Juana Valdes: Mettre Noir Sur Blanc

On view: July 3 – August 1, 2015

Guttenberg Arts Gallery 

All images courtesy of the artist and Guttenberg Arts

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“Juana Valdes: Mettre Noir Sur Blanc” at Guttenberg Arts Gallery (installation view)

In Juana Valdes’ solo exhibition “Mettre Noir Sur Blanc” (literal translation: “to put black on white”), the artist invites the viewer to ponder the history of global trade through the display of china and other domestic wares she collected for this show. A multi-media installation artist trained in Western post-Modern philosophy and with backgrounds in sculpture and printmaking, Valdes presents a Duchampian project in which the artist’s selected objects become the art. Each of the domestic wares presented embodies the cultural values of its time and place, reflecting aesthetic and economic decisions made by the manufacturer and by various consumers throughout its existence. Having exhibited art installations with maps, ships, sails and various other media in the past, Valdes continues with her latest project to explore transculturation, pigmentocracy, history and memory.

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Juana Valdes, An inherent view of the world
Year: 2015- ongoing
Dimension: 7’ x 8’ x 16” (Size Varies)
Medium: Collected decorative objects made of porcelain, bone china, glass, and wood documented as still life settings.

Valdes began exploring the manufacture and import/export of china throughout history during her ceramics residency in Holland in 2012. She discovered that the first corporation ever formed – and the model for many of today’s businesses – was a Dutch trading company created in 1602 for selling china from Asia to European countries. The Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) was the first public company to issue negotiable shares, and its hugely successful trade with Asian countries made the Dutch a major global commercial trader. The profitable business of making and selling china for export as well as domestic use spread throughout the world by other companies, and Valdes displays examples of china made in different countries and time periods in the centerpiece of her show, An Inherent View of the World (2015 – ongoing).

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Juana Valdes, An inherent view of the world (detail)

Beautifully and wittily arranged on a tall, multi-layered table Valdes built herself using the variety of home construction materials available at Home Depot, these domestic wares reveal a surprising wealth (pun intended) of information about economics, migration, colonialism, valuation, aesthetics, collecting, selling and even women’s history. At one point in the chain of all the economic activity in global trade is the women who purchased and used the china as vessels for food, drink and other sustenance, and Valdes encourages us to think about how the design and decoration of the domestic wares each woman chose for her home provided her children with their first aesthetic experience.

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“Juana Valdes: Mettre Noir Sur Blanc” at Guttenberg Arts Gallery (installation view)

On the walls are images of other pieces of china Valdes has collected as a part of this project.

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Juana Valdes, Untitled Still Life -2
Year: 2014
Dimension: 24” x 30”
Medium: Digital print of Arches BFK paper
Edition: A/P 1/3

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Juana Valdes, Untitled Still Life-1
Year: 2014
Dimension: 24” x 30”
Medium: Digital print of Arches BFK paper
Edition: A/P 1/3

The exhibition title obliquely refers to the history of trade and colonialism, which invariably resulted in skewed racial relations between darker-skinned people and the lighter-skinned. It is also a way of referring to the act of making a contract and a phrase that evokes the act of writing and storytelling. Like experiencing the art of Tino Sehgal, viewing Valdes’ exhibition is a poetic, rewarding undertaking that encourages active participation and personal reflection as well as re-examination of what art can be.

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“Juana Valdes: Mettre Noir Sur Blanc” at Guttenberg Arts Gallery (installation view)

Juana Valdes completed her M.F.A. in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in 1993 and her B.F.A. in Sculpture at Parsons School of Design in 1991. She was born in Cabañas, Pinar Del Rio, Cuba and came to the United States in1971. Ms. Valdeswork has been including in exhibitions at the Hudson River Museum, Art in General, El Museo del Barrio, WhiteBox Gallery, Bronx River Art Center, P.S.1 Contemporary Art, Center and Paul Sharpe Contemporary Art, and Nohra Haime Gallery, Newark Museum’s, The Caribbean Abroad: Contemporary Artists and Latino Migration, Un-staged at Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam, D’ailleurs – I Won’t Play Other to Your Sameat Galerie Art & Essai, University Rennes, France and many international venues in Holland, Germany, Australia, Belgium, France, and Poland. Ms. Valdes’ includes in the Newark Museum’s permanent collection and many private collections throughout the United States.