Notice the poor little man splashing around near the bottom of Luis Cruz Azaceta’s painting “Swimming to Havana.” Even if he were to somehow escape the high cement walls of the angular pool of water that contains him, he’d still be trapped in the maze of jagged abstract shapes that twine around the edges of the canvas. There’s no way out. Not physically. Not psychologically.
As the nation’s largest art biennial plays out in New Orleans, we are again reminded of the complex and controversial nature of such a setting – one inseparable from the inconceivable events and aftermath of tragedy on such an epic scale. As the struggle to rebuild continues in New Orleans, many of the artists in Prospect 1 strive to put form to feeling within the troubling context of such a city. Artists like Luis Cruz Azaceta rise to the occasion, providing an insightful and engaging commentary through richly-layered pieces. In the installation, “Swept Away,” Azaceta offers an arresting personal panorama through sculpture, painting and photography.
Luis Cruz Azaceta (Havana, 1942) is an artist whose work carries the indelible imprint of displacement. The solitude, cultural and linguistic isolation, and the certainty of no longer belonging anywhere has marked his view of the world since he immigrated to the United States from Cuba at the beginning of the sixties. Throughout his career his works have continually exuded that feeling, whether veiledly or explicitly His perspective is that of a displaced individual attempting to find a personal route in the midst of that strange labyrinth that is identity.
What does it mean to isolate one year of an artist’s production? For this exhibition, Dan Cameron has organized a unique retrospective of the prolific local artist Luis Cruz Azaceta. The year selected, 1999, was laden with ethnic and territorial disputes—atrocities in Kosovo, East Timor, Russia, Kashmir, and eastern Congo riddled the globe.
Luis Cruz Azaceta’s show of mixed-media paintings, collages, and sculptures, titled “Local Anesthesia,” continued a line of remarkable art created in response to Hurricane Katrina.
In French they are called objets trouvets, or found objects. In Europe and America, they are those quaint, poetic and typically vintage little things that some people collect as curiosities. Artists incorporate them into sculpture, or sometimes into paintings. But in Cuba, where most people missed the last half-century of Western consumerism, the vintage castoffs that became found objects in the West were never cast off in the first place.
For many New Orleans artists, an aesthetic response to Hurricane Katrina was a spiritual necessity, even it then-customary styles were oddly fitted to the project. And, in most instances, the work born of this situation fully registered with us. Such is the force oftrue emotional engagement.
The December Show at Arthur Roger Gallery features the work of Luis Cruz Azaceta, Nicole Charbonnet and an installation by Dale Chihuly.
The thing I admire most about Luis Cruz Azaceta is that he lets his art change, and change and change again. When he moved to New Orleans 12 years ago from New York, he was already in mid-career, with a big-time national rep for his cartoonish expressionist paintings and junk sculpture installations.
Just as the recently renovated Renaissance Arts Hotel makes a strong statement about the relevance of preservation in New Orleans so too does Luis Cruz Azaceta’s mesmerizing Yellow Wall 2 that hangs in the lobby. Composed of 565 photos taken on and around Tchoupitoulas Street, the montage reveals the fortitude that is demanded in order to preserve New Orleans’ heritage.