Alexander Berggruen is pleased to present Hulda Guzmán: my flora, my fauna. This exhibition ran by appointment only, at the gallery: 1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3.
Dominican Republic-based artist Hulda Guzmán has long employed her tropical surroundings to illustrate her exploration of perspective and reality. Introspection during quarantine, especially, has influenced her contemplation to shift further inward—the flora and fauna depicted in these paintings are expressly her own. In surveying this body of work, Guzmán noted: “In the face of the isolating situation, I focused on depicting my spaces and surroundings. Portraying trees helped me to divert my mind from negative thoughts and visualizations, and brought my attention back to the present moment–stepping aside the mind and remembering that fear is merely imagination used poorly. As for the self portraits, I feel like I began to sort of multiply: where is my point of view? Is it behind the frame painting it, or is it on the scene dancing while posing for the picture? How much is without a reflection of within? Perspective all depends on where we are standing, but also maybe how we decide to see things.”
Vivid colors, deliberate arrangement of repeated surfaces, imaginary creatures, and unexpected plant life provide a respite from reality. In considering her 2020 painting Pintando la Almendra, which portrays Guzmán painting a portrait of herself painting a portrait of herself, and so forth, the artist stated: “The Droste effect in this picture, recursively appearing within itself, creates a loop; and so this mise en abîme suggests the concept of infinity, as fractals do, which represents the boundless, the unfathomable. And so the philosophical nature of infinity conveys relativity regarding time/space,and so speaks to the nature of reality.” Guzmán renders an infinite self portrait, painted with eyebrows furrowed and mouth wide open—ecstatic in immeasurable joy or pain, or perhaps both.
Guzmán further interrogates reality in Quarantine visitor. While the title suggests a “visitor” beyond the artist and her ubiquitous cat, the painting reveals only an effervescent and seemingly solitary Guzmán. The painting within this painting, as it rests upon a table, reveals a scene inside of the same room, with objects slightly rearranged, as a careful observer might detect. In comparing these differences, next to the artist, one may notice the tree growing, irrationally, out of the reflective tile. As opposed to the human guest for which most would assume to search, this tree is perhaps the safe “Quarantine visitor” of the work’s title.
In a hopeful response to the anthropocene–an era marked by the effects humans have left on the quality of the environment–Hulda Guzmán portrays a vibrantly-colored, nature-abundant world in which trees and foliage tower above figures, emphasizing human’s relative role within the ecosystem. In A secret, a sloping hill, tall trees, and a hazy pink sky occupy prominent space in the composition. The title hints that the figure near lower-center bends to whisper a secret into the cow’s open ear. Although figures tend to drive the narrative in Guzmán’s works, the artist prompts the viewer to respect nature’s own omnipresence.
While speaking about the presence of animals in this body of work, Guzmán stated: “We see wildlife, we see tamed wildlife, we see how tamed wildlife might see us,” and quickly acknowledged “this speculation [about how tamed wildlife might see us] is probably narcissistic.” In Mpaka 2, Guzmán’s pet cat appears to return the viewer’s gaze. The cosmic night sky becomes textured by the cedar plywood surface of the painting’s support, drawing attention to the handmade essence of painting. Here, the artist’s domesticated pet cat Mpaka, residing within this constructed cedar scene, also brings to mind the force that humankind imparts on the quality of our biosphere.
The works in Hulda Guzmán: my flora, my fauna reveal an artist in exuberant introspection and exploration of reality and perspective through her distinct iconography—informed by her imagination and the flora and fauna in her surroundings within the Dominican Republic. Guzmán renders a world in which children, adults, animals, plants, and invented creatures alike come together to dance, lounge, congregate, share secrets, and play—all colored and enriched by embracing nature and celebrated through the act of painting.
Hulda Guzmán (b. 1984, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) received a BA from Altos de Chavón School of Design in the Dominican Republic and Parsons School of Design in New York, and went on to study photography and mural painting at the National School of Visual Arts, Mexico. Her work is included in the permanent collections of Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), São Paulo, Brazil; Patricia Phelps de Cisneros; Centro Leon Jimenes; Casa Cortes Foundation; Antonio Murzi Collection; and Kadist Foundation. Guzmán has been featured in the Dominican Republic’s pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Guzmán has shown with Dio Horia Gallery, Mykonos; Arte BA, Buenos Aires; Galería Machete, Mexico City; Gallery Ariane Paffrath, Dusseldorf; and at institutions such as Museo de Arte Moderno, Santo Domingo; the Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL; Museo de Arte de São Paulo, Brazil; Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo, Costa Rica; and Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, D.C.
Guzmán’s solo exhibition at Alexander Berggruen is her first in the United States since the the 58th Venice Biennale, and it finds her turning, mostly, to views around her studio, where she was confined during COVID quarantine. It’s a breathtaking retreat. From the artist’s window, palm trees spread out over lush tropical hills. Garden pathways wind through forests where children, birds, and animals peer through thick trees. Guzmán’s work recalls Henri Rousseau’s in its naïve, mystical depictions of forest creatures and foliage. But her most exhilarating landscapes also make me think of Lucas Arruda, who inexplicably transforms the unyielding Brazilian Amazon into placid fields like Mark Rothko paintings. As does Arruda, Guzmán deftly invites a kind spiritual awakening in her vibrant forest scenes.
Tropical vistas, mise-en-abyme effects, and images of a plump cat are among the many lush pleasures in this young Dominican painter’s exhibition “my flora, my fauna,” at the Alexander Berggruen gallery. Guzmán’s colorful works, in acrylic gouache, depict a surreal world in which domestic interiors spill into jungle landscapes.
In Hulda Guzmán’s solo exhibition at Alexander Berggruen in New York, paintings of figures, flora, and fauna from the Dominican Republic depict an artist exploring reality from multiple perspectives. The paintings, at times featuring the artist, her cat, and conjured-up creatures, are large, while the figures within are usually small, basking in the warm hues of the Dominican light. In self-portraits, Guzmán unfolds a scene from various points of view, bringing reflective opportunities to the forefront. As an optimistic response to the anthropocene–an era marked by the effect of humans on the environment–the artist paints nature’s omnipresence in a scale that is overwhelming. A feeling of acuity and gumption is present. After studies at the Chavon School of Design in the Dominican Republic, Guzmán furthered her schooling in photography and mural painting at the National School of Visual Arts in Mexico which layered complexity to her technique. Born in 1984 in Santo Domingo, Guzmán was featured in the Dominican Republic’s pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. GARAGE caught up with the artist about her current show, while she was at her rural ocean-side studio.
This catalogue was published on the occasion of the gallery’s exhibition, Hulda Guzmán: my flora, my fauna (October 23-December 21, 2020). Included within are images and details of the artworks featured in the exhibition and a new essay by Francesca Altamura.