Cuban-born artist Alexandre Arrechea's broad, multimedia practice examines social conditions. He explores themes relating to socio-economic realities, power, secrecy, social control, and surveillance in public and domestic spaces. From large public sculptures to paintings, drawings, video, interactive installations, and arrangements of found objects, the artist has exhibited work in a variety of formats in exhibitions that include biennials in Havana, Johannesburg, São Paulo, Shanghai, Taipei, Moscow, Thessaloniki, Gwangju, and Venice. His art features in the collections of major institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Caja de Burgos; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana.Read More
Graduating from the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) in Havana in 1994, Arrechea became a founding member of the collective Los Carpinteros (1994–2003), where his main interest was in blurring the lines between sculpture, design, and architecture. The collective consisted of three individuals who were ideologically opposed to elevating individual genius. They created humorous dysfunctional hybrids such as finely crafted wooden boxes in the shape of grenades. Like the art of the Dadaists in the 1920s, these boxes denied the grenade its original function, transforming it into something nonsensical.
After splitting with Los Carpinteros to pursue a solo career in 2003, Arrechea expanded his practice to include new forms, developing a more diverse type of socially engaged conceptual art. From early on, his solo work—varying in format, style, and specific concepts—principally explored notions of control, disempowerment, secrecy, privacy, and surveillance, as found in the public and private spaces of both Cuba and the United States.
A defining work in Arrechea's career, The Garden of Mistrust (2003–2005), speaks of surveillance and control. Consisting of a whitewashed aluminium tree with branches bearing, in total, 22 security cameras that constantly watch the viewer and transmit their image online, the installation openly intrudes upon the viewer's privacy to explore society's passive submission to control. The concept of viewer surveillance and the subsequent acceptance of disempowerment remains a running motif in the artist's artwork.
Large-scale installations examining the nature of social control and suggesting vigilance have become a mainstay of the artist's career. Placed along a 20-block stretch of the Park Avenue Malls, Arrechea's series of large public works, 'No Limits' (2013, New York), challenged New Yorkers' perceptions of familiar structures. Ten large sculptures depict iconic skyscrapers such as the Chrysler or Empire State Buildings, stretched to look like snakes or fire hoses and bent or wound into new forms.
While working on large-scale sculpture, installation, and video projections Arrechea also continues to explore social concerns through smaller painted artworks. Since 2015 the artist has been painting mask-like oval shapes on canvases, such as Máscara (2015) and the works of the 'Painting and Conflict' series (2019), which dissect and link the architecture of different areas (and socio-economic realities), exploring notions of conflict through the contrast of shapes, textures and colours drawn from different facades of a city. With its anthropomorphic qualities, the mask motif gives a living face to anonymous urban landscapes. This engagement with social disquiet and conflicts characterises the artist's practice in all forms.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2019