Now Open in NYC: Oscar Murillo’s “Mercantile Novel” at David Zwirner Gallery

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
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I learned about the new exhibit at David Zwirner Gallery via a somewhat unlikely source: the parenting blog, Mommy Poppins. Oscar Murillo’s installation, “A Mercantile Novel,” “isn’t that interesting for kids,” the blogger admits, but there’s free chocolate-covered marshmallows, made on-site as part of the exhibit. Mariel approved… heartily. So heartily, in fact, that she has gone to bed early with a stomachache after palming a few extra confections in addition to the packaged ones she got to go.

Mariel approves of this exhibit.
Mariel approves of this exhibit.

It’s true; the exhibit is somewhat underwhelming, mainly because the 13 workers who traveled outside Colombia for the first time to make the chocolates on-site as part of the exhibit are kept from interacting with visitors due to health code regulations. Even the process itself, which kind of seems like the big deal, is beyond gallery-goers’ direct line of vision. You can peek through a stack of boxes to get a glimpse, but personally, this seemed like the most interesting part of the project (not to mention a big part of it), and the rest of the show, such as it is, is somewhat underwhelming.

A peek at the production line... from afar.
A peek at the production line… from afar.

That being said, the concept, about which you can read here and here, is pretty interesting and raises some provocative questions about how social media is/can be used in contemporary art (too bad, though, that the staffer on hand didn’t know the gallery’s own instagram handle off the top of her head…. She had to look it up).

The exhibit runs through June 14.

Now in New York: Kara Walker’s Installation at the Domino Sugar Refinery

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
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Shots from inside the Domino Sugar Refinery, site of the installation of Kara Walker's "Subtlety."
Shots from inside the Domino Sugar Refinery, site of the installation of Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby: an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

Not much time for art criticism or commentary this morning, as I’m on deadline (if you want to read an insightful piece of criticism, I recommend this one), but just wanted to mention that artist Kara Walker’s installation at the Domino Sugar Refinery is really worth visiting; it’s the finest installation piece I’ve seen in a long, long while.

Francisco and the kids and I made it out to Brooklyn on the opening day of the show and found ourselves in the surprisingly short line to enter the refinery, which is the perfect space for Walker’s work. The show is only up through July 6 and the pieces are quite literally melting away slowly, so you might want to visit sooner rather than later (or more than once, even). It’s open only on Fridays (4-8pm) and Saturdays and Sundays (12-6pm) now through July 6. For more information about the exhibit, the space, and how to get there, visit the website of Creative Time, which commissioned the show.

And if you can’t make it, check out more photos from Francisco’s portfolio, which are featured in this post on his blog.

Opening in New York: Xavier Carbonell Exhibit at Jadite Galleries

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
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It is often the case that people I meet while traveling stay with me, by which I mean that they stay in my mind and my heart. Though there are some wonderful exceptions, I’ll never see most of those people again. The memories of our encounters remain, but our paths don’t cross again.

Sometimes, though, life intervenes in an unexpected and exciting way.

Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell.
Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell, a wonderful couple I met in Catalunya a few years ago. Rosa and Xavier are both artists and from the moment I stepped into their home and studio in the town of Olot, I knew they were exceptionally special people. Though our time together was brief, they made a powerful impression on me, and I left feeling grateful for our encounter, but sad that I’d probably never see them again.

And then, an email. Rosa and Xavier were coming to New York! Xavier was having an exhibit of his paintings at Jadite Galleries in Manhattan. Could I come? They’d love to see me. And so, here we are, two years later, about to see each other again.

Jadite is a small gallery that’s considerably off the artsy circuit of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, but it’s been a mainstay on West 50th Street since it opened in 1985. Many of the artists it features are from Europe and Latin America, and Xavier, who has exhibited here before, will be showing works from a series called “Travels and Paintings”. The show, which opened on April 3 and has the artist reception tonight, will run through April 26.

Now in New York: Pablo Helguera’s “Libreria Donceles” at Kent Fine Art

Text & Instagram Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo

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My online friend–soon to be “in real life” friend because we’re having lunch together tomorrow– journalist Monika Fabian, tipped me off to Pablo Helguera’s installation, “Librería Donceles,” at Kent Fine Art on 11th Avenue between 24th and 25th Streets.

