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

November 15, 2018 - May 5, 2019

 

Alberto Baraya (b. Bogotá, Colombia, 1968)

Alberto Baraya parodies colonial exploitation and its resonance in contemporary global economies. In the 1990s, he produced ironic self-portraits, highlighting the malleability of identity through the inclusion of references to iconic works of art. Since 2001, the artist has styled himself as a “viajero,” referring to 18th- and 19th-century European travelers who undertook botanical explorations in the name of science and in the service of colonization. For this project, “Herbário de plantas artificiais” (Herbarium of Artificial Plants), Baraya follows the path of these pseudo-scientists, collecting, cataloguing, and displaying artificial plants.

 

Paulo Bruscky (b. Recife, Brazil, 1949)

Paulo Bruscky was born in 1949 in Recife, where he lives and works. Known for his involvement in the international mail art movement (arte correio) and for the dynamic relationships he forged with international artists including Fluxus and Gutai artists working in New York, Europe and Japan, Bruscky is an artist-provocateur who questions art as a means to challenge the status quo. From the early urban interventions question the role of art within an authoritarian military government, to highly experimental works using medical, communication and reproduction technologies, Bruscky occupies a formidable place in Brazilian art history.

 

Antonio Caro (b. Bogotá, Colombia, 1950)

Antonio Caro’s conceptual body of work surveys and represents notions of violence and contemporary political conditions in Colombia. In the screen-print Colombia, Antonio Caro employed the calligraphy of the ubiquitous Coca-Cola logo. With this graphic play as a visual pun, Caro contrasts Colombia’s national identity with the international corporate giant Coca-Cola’s use of cocaine in its original formula. In 1976, Caro initiated a series of works around the theme of Colombia and Coca-Cola. The series references to the economic and cultural colonization of Colombia by the United States, more than helping to define the idea of nation or identity, critically contributes to increase the doubts and the questions about it. Artist and curator, Luis Camnitzer has described Caro as fitting “within the artistic trend that since the 1960s is known as conceptualism. But he also fits within something broader and more important culturally. Caro is in a very particular way a visual guerrilla.”

 

Carlos Castro Arias (b. Bogotá, Colombia, 1976)

Carlos Castro Arias is a Colombian artist whose work re-conceptualizes everyday objects to offer a new interpretation of history and social formations. The artist was inspired by medieval tapestries for the creation of Narco Ark. In this work, he alters the story of Noah’s Ark to include Pablo Escobar and the hippopotami from his famous ranch, La Hacienda Nápoles, granting the notorious drug lord a divine omnipresence.

 

Larry Clark (b. Tulsa, U.S.A., 1943)

In the controversial series, Tulsa, Larry Clark depicts a raw and violent reality, an unapologetic record of his youth. Capturing his friends and surroundings, Clark’s photographs exhibit the casual sex culture, pervasive drug abuse, as well as the flippant gunplay that took place in his hometown in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the 60s and 70s. In 1971, Larry Clark published the series as a photo book, causing public outrage for the graphic content and illicit activities of drug-use portrayed. Employing a black-and-white monochromatic palette, Clark documents the stark reality of his and his friends’ daily life. Clark’s Tulsa became an influential groundwork for photographers such as Nan Goldin, Dash Snow, and Ryan McGinley.

 

Wilson Díaz (b. Pitalito, Colombia, 1963)

Wilson Díaz’s multifaceted work is unified by his commitment to explore the roots of conflict and corruption in his native country, Colombia. This results in outwardly simple documents rooted in moments and encounters that are often lost to history that illustrate the vital fabric of human experience. Jardines de Coca de Cali is a series of photographs of coca bushes used to decorate gardens in Cali between 2003 and 2004, a practice popular in the city since the 1980s. The images interrogate the social impact of drug trafficking and the history of country’s violent conflict without picturing it.

