Two pieces in the exhibit palimpsest have extra stories to tell. All the artworks subtly uncover some kind of history or tale — one definition of palimpsest is “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.” But these two pieces help reveal a little bit of the history of the artist who curated this show at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, William Cordova.
Cordova, a native of Peru who grew up in Lima and Miami, graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago, attained his MFA from Yale University and shot to national prominence after being accepted into the Whitney Biennial in 2008. His work can be found in the Guggenheim and Whitney museums in New York and here at MOCA, among other institutions. Aside from creating art, which spans from large-scale sculpture to small paintings, drawings, collages and video, Cordova also curates shows in an effort to give exposure to underrated and overlooked artists.
But back to the two pieces in palimpsest. One is a simple page of gray notebook paper in a wooden frame with pencil markings that are barely, if at all, legible. It’s from a series from the self-taught artist and hometown favorite Purvis Young, who died in 2010. The other is a colorful row of index cards from 1994, with discreet images that look like abstract postcards, from Gary Moore.
“They were the first artists of color I saw,” Cordova, 42, says of the two African-Americans, and they influenced him when he started to dabble in art in the late 1980s while studying at Miami-Dade Community College (as MDC was then called) North Campus under artist and teacher Robert Thiele. “I had not seen or ever been exposed to contemporary artists of color until I saw Purvis Young and Gary Moore’s work. This gave me the confidence to pursue the arts. I too could be an artist!”
Initially he worked small-scale like Moore, in postcard-sized drawing and painting that was grounded in his exploration of cultures, transplantation of peoples and individuals, the diverse nature of the societies that make up the Americas.
Along with other artists such as Luis Gispert, John Espinosa and Gean Moreno, and recent arrivals from Cuba in the 1990s, Cordova was part of a core group of a new generation of artists who would transform Miami into a budding art town.
By 2003 he was also making huge sculptures, such as the one commissioned by MOCA, machu picchu after dark, which incorporated large speakers and vinyl records but also included architectural elements alluding to Andean and Afro-Peruvian culture. Cordova reworked this piece several times over the years, and a version is currently at the Seattle Art Museum.
For the Whitney, Cordova recreated a room-size scaffold of a house made of wooden beams, called The House That Frank Lloyd Built 4 Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, a politically infused title that refers to a house where two Black Panthers were killed.
Cordova finished another massive sculpture that first went to La Conservera in Murcia, Spain, in 2011, and a version will be headed to the Studio Museum of Harlem, another amalgam of cultures, including pop. yawar mallku is a wooden replica of the Falcon spaceship from Star Wars. It’s a “meditation on the African, Andean and Asian diasporas that have influenced Star Wars cosmology through allegory, history and mythology,” he explains.