Critics’ Picks

View of “Fractura.”

View of “Fractura.”

San Juan

Freddie Mercado

La Casa de los Contrafuertes
101 Calle San Sebastián
February 1, 2020–February 28, 2022

Uncanny valley is a term coined to describe the feeling of discomfort generated by androids that look too much like human beings; The more they resemble us, the more they repulse us. Although popularized by recent advances in robotics, this effect is nothing new. Almost-humans have terrorized us for centuries, from the golem of Prague to Frankenstein’s monster.

The doubles that Freddie Mercado has installed in La Casa de Los Contrafuertes—a selection of elaborate costumes complete with masks bearing the artist’s features—provoke a similar discomfort. These other Freddies veer toward the histrionic, sordid, and disturbing. Hypersexualized and striking godlike poses, the complex characters elude categories, genders, and binaries. The figure in Terruño encarnado (Terror Incarnate, 2020) bares its belly in a colonial-era frock complemented by a vibrant green headdress resembling a bunch of ripening plantains. Bedecked with a crown of plastic soldiers, Enjambre reina (Swarm Queen, 2020) appears to be giving birth to multiple baby dolls under a voluminous black and gold striped skirt, while Androginia (Androgyny, 2020) sports a bloom of peacock feathers and large plush phalluses.

Like a tableau vivant on the verge of being set in motion, each of the eight scenes that make up the exhibition “Fractura” (Fracture) attest to Mercado’s craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail. The sculptural elements and props are flanked by canvases, which are suspended along the walls like tapestries. Painted with crude strokes of color, the portraits observe us with suspicion and haughtiness, even when the characters depicted are captured in grotesque or lurid circumstances.

Fractura” follows a series of misfortunes suffered by the artist, including the destruction of his studio and health problems that have limited his mobility. Through these others, Mercado evokes Walt Whitman’s famous declaration: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”