Artist's first presentation in Boston features a new body of work
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Artist's first presentation in Boston features a new body of work
Raúl de Nieves, The Battle of Saint George and the Dragon, 2016-21. Oil on wood, artist’s frame, and hardware. 89 x 97 x 2 inches (226.1 x 246.4 x 5.1 cm). Courtesy the artist and Company Gallery, New York. © Raúl de Nieves

BOSTON, MASS.- The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston presents a solo exhibition of New York-based interdisciplinary artist, performer, and musician Raúl de Nieves (b. 1983, Michoacán, Mexico), whose multifaceted practice ranges from stained-glass-style narrative paintings to animated performances, to densely adorned figurative sculptures encrusted with bangles, beads, bells, sequins, and other everyday materials. These opulent, joyful sculptures reference traditional costumes in Mexican culture and modes of dress from drag, ballroom, and queer club cultures, while also evoking religious processional attire and the outfits worn by circus performers. All of his works share a distinctive visual language that draws from Mexican craft traditions, religious iconography, mythology, and folktales to explore the transformational possibilities of adornment and the mutability of identity. For the ICA, de Nieves has created The Treasure House of Memory, a body of interconnected works that are rooted in memory and explore themes of personal transformation. On view September 1, 2021 through July 24, 2022, Raúl de Nieves: The Treasure House of Memory is organized by Jeffrey De Blois, Assistant Curator and Publications Manager.

“This exhibition grew out of Raúl’s desire to look within himself—at his experience, past work, recurring themes—to chart a self-possessed way forward in his life and work. The Treasure House of Memory reflects on a question in the title of one his works: Who would we be without our memories? As in all of his work, Raúl answers through ornately beautiful, life-affirming artworks,” said De Blois.

The Treasure House of Memory begins with a freestanding, three-panel painting—in the style of a room divider—depicting Saint George and the Dragon. The legend, in which the saint mounted on horseback slays a dragon who, demanding constant tributes, terrorizes a village, is a motif de Nieves regularly revisits. Nearby, a beaded sculpture with two contorted, interlocking bodies with horse heads appears to emerge from the painted scene; a process of transformation that develops in three subsequent figurative sculptures in various states of becoming a horse.

Who Would We Be Without Our Memories—a large, tapestry-like collage—is a narrative map composed of cut-up facsimiles of de Nieves’s early tarot-inspired drawings and postcard reproductions of well-known works from art history, which are built up in dimensional layers. At the center of the installation is The Fable, Which Is Composed Of Wonders, Moves The More, a life-size, riotously colorful, and symbolically expressive freestanding sculpture of a horse. Rearing up on its hind legs—a pose, read at times as defensive, while at other times as a means of communicating dominance—The Fable stands here as a beautiful body uncontained and fully actualized, the triumphant realization of the process of transformation that plays out between the interconnected sculptures.

A large-scale, portal-like circular collage points back out to a larger world, seen anew. The Treasure House of Memory expands the artist’s inventive adaptation of iconographic traditions through vibrant combinations of form and material in an energetic and accessible visual language.

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