"Portadas Feas"-"Ugly Covers"
“Portadas Feas”-“Ugly Covers”

Writing about the exhibit for New York Daily News, Fabian explained the show’s concept:

“In a city where one in four citizens speaks Spanish, it both surprised and saddened artist Pablo Helguera to watch New York’s Spanish-language bookstores close over the years…. So Helguera did something about it. Last month, he “opened” Librería Donceles, the city’s only Spanish-language used bookstore, at the Chelsea gallery Kent Fine Art through Nov. 8. Bibliófilos — book-lovers in Spanish — can browse and buy the rare finds, most of which would never be found in local stores, Helguera says….”

Helguera brought several thousand books from Mexico to New York for the exhibit, which isn’t really like an exhibit at all, said the volunteer who showed me around the gallery when I stopped by for a visit this afternoon. “People taking the Chelsea Galleries Walking Tour are so confused,” she said. “They come in here and see the place set up like a bookstore and they say, ‘Wait, I thought this was an art gallery.'”

She went on to explain that Helguera told the volunteers who act as gallery docents/book vendors for Librería Donceles that he chose to set the bookstore up in a gallery rather than, say, a pop-up shop because a storefront–even a temporary one–would be cost-prohibitive. The cost of running a bookstore is, in fact, the reason that all but one of the city’s Spanish-language bookstores have shuttered in recent years (the only one in existence as of this writing is La Casa Azul, which I highly recommend). Even though Helguera’s “bookstore” will have a short run, it may (one can dream, at least) bring the importance of Spanish-language resources back into public conversation in a city that seems all too happy to let big box stores take over retail spaces that once housed places like Librería Lectorum.

Helguera’s libreria is named after Donceles, a street in Mexico City that’s known for its numerous used bookstores. Helguera sourced thousands of books from friends and complete strangers, to whom he gave pieces of his own art in exchange for the texts. The gallery is set up like a bookstore: there are a couple seating areas–one for kids, and one for folks who may want to settle in for a while and play a game of chess. There are shelves and tables laden with books, many of which are vintage. The shelves’ sections are labeled by theme, some predictable (fiction, essays, poetry) and some not so predictable (“portadas feas”-“ugly covers”; “ficción de valor dudoso”-“fiction of dubious value.”)

"Ficción de valor dudoso"-"Fiction of dubious value."
“Ficción de valor dudoso”-“Fiction of dubious value.”

The idea of Librería Donceles is for people to engage with the books, said the volunteer on duty. Visitors to the gallery can even buy one book per visit; the cost is determined by the visitor, who makes a donation that goes to Mano a Mano, a local cultural organization that, among other things, offers Nahuatl courses and workshops about Mexican arts and culture.

I ended up walking out with a collection of Julio Cortazar’s letters, and I’ll be back at least one more time before the exhibit closes on November 8.

9th Annual Artisans’ Fair at El Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico This Weekend

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
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[Para leer este artículo en español, véase el sitio LatinListUSA.]
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The grounds of El Morro, site of this weekend's Artisans' Fair.
The grounds of El Morro, site of this weekend’s Artisans’ Fair.

This weekend, the National Parks Service hosts the 9th annual Artisans’ Fair (Feria de Artesania) at the El Morro fort in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Traditional Puerto Rican masks, many of which are made out of coconuts.
Traditional Puerto Rican masks, many of which are made out of coconuts.

The fair is one of the few opportunities islanders and visitors have to see and purchase the islands’ traditional arts and handcrafts directly from the people who made them. This year, more than 200 artisans have been invited to participate.

The fair is an opportunity to buy directly from artists.
The fair is an opportunity to buy directly from artists.

Among the goods you’re likely to find on display are jewelry made from native seeds and trees, masks, handmade instruments including the Puerto Rican cuatro, leather and lacework, and santos, hand-carved saint statuettes.

Santos, hand-carved saints, are among Puerto Rico's traditional handcrafts.
Santos, hand-carved saints, are among Puerto Rico’s traditional handcrafts.

The fair will be open from 9 AM – 7 PM on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the artisans’ displays, park rangers will hold special tours and talks at the fort. For more information, please see the National Parks Service’s website.

View from El Morro.
View from El Morro.

To plan your Puerto Rico vacation, check out our free app, “San Juan Insider,” and our contributions to Fodor’s Puerto Rico.