 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia (b. Hartford, U.S.A., 1951)

Philip-Lorca diCorcia studied photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and received an MFA from Yale University, where he currently teaches. His work oscillates between documentary photography and posed portraiture. Between the years of 1990 and 1992, diCorcia captured hustlers and prostitutes in the surrounding neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Although seemingly candid, the vignettes were carefully staged by the artist who would approach the subjects and request to take their photograph. The title of each image lists the name of the subject, the location, as well as the amount of money that diCorcia paid from an NEA grant to pay the participant for having their picture taken. The psychological intensity of the sitters, as well as the hazy tint and mysterious settings grant the works an ethereal effect, characteristic of diCorcia’s portraits.

 

Juan Manuel Echavarría (b. Medellín, Colombia, 1947)

La Bandeja de Bolivar (The Tray of Bolivar) exemplifies the beginning of Juan Manuel Echavarría’s artistic investigation into Colombia’s violent past. Using a poetic cinematic approach, La Bandeja de Bolivar shows a progression of photographs in which a tray similar to that gifted to Colombia by the liberator Simon Bolivar in commemoration of the country’s independence, is literally and symbolically destroyed, ultimately into a batch of white powder reminiscent of cocaine. The video suggests a sequential narrative of Colombia, beginning with an emblem of freedom, moving throughout constant blows and commotions, and ultimately ending in a pile of cocaine, nodding to the irrevocable effects that the war on drugs has had on the country.

 

Beatriz González (b. Bucaramanga, Colombia, 1938)

Beatriz González is considered a principal member of Colombia’s art historical canon, known for her close association with Pop Art, and her masterful ways of tackling with corruption and violence through her art. Decoración de interiores is considered the first explicitly political work by the artist. Created in 1981, González shows then-president of Colombia, Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala, entertaining guests with a festive and cheerful mode, oblivious to the ongoing violence and torture that was instigated by Turbay’s government. With this work, González literally and figuratively creates a fabric of concealed crimes, hidden behind a curtain of fraudulent politicians. Also playing with court painting, the artist depicts the president yet deliberately undermines his position of power. Originally selling the curtain by the meter, she created a distributable product, strategically exploiting the power of consumerism to further propel her criticism. This early masterpiece by the artist epitomizes her adept play between the literal and symbolic, and illustrates her subtle yet articulate way of portraying unjust environments effected by authoritative regimes in Latin America.

 

Jonathan Hernández (b. Mexico City, Mexico, 1972)

Jonathan Hernández’s artistic practice is characterized by the use of found materials and photography, offering alternative perspectives on topical affairs such as Mexico’s ongoing War on Drugs and the arrest of the Narco Drug Lord, El Chapo. In 2016, the artist presented Asset Forfeiture, where he displayed a series of objects that had been seized from narco-trafficking groups by the authorities. By decontextualizing and re-examining this roster of assets, Hernández questioned the dynamics of power, while also presenting the tumultuous political and social circumstances of present-day Mexico. In Vulnerabilia, the artist collages media images of El Chapo, being captured by Mexican and American authorities.

 

Edgar Jiménez (El Chino) (b. Medellín, c. 1980’s)

Edgar Jiménez, most commonly known as “El Chino,” began his career as a wedding photographer in his hometown, Medellín. After a chance encounter in 1981 with his former high school classmate, Pablo Escobar, El Chino became the iconic drug lord’s photographer at his ranch, La Hacienda Nápoles. For several years, El Chino captured family gatherings and social events that took place at Nápoles, creating a robust arsenal of memories that recount the essence of Escobar’s exotic lifestyle during this period.

 

Annie Leibovitz (b. Waterbury, U.S.A., 1949)

Annie Leibovitz is regarded as one of the most influential photographers for intimately capturing pop icons and celebrities with her exemplary use of natural light. In the 1970’s, before attaining international acclaim, Leibovitz was offered to go on tour with the legendary Rolling Stones band, as well as a contributing position at the Rolling Stones publication. Soon after, she became heavily reliant on drugs. "Working at Rolling Stone was a drug culture," she has said. "Who were my mentors? Hunter Thompson, who was a total maniac, never off drugs. Cocaine propelled you... it made you think you were thinking. I got professional help, and it was done." Keith Haring, New York City, was taken in 1983, the year in which Leibovitz joined the staff of Vanity Fair, and began capturing portraits of important public figures.  

