Category: San Suzie

Art Basel Exclusive Report: An Orthodontic Art Collection.

Cuban Orthodontist Art
Dolores, no pun intended, a painting by noted Brazilian artist Vania Mignone, looks over the tools used to correct dentofacial deformities. (All photos by Todd Kessler.)

The good doctor poses — with cigar — in front of Anima Sola, a canvas by Mexican-born Carlos de Villasante

The waiting area, where the exhibit changes quarterly. Currently on view: a selection of images from Stories, by Cuban-American writer and photographer Tony Mendoza.

We here at C-Mon HQ generally eschew art fair-related coverage in favor of more productive and enlightening activities (drunk texting and watching the Kimye video over and over again). But we’ve set aside our prejudices for this special report on Dr. Arturo Mosquera, a Miami-based orthodontist and contemporary art collector whose clinic, in the southwestern-most reaches of Miami-Dade County, has been a venue for rotating art exhibits since 2000.

Installed around dental chairs and goose neck task lights, the works extend Arturo and Liza Mosquera’s collection of mostly Latin American artists onto workplace walls more commonly adorned with posters of sunsets and the national parks. This year’s exhibit, provocatively titled From the Religious to Sacrilegious is designed, in Dr. Mosquera’s own words, “to start a dialog with kids and adults who wouldn’t otherwise see things like this.”

The bonus: unlike at Art Basel, you can get your teeth straightened while taking in the work.

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Don’t Throw It Out: The Art Nurse on saving art in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The Brooklyn studio of artist Leon Reid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Reid, like so many artists and galleries in the city, had much of his work destroyed by the unprecedented surge. (Image courtesy of Reid.)

By now we are all too familiar with the path of destruction that Hurricane Sandy wreaked on art studios, galleries and collections throughout the Eastern seaboard. A number of organizations, including the American Institute for Conservation have responded to the call and on Sunday, November 4th, MoMA’s conservators and the AIC’s Collections Emergency Response Team will be offering a presentation on saving flood-damaged artworks. (Things get rolling at noon.) MoMA has also posted a document with guidelines for dealing with art that is damaged by everything from fires to flooding.

For those who cannot attend the MoMA session, or who simply want some solid advice on dealing with a drowned studio, we have assembled a list of conservators who are willing to be e-mailed or called for advice. These conservators, which include Rustin Levenson (paintings), Joseph Sembrat (sculpture, architecture, objects), Stephanie Hornbeck (objects, textiles), and yours truly, the Art Nurse (sculpture, architecture, objects ) have all had firsthand experience with hurricane, flood, and earthquake recovery for collections and historic structures in Florida, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. Together we have put together a few initial guidelines for addressing the daunting act of sorting through mud and murky water to rescue works of art.

