After almost forty years of marriage and two decades collecting art, Iris Marcano and José Hernández Castrodad have a close link to the art community in Puerto Rico and a clear dedication to developing young people with talent whose careers are piquing the interest of art lovers in Puerto Rico and abroad.
The couple began their collection with the acquisition of an oil painting by well-known Puerto Rican artist Orlando Vallejo—the first step toward a growing acquaintance with other artists and a growing appreciation of the visual arts that has brought the couple to their current dedication to supporting emerging artists and curators.
In 2005, Marcano and Hernández Castrodad, along with artist Quintín Rivera Toro, founded the alternative art space Área: Lugar de Proyectos, in Caguas, whose goal was to promote art activities for the community. In addition, through one of the couple’s businesses, the Benjamin Moore paint franchise, the couple offers constant support for artists, providing art materials for particular works and for exhibitions in museums and art venues. They also seek whenever possible to acquire artworks from the artists themselves, in order to increase the amount the artists receive for their works. Both Área: Lugar de Proyectos and the Hernández Castrodad Collection are core elements in the art scene we know today in Puerto Rico.
Although there are other families who enthusiastically collect art in Puerto Rico, the Hernández Castrodad Collection is distinguished by its inclusion of contemporary and experimental media, leaving to others the more traditional type of collecting that centers on paintings and prints by well-known artists of the twentieth century. The Collection contains, for example, pieces of video art such as those by Myritza Castillo and Quintín Rivera Toro.
This exhibition has been conceived as a survey of Puerto Rican art of the last twenty years. As an illustration of the Collection’s diversity, MADMi is exhibiting drawings, paintings, installations, sculptures, photographs, and videos. While reflecting this variety of artistic media and concerns, the exhibit is divided into two thematic areas of exploration: humor and politics. Outside these spheres, a few works are exhibited that are not necessarily representative of the work their creators are currently engaged in, so that viewers may become familiar with other facets of the artists’ careers. Most of the works come from artists of the last two generations, proof of the support that Marcano and Hernández Castrodad are lending to emerging artists.
In Together, viewers will find colorful pieces related by their playfulness, with works by Bobby Cruz and Omar Obdulio Peña Forty, for example. Peña Forty creates portraits of important historical figures in Puerto Rico, such as artist Francisco Oller, in contemporary haircuts, thus linking his practice as a visual artist with his other profession as barber. Also included are several “ready-mades,” such as the skateboards by Chemi Rosado Seijo and Radamés “Juni” Figueroa. Rosado Seijo’s, with the book on Tite Curet, pays tribute to an icon of Puerto Rican popular culture,
Also on view are two paintings by Omar Velázquez, in whose print work we usually see openly political and economic subject matter, but in this case employing the humorous approach that sets the tone in this gallery. The pieces by Velázquez, though using bright beachy colors, center on concerns about urban sprawl, unused spaces, and city life in general, and serve as a bridge into the next gallery.
Together also presents the Garvin Sierra work Tank, a laser print with neon light on wood. Sierra is one of the first artists in Puerto Rico to work with neon. Visitors will also find other strongly sociopolitical works, among them The Bread of Wars (Los panes de las guerras) by Norma Vila, based on research on wars supported by the Catholic Church. Lilliam Nieves’ work Corona IV challenges the unattainable stereotypes and standards of beauty that Western society imposes on women and shows how the crown may become a symbol of strength and empowerment; it is a work, too, with which viewers can interact.
Another powerful work is Pedro Vélez’ Surrender Flag with Dollar Skull, or Surrender Flag with Zombie Abstraction. Done in collaboration with artist and teacher Luis M. Rodríguez, this piece is one of a series of flags that address Puerto Rico’s financial and political crisis, pointing at the same time to the current situation of art on the island. Vélez, the first artist to show his work in Área, said on that occasion, “The main subject of the exhibition is the financial disaster, credit-rating agencies [acting as] embassies for thieves and kidnappers, the creation of metaphors about vulture funds, and the white flag of surrender as a symbol of the island’s submission.”
With this exhibition of the Hernández Castrodad Collection, we offer a look into one of the most significant collections of contemporary art in Puerto Rico. Now containing 530 works, the Collection continues to grow, inspired by the couple’s passion to support the careers of Puerto Rican artists and curators with generosity and respect.