 

Jac Leirner (b. São Paulo, Brazil, 1961)

Jac Leirner’s interdisciplinary oeuvre adopts everyday objects and transforms them into aesthetically striking sculptures, while conveying profoundly personal narratives frequently related to her history with substance dependence. ‘Skin (Rizla Liquorice)’ refers to the artist’s longstanding tobacco addiction. As the work is remounted each time it is installed, Leirner draws a connection between the production of these large-scale installations and the recurring action of rolling cigarettes. In another work titled, Head (2016), Leirner photoraphs small sculpted cocaine rocks collected by the artist over years of use. Of repetition, Jac Leirner states: “things that in themselves don’t seem like much, show their radiant presence and its great artistic potential when multiplied.” She suggests that the patterns of discarded (and otherwise inconsequential) material nod to a larger compelling narrative.  

 

Mark Lombardi (b. Syracuse, USA, 1951—d. New York, USA, 2000)

American artist, Mark Lombardi, used maps, charts and diagrams to expose political and economic frauds, ultimately revealing corrupt abuses of power. In the World Finance Corporation, Miami, ca. 1970-1984 series, Lombardi focuses on the bank’s association and participation with Colombia’s drug cartels. In 1978, 60 Minutes aired an episode on this scandal, exposing the bank’s involvement with money laundering for drug trafficking groups, which inspired Lombardi to look into the case. This work is the 7th version of the artist’s drawing surrounding this global interaction.

 

Aníbal López (b. Guatemala, 1964 – d. 2014)

A pioneer of performance art in Central America, Aníbal López (also known as A-153167, his official identification number) became notorious for his radical actions and disruptive urban interventions. Subverting the dry vocabulary of 1960s and 1970s conceptual art, his works immersed viewers and often unwitting participants into the problematic social and political reality of Guatemala, such as in the Smithson-inspired “One ton of books dumped on Reforma Avenue” (2003), which provoked a massive traffic jam by blocking Guatemala’s main thoroughfare with exactly one metric ton of books. In this work, MS MXVIII, the artist sprayed several stray dogs with the signs of the Mara Salvatrucha MS and the Barrio 18, two of Central America’s most violent criminal gangs. Let loose again, the dog’s haphazard movements around Guatemala City both subverted the gangs’ methods to mark their respective territory while exposing the gang's grip over the whole Guatemalan society.

 

Teresa Margolles (b. Culiacán, México, 1963)

Teresa Margolles was born in Culiacán, deemed today as one of the most dangerous states of Mexico, due to the pervasive presence of drug cartels and their consequential violence. Originally trained in forensics, much of her art deals with the effects of crime, violence, and death. In El Exhumado (The Exhumed, 2016), Teresa Margolles disrupts the safe distance between viewer and image by bringing a piece of evidence—a specter itself—out of the photograph that hangs in the gallery’s wall and placing it in the exhibition space. Concerned by structural violence in northern Mexico, Margolles photographed a dilapidated home in Juárez, a city infamous for its permanently high rate of femicides and drug-related crimes. In the photograph we see a sofa—framed by wooden ornaments and once flamboyant red upholstery highly significant of a middle class status—trapped beneath the rubble of the collapsed ceiling. Exhumed as if it was a wounded body, the sofa now stands stoically in the gallery, its colors and features barely visible under protective plastic that wraps it and keeps it together. By saving this object from its otherwise inevitable demise, the artist refuses to accept what appears to be an unchangeable, doomed fate of Juárez, while also invoking a powerful embodiment of human struggle into the otherwise immaculate exhibition space.

