Despite how much he has been lauded, Narciso Rodriguez, born in New Jersey in 1961, is a humble artist far removed from the arrogance that characterizes Narcissus, that beautiful young figure of Greek mythology.
His designs and perfumes have enjoyed wide commercial appeal, and his work has been met with great success. But that’s not shocking because Rodriguez’s style is very much his own. He seems to be the only one surprised by the exhibit FIU’s Frost Art Museum has prepared as a means to honor him: “Narciso Rodriguez: An Exercise in Minimalism.”
Commissioned by Alex Gonzalez, creative director of Elle Magazine, and Klaudio Rodriguez, curator of the Frost Art Museum, the exhibit showcases 20 years of Rodriguez’s uninterrupted creative work.
“As the son of a first generation immigrant, he has impacted our contemporary culture at an international level,” said Jordana Pomeroy, director of the Frost Art Museum. She and her team worked extensively on the exhibit, which will run for three months — coinciding with Art Basel during the first days of December. “Narciso personifies the creative aspirations of influential people in today’s media and arts’ world, people who are fueling art and design in this new century.”
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The exhibit, however, does not include Rodriguez’s most emblematic designs, those that have marked his trajectory as a top fashion designer. Visitors will not find the wedding dress worn by Carolyn Bessette in 1996 when she married John F. Kennedy Jr., or the gown worn by Michelle Obama when her husband Barack Obama became the first African American president in 2008.
“It’s not an exhibit about those dresses — it’s more about my minimalist works,” said Rodriguez during an exclusive interview with el Nuevo Herald. “I’m very happy with what they’ve selected and the way in which they’re going to display it.”
“Narciso Rodriguez: An Exercise in Minimalism” focuses on the style that has characterized the designer: those simple but elegant outfits, with highly sophisticated cuts and in which neutral colors reign, specifically black and white.
“For me, everything is very Cuban because I was raised in a very Cuban style,” Rodriguez said. “One time I held a fashion show in South America, a simple runway, without much color, and a journalist asked me how I could call myself a Latino designer if my collection didn’t include ruffles or colors. I told him that for me that’s not what constitutes being Cuban or Latino. My work is very Latino. It’s deeply rooted in celebrating women and womanhood. It’s about looking at aesthetics in a different way, the simplicity and beauty of it all. ... That’s the true legacy of my Cuban roots.”
His sketches — full of magical strokes and energy, they will be on display alongside his dresses — offer insight into his creative process. The sketches are a base Rodriguez used to create many of his extraordinary designs.
And though his career has spanned more than two decades, Rodriguez says showing favoritism for any one piece is hard: “You can’t ask someone to tell you who their favorite child is, because each one is the favorite. There are so many pieces, and each one has its story. There’s a piece that I like a lot and which was very successful, and it was inspired by a mannequin I found in a recycled products store.”
The curators decided to mix Rodriguez’s pieces with the work of a series of prominent abstract artists and sculptors, who belong to the Arte Cisneros Fontanals Foundation such as Cuban artist Carmen Herrera, Brazilian artist Lygia Clark and American artist Donald Judd (the latter is one of minimalism’s most iconic figures).
They’re all characterized by the same love for simplicity, structural purity, elemental rectilinear geometry, as well as the same synthesis and order that characterize the work of the Cuban-American designer.
Rodriguez says he feels honored by the idea of combining his work with that of the other artists.
“I always think that my work is for someone to use it or to wear it. I never thought it would be put on display like this, in an exhibit, alongside the work of Carmen Herrera, who I admire so much. I’m so excited to know that her work, which she has worked on throughout all her life, will be part of this exhibition in the Frost Art Museum. It’s a great honor.”
Rodriguez also says that being Cuban-American, he wouldn’t consider taking an exhibit like the Frost’s to Cuba. He would never parade his designs as Chanel has done in “El Prado de la Habana” simply because Cuba is now trendy.
“If I could take my work to Cuba, show it in an exhibit or in a fashion show, I would like for it to help the Cuban people in some way. I wouldn’t like to do it for the publicity. It would have to serve some type of cause or help in some way.”
Alejandro Condis is a journalist, reporter, television producer and art critic.
If You Go
What: “Narciso Rodriguez: An Exercise in Minimalism”
When: Through Jan. 8 2017
Where: Florida International University’s Frost Art Museum, Modest Maidique Campus, 10975 SW 17th Street, Miami