At twenty-eight, Yoan Capote is about the same age as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg when they first attracted critical attention. The Cuban-born artist, who lives and works in Havana, has received a great deal of critical support, including awards and fellowships, curatorial recognition, and private patronage. Last fall Capote came to the US and had his first solo exhibit Anímica: New Sculpture and Drawings at the George Adams Gallery in New York (November 5 – December 30, 2004). During that time his sculpture was included in New Installations, Artists in Residence: Cuba at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, a show that highlighted a group of artists whose work has found global resonances. Following the opening of his solo exhibit in New York, Capote was invited by the Bemis Arts Center in Omaha to produce several sculptures.
Trained at the Instituto Superior de Arte de La Habana (ISA), under the guidance of the visual artist René Francisco Rodríguez, Capote learned the value of creating art with contemporary sociological underpinnings. Together with thirteen fellow students, he formed the groundbreaking group DUPP (Desde una pragmática pedagógica). Their collaborative sculpture won a UNESCO Prize at the 7th Havana Biennial in 2000.
Drawing on experiential references in everyday life, the artist’s work continues to build on the art-and-life explorations of DUPP. Capote’s sculptures look back somewhat on the conceptual codes in Magritte’s paintings, the sensuality of Louise Bourgeois’s object-installations, and the mundane sociological particularities of life in Havana. His work –sculpture, drawings, and paintings made after the sculpture is finished– is both humorous and serious. In tapping humor, a basic ingredient in Cuban artistic expression, his work connects with the collective imagination, thereby enabling him to find creative outlets for seemingly irresolvable predicaments.
These qualities are inherent in Stress, Racional (Rational), Casados I (Married I) and Casados II (Married II), among other works in the George Adams exhibit. Stress features five concrete blocks, one on top of the other, each supported by individual rows of hundreds of teeth in bronze. The sculpture has multiple points of reference: it alludes to the non-descriptive blocks of Post-Revolutionary architecture defining the new city, makes an ironic commentary on the high levels of stress characteristic of urban life, and bases its repeated, geometric forms on minimalist heritage. During visits to a dental clinic, the artist was told that much of Havana’s citizens grind their teeth, the artist included. In Stress, Capote has succeeded in objectifying that phenomenon.
Racional is a plaster torso of a male figure whose penis is formed like a brain. Drawing on art historical sources from the academy to surrealism and postmodernism, Racional communicates, in a humorous and unexpected way, the need for tempered consideration in the pursuit of sexual pleasures –thereby perhaps mitigating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases common to contemporary societies.
Casados I (men’s and women’s leather shoes) and Casados II (men’s leather shoes) are among the most playful works featuring handcrafted shoes as sculpture. In each grouping, two single shoes are featured along with a pair that is joined by creating an elongated middle area. Shoes have intimate references –they are among the first things we see at the start and end of the day. Aside from their primary function of protecting the wearer, they now question relationships concerning gender, pairing, and separateness. Capote’s maximum references clothed in minimum forms are visually and intellectually evocative.