 

Raúl Martínez / DETEXT (b. Madrid, Spain, 1981)

Raúl Martínez is an artist, lawyer and founder of DETEXT, a shifting collective known for their work with found language and online detritus. Named after the slang for the .45 ACP rounds used, Manstopper (Fatboy, Big Mouth or Nobody gets wounded with a 45) is the fifth in an ongoing series of hang-woven rugs made with spent bullet casings sourced throughout the world. Somewhere between a forensic investigation and a form of geopolitical cartography, the series traces the origin and international circulation of ammunition across the globe and in this particular case, the United States gun industry’s complex relationship with drug trafficking and drugs. As a matter of fact, the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) was developed for the US Army in 1911 after multiple American soldiers complained and several were hacked to pieces despite “emptying their .38 revolvers into drugged up insurgent Moros in the Philippines.” The .45 ACP was designed at their request “not just to knock down human adversaries, but also to put their horses out of commission.” Despite the disappearance of horse-mounted warfare, it remains one of the most popular hand-gun calibers in the United States.

 

Santiago Montoya (b. Bogotá, Colombia, 1974)

Santiago Montoya´s multidisciplinary practice is characterized by the aesthetic use of materials to explore underlying meanings. The chocolate medium that Santiago Montoya utilizes in the series, El Dorado, comes from his family’s cacao plantation located in Quindío, Colombia. His choice of medium is deeply rooted in his interest for the historical value and use of chocolate, particularly for its universality in South and Central American cultures; for the Mayan civilization, cacao was not only used as currency, but was also considered sacred.  With Hippo, Montoya presents the animal that symbolized Pablo Escobar’s ranch, Hacienda Nápoles, which the artist visited during his childhood, surveying the ostentatious nature of the drug lord’s exotic lifestyle.

 

Hélio Oiticica (b. Rio de Janeiro, 1937 – d. 1980) and Neville D’Almeida (b. Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 1941)

Neville D’Almeida is a Brazilian filmmaker, known for his controversial (and often censored films), such as Mangue Bangue (1971) and Jardim de Guerra (1970). Hélio Oiticica was a key figure in Rio de Janeiro’s artistic and cultural scene and is considered one of the most influential artists from Latin America today. Oiticica founded the Tropicalia movement in Rio de Janeiro, honoring Brazil’s pop culture and music during a time of military oppression, which led him to advocate the radical potential of hanging out, rather than complying with society’s demands.  Starting in 1973, Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida conceived Cosmococa a series of nine ‘supra-sensorial’ environments, each incorporating slide projections, soundtracks, cocaine powder, drawings, etc. The work is the epitome of what Oiticica called his ‘quasi-cinemas’, a term coined by the artist to describe a sequence of still-images and videos, and the basis for an extensive investigation of media theory in art, through analysis of its experimentation with duration, and its blurring of formats, languages, and modes of spectatorship. Comfortably Numb marks the first showing of Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s Cosmococa CC1 in a residential setting. 

 

Francisco Papas Fritas (b. Santiago de Chile, Chile, 1983)

Francisco Papas Fritas’s work seeks to address and intervene the institutional and judicial political reality by proclaiming civil disobedience. The artist describes his work as operational art, in service to criticize the established order characterized by a high political and media content. The Wish Machine criticizes the desire produced by capitalism, specifically the lifestyle afforded by narco-trafficking sponsored by exploitation of the mass. The work is constructed with two integral parts, part one is a Dolce & Gabbana logo made with pressed marijuana molded in resin, and part two is a five hundred Chilean pesos coin made with coca paste and resin. Each with symbolic value to represent the pursuit of a luxury lifestyle of high-end brands at the cost of selling doses of cocaine paste, priced at five hundred pesos each does also know as “quinazo”.

 

Jhafis Quintero (b. La Chorrera, Panama, 1973)

Quintero began his career as an artist during his 10-year prison sentence. His prison experience plays a leading role in his work. There is a peculiar perception of the passing of time and its implications for a body immersed in that particular time frame, a question of physical and mental limits, and a constant reflection on death that glides over the lives of inmates. His art practice thus stems from his personal experiences in the world of incarceration, silence, insecurity, but also imagination and creativity directed at finding means of survival. He is able to create lucidly escapist structures while constantly maintaining an ironic and even humorous outlook that prevents him from lapsing into misery and self-pity.

