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.
These days, Cordova splits his time between Miami and the various international locations where he has artist residencies. Most recently that was Berlin; in 2014 it will be California. In the meantime he organized an art auction for Arts for Learning, a local nonprofit that focuses on artistic development of underprivileged kids, that runs Nov. 4-17. It includes art from his old colleagues Gispert and Espinosa along with Los Carpinteros, Jose Bedia, Lou Anne Colodny, Glexis Novoa and Young. Cordova’s work will be in the November show at the Studio Museum of Harlem, and he and Novoa will have a duo exhibition at the Bridge Red gallery — partially run by his old mentor Robert Thiele — during Art Basel.
And he put together palimpsest, the lovely, complex group show that features a wide variety of artists — younger and older, men and women, different races and backgrounds — that opened earlier in October.
These are unassuming works at first glance, rather quiet and subdued in coloring and size. There’s a delicate ink on paper from recent New World School of the Arts grad Dona Altemus, and a fabulous mixed-media painting hanging from the ceiling from Salvatore La Rosa, a veteran artist who has been painting often in the shadows for decades.
“I want the shows [he curates] to reflect generations of talent,” Cordova says. “I want to acknowledge the pioneers, those who have been working here for years. And also the new generation, those who are not influenced by the mainstream” and the market, he explains about the choices of artists. None of the art is made specifically for this show. Cordova makes studio visits and talks with artists and eventually picks out work that will fit with a loose theme.
This time, that theme is of traces or markings of things, lives, histories that remain mostly hidden but still can be discovered. The works from the 10 artists are mostly abstract, made from an interesting assortment of materials. The “traces” are more obvious in some works than others.
While Cordova emphasizes diversity in age, gender and cultural backgrounds, he also wants to keep a continuum in the exhibits he curates (he has created several in the last couple years here, including last year’s Art Basel show at the ArtCenter/South Florida). To that end he often shows the same artists, in this case for instance he brought back Yanira Collado and her partially “redacted” lines of texts on book pages made of fabric. And Leslie Hewitt, who is also represented by his New York gallery, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., who makes photography-based sculptures that explore architectural histories.
Throughout the years, Cordova has collaborated with Cuban-born artist Novoa, and will again for the Art Basel show at Bridge Red, which opens Dec. 1. It will include video, photography, film, sculpture and site-specific painting. But “it’s also work that has rarely been seen by any public,” Cordova says. “We think it important to open up the conversation within our communities that defy categorization and the limits often set up by art markets or ourselves.”