibition Prize
Leandro Erlich, Port of Reflections (detail), 2014. Mixed media installation. Dimensions variable. National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea © National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.

PURCHASE, NY.- The Neuberger Museum of Art announced today that noted Argentine artist Leandro Erlich is the recipient of the prestigious 2017 Roy R. Neuberger Exhibition Prize, a biannual exhibition prize given to an exceptional artist for an early career survey. Erlich’s monumental Port of Reflections, will be on view at the museum from February 5 through July 30, 2017, and will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, scholarly exhibition catalogue documenting the artist’s innovative work. The exhibition also will include a selection of models and videos tracing the artist’s trajectory. Leandro Erlich: Port of Reflections is co-curated by Patrice Giasson, Alex Gordon Associate Curator of Art of the Americas and Helaine Posner, Chief Curator.

The Neuberger Prize was first generously funded by Roy R. Neuberger, founding patron of the Neuberger Museum of Art, who had a lifelong commitment to support the work of living artists. The prize continues to be generously supported by Jim Neuberger and Helen Stambler Neuberger. Previous recipients of the prize were Cuban installation and performance artist Tania Bruguera, American figurative painter Dana Schutz, and South African video and performance artist Robin Rhode.

Port of Reflections is the artist’s most ambitious museum installation to date. Filling an entire gallery, the work depicts a nighttime harbor in which five colorfully painted rowboats appear to float, gently rocking, as their reflections seem to shimmer in the waters beneath. However, there is no water beneath and there are no reflections, the boats are suspended in midair, and motors create the rocking motion. “Each element of the work has been fabricated as the artist challenges notions of reality, and plays with perception and illusion,” writes Ms. Posner in her essay. “He turns the ordinary – an elevator, a swimming pool, a staircase, and in this instance, a harbor, into a nonfunctional work that takes the viewer into a world of illusion. He asks us to consider the everyday and to question it,” adds Dr. Giasson.

In Port of Reflections the “harbor” contains no tangible water and the rippled reflections of the railings and boats are but cleverly constructed elements that create the illusion of reflection. Says Giasson, “Erlich thus brings the boats out of their expected context, subtracting the source of its existence. The boats are further decontextualized by bringing them into a museum gallery.” The work was modified from an earlier version created for the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, Korea in 2014 and later presented as Puerto de Memorias (Port of Memories) at MUNTREF, Museo de la Universidad Nacional de Tres Febrero in Buenos Aires. It crystalizes most of the elements that define Erlich’s works: displacement and challenging perceptions about how and where things are supposed to be.

New York viewers first saw Leandro Erlich’s work in the 2000 Whitney Biennial and, more recently, at MoMA PS 1 where his signature Swimming Pool was on view from 2008 to 2010. Viewed from above, visitors were surprised and astounded to see people seemingly walking underwater. This effect was achieved when they entered a chamber beneath a few inches of water that sat atop a thick layer of transparent acrylic. Said Erlich at the time: “Revealing the trick is crucial; it transforms the deception into something positive [and] allows the spectator to think and discover.” In 2013, his Dalston House at the Dalston Mill in East London, was an optical illusion with a huge mirror suspended at 45° (from the horizontal) over a life-size model of the façade of a Victorian terraced townhouse placed horizontally on the ground, giving the appearance of visitors climbing or hanging off the side of the building.

According to Andrea Giunta, Professor of Latin American Art, Universidad de Buenos Aires, who contributed an essay to the catalogue, “Erlich’s works articulate as visual, emotional, and mental puzzles. We know immediately that the space we walk into is not real and that nothing is what it seems. But we are certainly delighted with the enigma...We want to decode it.” There’s fun involved in solving the mystery, which explains why for years, viewers have enjoyed inhabiting the universe that Erlich fabricates. But the work is also ambiguous. The small boats recall aquatic activity “but they also suggest departure, or even escape,” says Giunta. Erlich’s works propose seeing the world differently. They open a gap in the limits of the possible, slightly transgressing rules and laws, expanding the possibilities of experience and imagination...As art, these installations have the capacity to open spaces that offer visitors transit between potential worlds.”

Leandro Erlich, 43, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Between 1998 and 1999, he took part in an artist residency at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, where he attracted wide notice. In 2001 he was invited to represent Argentina in the 49th Venice Biennale. He later participated in the Biennials of Istanbul (2001), Shanghai (2002) and São Paulo (2004), and in the Whitney Biennial (2000), among others. In 2012, he created a monumental outdoor installation, Monte-Meuble, l'Ultime Déménagement, in Nantes, France and in 2013, The Barbican, Europe's largest arts and conference venue, commissioned Erlich to create a new installation in the Dalston district of London, England. His works are included in several private and public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Tate Modern, London, England; Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, France; 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan; MACRO, Rome, Italy; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel; and the Fonds National d'Art Contemporain (FNAC), Paris, France.

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