August 2008, Quisqueya Henriquez @ Miami Art Museum

 Installation view, Quisqueya Henriquez, courtesy Miami Art Museum  

The World Outside
A Survey Exhibition 1991-2007
Quisqueya Henriquez at Miami Art Museum

Quisqueya Henriquez’s retrospective at Miami Art Museum (MAM) is a maze of hermetic multidisciplinary objects and images related to her Caribbean origins, and a particular blend of popular and meditative sensibilities that is nuanced , humorous and transcendent. And if art's purpose is to synthesize and distill meaning from daily experience, then her work is unusually successful.

Henriquez’s oeuvre is wildly diverse: from photographs of discarded, balled-up articles of clothing (2001) and scoops of weirdly-colored ice cream (2002), to photo collages of baseball-related figures cut into doll-like patterns (2007) , balls from various sports, dis-assembled and presented as helmets, bowls, bracelets, etc. (2001)to a series of colorful handmade exercise and barbell weights (2006). (among a LOT of other things including paper, photos, collage, video, concrete, furniture …)

The common thread(s) seem to be the use of popular images, objects and colors (i.e. the same riotous and often overwhelming Caribbean palette is echoed in much of the work; but in a way that refines that palette into something with a carefully worked beauty); and in a way that retains a direct connection with it s popular and accessible roots.

  Installation view, Quisqueya Henriquez, courtesy Miami Art Museum

Henriquez transforms these images and references into art objects that seem to stand on their own in a kind of pure , highly visual way. The magic is that they keep their references, and simultaneously rise to a higher occasion. And because what we see is consistently made of images and objects that are very accessible, they elevate the everyday, popular and poor, to something of greater appreciation, for art world types no less than for people who are more closely connected to these cultural references.

And in a show of this scale, it is very clear, thanks to photos that show rag-tag Dominican Street Scenes, makeshift outdoor sleeping places and graffiti, that this artist's concern for the aesthetics of poverty, is as consistent as the use of the everyday, and the colors of the unselfconscious classes who generally exist way beyond the shadow cast by the Contemporary Art Industry.

What seems a bit different here from the early New York ‘Ash Can School’, Rauschenberg's Combines or the Arte Povera movement is that unlike these earlier movements where humble scenes , materials and methods of presentation were meant to show that art of value could be made of and about simple, humble and poor subjects and material, here it looks as though the poor are at least part of the artist's intended audience. And because, perhaps especially in a retrospective like this, we wind up getting a pretty broad , nearly anthropological, view of people, their objects and their environment.

  Installation view, Quisqueya Henriquez, courtesy Miami Art Museum

Henriquez gives the impression that her work is meant at least as much to validate the aesthetic experience of poor people and to generate images and objects that respond to their cultural context, as it is to refine these things into ones that easily pass the ‘art’ test.

Her ability to carry a message to both sides of (an ever higher) wall (between the rich and the poor) is a vindicating one for a highly commercial and self-absorbed art world. Her ability to do this without patronizing either side of the wall is what gives this show it s honest strength.

David Rohn

David Rohn grew up in the suburbs of New York, the city in which he lived during most of the ’70’s and ’80’s. After studying Architecture, Art and Urbanism at NYU, the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Pratt Institute, he moved to Miami where in 1995 he began to exhibit paintings, videos, installations, and performances. Currently associated with Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, Miami, his work has reached museums and collections both public and private. David Rohn has contributed art reviews to Art Press (Paris), The Sun Post (Miami), Art Papers (Atlanta), and TWN (Miami-now defunct), and online publications TuMiami, MAEX and ARTLURKER. For more information please visit:

view all articles from this author