June 7 - July 14, 2017
Fredric Snitzer Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition by the late Carlos Alfonzo. Focusing solely on works from the early 1990s, this exhibition explores Alfonzo’s dialogue with life and death as he struggled with mortality after being diagnosed with AIDS. Included in the exhibition are a series of works on paper as well as large-scale paintings from the artist’s infamous Black paintings series shown in a commercial gallery for the first time in over 10 years.
Born in Havana, Alfonzo migrated to the United States during the Mariel Boatlift in 1980. Although he hid his homosexuality in Cuba, where he worked as a state-sanctioned artist, he became openly gay once he settled in the US and used art as a means to exorcise his sense of isolation, alienation, and despair.
His approach to abstract expressionist techniques allowed him to make personal statements about his own experience while remaining ample and allusive. Although Alfonzo’s work never discloses anything explicitly ‘homosexual’, his experience does surface repeatedly. Paintings tell about a memorable sexual encounter or, increasingly, about the death from AIDS of yet another friend. Recurring symbolism and iconography becomes an important fixture in the artist’s oeuvre, taking visual shape as a sea of eyes, nail-pierced tongues, spirals, daggers, infinity signs, and teardrops conveying both violence and pain.
In his final year the work materializes after a visit from his mother –10 years have passed since they had last seen one another – with news of his father’s death. He also questions the prospect of his own life after time spent in the hospital. New symbols appear—the supplicant, a witness and disembodied, floating figures. Among this group of work are his “ Black paintings”. Although none are monochromatically black, he portrayed the human figure heavily in his work. He became obsessed with the human form, working and reworking it, discovering in each rendering in élan vital.
Despite his emergence into the national art scene in the late 1980s, Alfonzo remains a relatively obscure figure. The untimeliness of his death on the eve of national recognition has left a void in understanding the prospect of what could have been for the artist’s life and career. Although this will remain unknown, it is certain that Carlos Alfonzo holds a concrete place amongst his contemporaries.
Carlos Alfonzo’s work has been shown extensively throughout the United States with exhibitions at the 1991 Whitney Biennial, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, North Carolina; Miami Art Museum, Miami; Bass Museum of Art, Miami; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; The Lowe Museum of Art, Coral Gables; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
His work is in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, National Gallery of Art, Perez Art Museum, Smithsonian American Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art. He has two iconic public murals in South Florida: Ceremony of the Tropics (at Santa Clara Metrorail station) and Brainstorm (at the Florida International University) as a part of Miami-Dade Art in Public Places. He is also one of ten recipients of the 1990 Awards in the Visual Arts (AVA), which included works of Adrian Piper, Arnaldo Roche Rabell, and Jessica Stockholder.
Photography by Zachary Balber