  1. CAREFULLY ASSESS BEFORE TAKING ACTION. Don’t wander into the water unless you know it’s safe to do so and you won’t get electrocuted or sliced up by broken glass. Before you start moving things, take some photos of the room and anything you can get in close up. This is essential for claims from your insurance company or agencies offering assistance.
  2. GET THE WORK OUT OF THE WATER. Make a plan first for what you are going to move and where it is going to go. Remember that wet things weigh a heck of a lot more than dry ones. Make sure you know where you will put things before you move them and don’t lift anything bigger than you can safely carry. Clear a path to your destination before moving a work of art and make sure the spot is clean, dry and free of mold. For canvases or larger works, have more than one person available to move things. If the pieces are hung on the wall, leave them in place while you clear the water off the ground. If large sculptures are on the floor and can’t be lifted onto a table, think about sacrificing some of those fat art books to set them on to get air moving underneath them. Wet works on paper are the most vulnerable so make sure you do not lift things that are too wet without sliding something underneath them. A sheet of Plexiglas is great for this. If all you have is cardboard, put a sheet of plastic between the cardboard and the work on paper or you risk staining the work. Remove wet works on paper from their frames to get air circulating around the paper and remove any wet mattes. Try not to stack things. If you have no choice, interleave with clean paper.
  3. CLEAN THE ROOM. Once the works are out of immediate danger, i.e. not sitting in water or mud, the next task is to get the rest of the space as clean as possible and get air circulating around the room. Mold spores are always in the air. Whether they bloom depends entirely on the humidity in the room. Therefore your next task is to get the air circulating and the humidity down. If you have a dehumidifier, use it. If not, use a fan or whatever will move air around. Mold likes darkness and heat as well, so keep your shades and windows open if that’s all you have to work with. Once the air is moving and you can get air circulating around the works themselves, clean the room as best as possible. Sweep, mop, scrub — whatever it takes to get the dirt and muck off of the floor and walls. Remove carpeting and any upholstered materials that will keep the room damp. While you should NEVER use disinfectant sprays directly on a work of art, spraying a floor or walls that have been soaked is a good way to keep mold growth down. If no disinfectant spray is available, bleach can be used also on floors and walls, but you have to be extremely careful not to let any splash onto artworks.
  4. TAKE STOCK. Now your room is clean and you have a bunch of ruined-looking works. Make lists of the works, dividing them by what appears to be wrong with them. Anything that was wet will need to be cleaned, because any water it touched was either brackish, salty or filthy — or various combinations thereof. Separate works by material (painting, works on paper, bronze, stone sculpture, plaster, mixed media with old shoes and cigarette butts, etc.) and list them by whether they were wet or simply exposed to humidity.
  5. CALL A CONSERVATOR. If you haven’t done so already, this would be a good time to call or e-mail a conservator. At the bottom of this piece are contact details for all of the aforementioned conservators, as well as  others who have experience with flood and water damage. While we are an ornery and overworked bunch, we are all here to help at this point, and all of us on this list would be willing to answer e-mails with questions. If it’s a crisis, we’ll even take phone calls. If you can’t reach one of us, use the AIC’s website How to Find a Conservator function to contact a local person. It as advisable to request a professional who has hands-on experience with flood or storm damage.

Naturally, there are differences of opinion on what to do next, and of course a conservator’s direct advice is the best path at this point. But here are a few tips that can serve as triage in the meantime:

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Cuba Diary: San Suzie visits the 2012 Havana Biennial.

A 2012 sculpture by Alexandre Arrechea sits in the art deco lobby of the former headquarters of Bacardí Rum, built in the 1930s by architects Castells, Fernandez, and Menendez. (All photos by San Suzie.)

As just about anybody with a Gucci-clad toe in the art industry knows by now, the 11th Havana Biennial opened earlier this month to great fanfare and much speculation about what the month-long exhibit and its accompanying onslaught of American visitors means for the future of cultural relations between Cuba and the United States. Titled Artistic Practices and Social Imaginaries, the biennial is an ambitious citywide project that has attracted a host of likely and unlikely collaborators to produce Cuba’s most important collective exhibit in a decade.

As can be expected of anything artsy held in sunny, big-c Communist climes, the week of the opening was lively and crowded. The international jetset-ati parachuted into one of the oldest ports in the Americas to enjoy installations, performances, rum-fueled parties, dalliances with local working girls and a froufrou culinary-art collaboration that would cost the average Cuban a year’s salary for dishes like yuzu sailfish and guava maki. There was also so much frenzied art buying that the city seemed more like Miami Beach during art fair season than a biennial “born in the heat of a strong and vigorous national art movement.” (Or so says the breathy official website.)

A view of Havana from the main biennial venue.

In countless ways, the Havana Biennial is like most others — a bunch of art stuff thrown together in one place — and therefore held few aesthetic surprises. But it rises above the rest for the way in which the organizers have used the city’s sublime historic buildings and urban spaces. Havana was once the most important mercantile port to Spain and later the closest trading partner to the United States. Because of this, and also because the revolution halted the sort of late 20th century glass-tower development that has decimated historic neighborhoods around the world, the city retains a significant number of extraordinary buildings. Ranging in style from Spanish baroque to Art Nouveau, Neoclassical, Art Deco, and Modern, these buildings make Havana something of a living architectural museum of the Western Hemisphere.

The biennial highlights these locales and makes it possible to visit some that are usually closed to the public. There is the 18th century Spanish fortress that serves as the biennial’s main venue, as well as a crumbling Modernist ballet school and the decayed early 20th century neighborhoods used as backdrop by urban muralists. The art is nice. Some of it is thought-provoking — even enthralling. But it’s Havana’s five centuries of historic architecture that is definitely the star of this show.

