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Comfortably Numb: A Critical Investigation into the Cultural Impact of Drugs and Narcotics

November 15, 2018 - May 5, 2019

Press Release

Comfortably Numb: A Critical Investigation into the Cultural Impact of Drugs and Narcotics

November 15, 2018 – May 5, 2019


Featuring Alberto Baraya, Paulo Bruscky, Antonio Caro, Carlos Castro Arias, Larry Clark, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Wilson Díaz, Juan Manuel Echavarría, Beatriz González, Jonathan Hernández, Edgar Jiménez, Jac Leirner, Annie Leibovitz, Mark Lombardi, Aníbal López, Teresa Margolles, Raúl Martínez, Santiago Montoya, Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida, Camilo Restrepo, Francisco Papas Fritas, Jhafis Quintero, Fred Tomaselli, Meyer Vaisman, Antonio Vega Macotela.


Presenting Cosmococa CC1 Programa in Progress Trashiscapes, by Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida, the first domestic version CC1 Programa in Progress, originally developed in 1973 for Oiticica's New York City apartment and exhibited here to the public for the first time.


Estrellita Brodsky and ANOTHER SPACE are pleased to present Comfortably Numb, a critical investigation into the history and cultural impact of drugs and narcotics. Taking its title from Pink Floyd’s popular song, the exhibition examines the Americas' complex relationship with drugs and its representation in the media and public imagination.


On view from November 15—May 5, 2019, the exhibition takes ANOTHER SPACE’s unique architecture as a point of departure, and showcases works by over 20 artists from Latin America and the United States throughout the venue’s rooms and garden, staged as an anonymous family residence. Combining works in a broad range of media including video, photography and installations, with decorative objects, pre-Columbian artifacts and drug-related ephemera, the exhibition examines the pervasive presence of drugs in Americans’ daily lives as well as their impact on social, political and economic relations throughout the continent.


Forgoing the customary narratives around crime and violence, Comfortably Numb also focuses on how artists have reacted to the pervasive presence of drugs and the ongoing infatuation with “narcos.” The exhibition, conceived by artists Alberto Baraya and Jonathan Hernández, based in Bogotá and Mexico City respectively, examines the implications of the so-called War on Drugs, still being waged in their home countries.


The exhibition opens with the work of Mark Lombardi and Antonio Caro. The two artists allude to the interconnectedness of global economies, societies and politics as they relate to money laundering, international corporate giants and the drug trade. For Lombardi, the statement is made via a web of individuals, corporations and institutions in connection with the World Finance Corporation. On the other hand, Caro utilizes a visual pun playing with Colombia’s national identity and the US-based soda king, Coca-Cola, whose original formula incorporated cocaine, which then became Colombia’s prime agricultural commodity as well as the substance at the center of the nation’s drug wars.


Reinforcing the residential aspect of drug use’s ubiquitous nature, Beatriz González’s early 1981 masterpiece, the curtain Decoración de Interiores, is one of the artist’s first explicitly political works. Depicting then-president Turbay Ayala in a cheerful celebration with his guests seemingly untroubled by the policies of his highly repressive government and the drug cartels’ increasingly violent and disruptive dominance. Addressing the violent practices and consequences of the drug wars are works by Teresa Margolles and Raúl Martínez. More explicitly, Margolles renders an uncanny juxtaposition by creating a modern-day archaeological site, incorporating a piece of evidence from a destroyed home into the confines of the exhibition space, giving voice to the absent victims reduced as collateral damage. Martínez traces the American gun industry’s complex relationship with drug trafficking groups with his series of hand-woven rugs made with expended bullet casings.


As presented in Larry Clark’s Tulsa series, Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Hustlers series, or Annie Leibovitz’s color photograph of Keith Haring, from 1983, Comfortably Numb includes artists whose works focus on the widespread drug use in different sectors across the Americas. Jac Leirner addresses her own substance dependence in her works, ‘Skin (Rizla Liquorice)’ and Head, in which she suggests that patterns of discarded (and otherwise inconsequential) material nod to a larger compelling narrative, while Fred Tomaselli discloses the stimulants and medications ingested by his wife in the photogram, Portrait of Laura. Similarly, Paulo Bruscky collected prescriptions he acquired while working as a civil servant in a hospital, also connoting the pharmaceutical industry’s major role as an introductory channel to drug abuse.   


The ground level’s collection is characterized by the changing role of the natural world as it refers to the production and consumption of narcotics. In many South American cultures, coca leaves played a key function in public rituals. A 7th century Chuspa from Peru used to carry coca leaves is representative of the way Incan groups such as the Nasca offered the plant during religious ceremonies, at which it was chewed by shamans and members from the noble class. In contemporary Cali, Colombia, many gardens use coca plants as hedges up until recently, as those seen in the photographs by Wilson Díaz. At the center of the natural world lies the ubiquitous representation of the hippopotamus, which became a unanimous symbol for the iconic Narco Lord, Pablo Escobar, namely because of the countless animals held at his exotic ranch, La Hacienda Nápoles. Artists like Camilo Restrepo and Santiago Montoya directly refer to the circulating media images of Pepe, one of the hippopotamus from Escobar’s estate, while Edgar Jiménez’s iconic photographs are set against the backdrop of the ranch. In the works of Alberto Baraya, the hippo lurks through New York’s urban landscape, suggesting Escobar’s omnipresence. Likewise, Carlos Castro Arias inserts the animal along with Escobar himself in what appears to be a medieval tapestry narrating a Biblical entry, further nodding to the criminal’s transcendent reputation.


Comfortably Numb is organized by Estrellita Brodsky in collaboration with artists Alberto Baraya and Jonathan Hernández, and ANOTHER SPACE. ANOTHER SPACE will host a series of educational programs, public lectures and film screenings, in collaboration with New York University’s Hemispheric Institute. At a time of heightened debate about the opioid crisis, Comfortably Numb aims to foster dialogue around drug policy, criminal justice and the sociopolitical impact of the War on Drugs.

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