 

Camilo Restrepo (b. Medellín, Colombia, 1973)

Camilo Restrepo was born in Medellín, Colombia, and uses satire and cartoons in his interdisciplinary practice to confront violence and corruption related to drug crimes. Bloque de Búsqueda (Search Bloc) was the name of a special force created by the Colombian Army and Police, which was helped by the DEA, and whose achieved mission was to kill Pablo Escobar. In July 2009, two professional hunters hired by the Colombian government and helped by a group of army soldiers killed “Pepe,” a hippopotamus that had escaped from the legendary Pablo Escobar’s Hacienda Nápoles, in which there was a zoo with exotic specimens. After Pepe’s death, the soldiers posed with the animal for a picture, as if the hippo were an important military target like Pablo Escobar himself. Curiously, the animal had the same name of an illegal group, The Pepes, created by Escobar’s enemies, which collaborated with the Colombian forces in order to kill the leader of the Medellín Cartel. Pepes in Spanish stands for Prosecuted by Pablo Escobar.

 

Miguel Ángel Rojas (b. Bogotá, Colombia, 1946)

Miguel Ángel Rojas is a Colombian conceptual artist who explores notions of marginalization, violence related to drug crimes, and legal issues of narco-trafficking. Best known for his exposed photographs of homosexual men in Colombia, he instigated the use of the medium at a time when it was not necessarily considered a fine art. In the 1990’s, Rojas began incorporating coca leaves into his oeuvre to tackle issues on Latin America’s complex drug war from a consumer’s perspective. In Nowadays, the artist appropriates the title from Richard Hamilton’s collage from 1965, and inscribes the words “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so appealing?” with coca leaves. With this work, he challenges the drug war from a user’s standpoint, as he strongly believes that Latin America’s drug war is deeply rooted in the normalized drug use and addiction embedded in American society. 

 

Fred Tomaselli (b. Santa Monica, U.S.A., 1956)

Fred Tomaselli’s works are characterized by the distinctive mediums that he utilizes: medicinal herbs, synthetic drugs, and prescription tablets, among other psychedelic substances.  His meticulous hallucinogenic compositions invite the viewer to get lost in the canvas, and thus activate a transcendental reaction. At the same time, his pieces elucidate the complexities of nature, re-interpret art historical icons, and shed a scientific light on human anatomy. Portrait of Laura is part of an ongoing series in which the artist creates an alternate depiction of his wife, incorporating any addictive substance that she recalls ingesting. By placing pills on photographic paper and exposing them to light, Tomaselli produces a work deeply rooted in both the astrological and pharmaceutical systems.

 

Meyer Vaisman (b. Caracas, Venezuela, 1960)

Born and raised in Caracas, Meyer Vaisman moved to New York to study at the Parsons School of Design and became largely influential in the East Village art scene in the 1980s as a member of the artist group Neo-Geo, working and exhibiting alongside Richard Prince, Jeff Koons and Peter Halley. Between 1992 and 1994, the artist began creating sculptures by altering taxidermied turkeys, often adding objects such as wigs, hair clips, or clothing to the animal. With these works, Vaisman deliberately mocks the general conception of the modern artwork, making reference to Duchamp’s readymade. He further questions the inherent narcissistic understanding of the self and pokes fun at the considerably contrived qualities of the exclusive art world.

 

Antonio Vega Macotela (b. Mexico City, Mexico, 1980)

Antonio Vega Macotela uses his art to offer a new perspective on social and cultural exchanges. In Murmullos (Murmurs), the artist explores systems of communication utilized by drug trafficking individuals when captured and incarcerated. With this work, he recreates a method employed by the cartels to send and read secret messages that can only be uncovered when seen from a specific viewpoint. The artist includes messages in El Sol de México written in the distorted underground mode. The messages can be read by kneeling in a fashion that resembles gestures of pray, and looking up at the newspaper. Vega Macotela questions the perpetual dispute over informational control and challenges the biased and fickle nature of newsprint publications.