The Havana Biennial is on through June 11, 2012. Plenty of pix after the jump.

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Photo Diary: Contested Visions at LACMA.

A clay sculpture of an Aztec warrior dating back to the 15th century — the first time this particular piece has been seen in the U.S.

Bring out yer dead: A detail from a painted screen depicts European notions about America, confused-looking unicorns and all. (The full screen is featured after the jump, below.)

A funerary cape crafted from the feathers of Amazonian birds, from 12-13th century Peru. Obtaining feathers, shells and materials from the furthest reaches of their empires was one of the ways that the Incas and Aztecs showed their power.

Because of various deadlines and lots of travel, we’re a little late getting up this photo essay of from LACMA’s exhibit Contested Visions, which explored the ways in which Spanish and indigenous cultures both faced off and fused in the period of colonial rule (from the 15th to the early 19th century). The show, unfortunately, has already come down, but thankfully we have this photo essay from a tour I attended with the show’s curator, Ilona Katzew. If you’re in Mexico City, expect this to land at the Museo de Historia at the Castillo de Chapultepec in July.

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Ask the Art Nurse: One word, plastic.


We have several Arman Lucite boxes with objects suspended within layers. Many of the “boxes” have yellowed. Is there someway to restore them to remove the discoloring?

Mellow Yellow


I take it that you are referring to one of the sculptural “accumulations” produced beginning in the early 1960s by the French-born American artist Pierre Armand Fernandez who went by the moniker Arman. These compositions of objects were placed by the artists either into acrylic (Lucite being a brand name for cast acrylic, much like Plexiglas) or cast directly into polyester resin.

The question here is which type of object do you have? If it’s the acrylic variety, there’s a good chance that the yellowing is a surface discoloration or even an accumulation of dirt that a conservator might just get lucky enough to be able to reverse. If it’s polyester, it’s more likely to be an irreversible photochemical condition caused by exposure to light or poor catalyzation (as in: Part A was not mixed correctly with Part B and it didn’t set right when it was made) — or any number of other factors. A pro might have a chance of reversing it, but my guess it’s more or less a snowball’s chance in hell since polyester resins, like ladies from Beverly Hills, aren’t exactly known for aging gracefully.

In any case, I don’t recommend you taking a stab at this yourself.  Chances are you’ll stain it or make the plastic cloudy or sticky — or poison yourself in the process.  This one calls for a professional.  You can find a live and willing Art Nurse in your area on the website of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

Cool looking as they are, plastics are tricky materials to safeguard. Though there are no hard and fast rules for maintaining them in museum-quality condition, one thing that always helps is keeping them away from sunlight. And heating ducts, extreme cold, dog hair, cat hair and commercial cleaners not specifically tested for the plastic in question. And whatever you do, don’t ever smoke around them, no matter how good the bud.

San Suzie

Have a question for the Art Nurse? E-mail her at suzie [at] c-monster [dot] net.


Miscellany. 08.08.11.

Havana Hot Rod: A 1957 Dodge Coronet on the street, in Cuba. (Photo by San Suzie.)

On Curls

Wigs (Portfolio), 1994, by Lorna Simpson. (Courtesy of MoMA.)

It’s my spoken rule never to actually read the New York Times Style section, just look at the pictures. But I couldn’t resist poking into Judith Newman’s essay on curly hair. As a sporter and supporter of all things big and curly, I’m always happy to see someone call the blowout mafia on the bullshit. (Seriously, formaldehyde??? That’s so Damien Hirst.) But the piece, I thought, overlooked what I think is an ethnic issue that is also tied to curly hair. We live in a society that prizes WASP standards of beauty above all. I think there’s a certainly undesirability to curly hair because it’s seen as too ethnic, too Jewish, too Latino, too Black. Too, well, unruly.

It still feels like a bit of defiance to wear hair that is big and curly. But not for simple aesthetic reasons. This story could have been an interesting dissection of what we as a society consider beautiful and why. Opportunity missed.

Now, back to looking at the pictures.

Random Linkage

  • Giovanni Garcia-Fenech is totally right. Drop whatever you’re doing and read this essay by David Levine about the destructive dissolution of the Rothko estate in Triple Canopy. It’s all kinds of fascinating and beautifully written to boot.
  • This looks like it’s going to be EPIC: Chris Burden’s Matchbox cars installation at LACMA this fall. Edward Lifson has a good automotive photo essay to go with. (Art Fag City.)
  • Press release quotes that make me snort-laugh.
  • The sex sculptures of the idle rich.
  • Danielle Steele, curator.
  • The Day in Art Merch, otherwise known as the Department of Shut the Fuck Up: Cindy Sherman make-up. Girlfriend needs to STOP.
  • A map of Warhol’s New York.
  • The sky is falling. Spiderman is biracial.
  • Wealthy sheikh hits the desert with a ginormous tag of his name.
  • Hobo QR codes.
  • Ciudad Nazca, a robot that draws a true scale map of an imaginary city onto the surface of the Peruivan desert à la Nazca Lines. This is wild.
  • A massive Richard Neutra house in Beverly Hills is spared from the wrecking ball. For now.
  • A round up of container architecture projects. (@JohnPerreault.)
  • This looks interesting: A book by Rob Nixon that examines how non-Western writers like Ken Saro-Wiwa have been left out of the environmental canon.
  • “The Quiet Despair of the Starship Enterprise.”

Haiti Report: Saving a country’s priceless murals.

Cracks in the Wall: Philomé Obim’s Last Supper at the Sainte Trinité Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, display the damage of last year’s devastating quake. (All photos by San Suzie.)

Almost one year ago today, I set foot in Haiti for the first time — six months after a 7.0 earthquake had practically leveled the capital. I was in Port-au-Prince at the request of the Smithsonian, with my colleague Viviana Dominguez, a painting conservator, to examine what remained of a series of mural paintings at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. At that point, I was quite familiar with the televised images of the devastation. I had seen the bodies lifted from the rubble and the shots of the crumpled presidential palace. But nothing quite prepared me for the state of need we saw as we drove out of the airport and into the snarl of traffic.

Everywhere around Port-au-Prince there are reminders of the devastation.

Six months after the earthquake, much of Port-au-Prince remained in ruins. Though the air was thick with the dust of demolition, many collapsed buildings still lay where they fell on January 12. The road from the airport to the cathedral was a sea of tents where people lived without running water and electricity. We saw fax machines and barber chairs set up along the sidewalk, people bathing out of buckets, cooking over charcoal fires and washing clothes in muddy urban rivulets. Because so many roads continued to be blocked by rubble, it took nearly an hour to drive just a few miles.

Sainte Trinité, as it is locally known, had once been a simple but beautiful art deco structure. In the 1950s, the building’s walls were decorated with 14 murals depicting New Testament scenes. Done by a collective of Haitian artists associated with Port-au-Prince’s Centre D’Art, these energetic, color-saturated paintings quickly became something of an international sensation — one of the must-see sites for Haitian painting. For locals, they had a deep spiritual importance because they used Haitian people and settings to illustrate the life of Christ. This went well beyond the skin color of the biblical figures. For example, in Rigaud Benoit’s Nativity, palm trees, a thatched building, baskets of pineapple, and a waterfall that bears a distinct resemblance to a local pilgrimage site frame the baby Jesus. In Wedding at Cana, artist Wilson Bigaud set the miracle of turning water into wine in a Haitian hilltop village, complete with musicians playing conga drums and flutes of local origin. (See a pre-earthquake view of some of the murals here.)

The remains of Sainte-Trinité, Port-au-Prince. At rear, Prefete Duffaut's 'Native Procession' sits behind scaffolding.

When we arrived at Holy Trinity in the summer of 2010, both Benoit’s and Bigaud’s murals had been reduced to fragments the size of my hand. Gone also were paintings of the Annunciation, Temptation of the Lord, and Crucifixion, not to mention the building’s walls, roof, and pillars. Only three murals — Castera Bazile’s Baptism, Prefete Duffaut’s Native Procession and Philomé Obin’s three-walled Last Supper — clung precariously to walls that looked about as stable as the piles of debris that surrounded them. Doused by rain and baked by the sun for six months, the paintings were starting to fade and powder. They had to come down immediately. The question was how to do it without destroying them.

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