Critics’ Picks

View of Juan Andrés Milanés Benito’s Potemkin Village, 2020. National Museum of Architecture, Oslo. Photo: Kristine Magnesen.

View of Juan Andrés Milanés Benito’s Potemkin Village, 2020. National Museum of Architecture, Oslo. Photo: Kristine Magnesen.

Oslo

Juan Andrés Milanés Benito

NoPlace
Oslo gate 2b 0192
October 8–November 25, 2020

This October, Potemkin Village was unveiled in central Oslo. The sculpture, by Cuban-born artist Juan Andrés Milanés Benito, consists of deconstructed columns, walls, and other elements fashioned after the neoclassical building it abuts: the National Museum of Architecture, designed by Christian H. Grosch and completed in 1830. Standing in the pristine public square next to Milanés Benito’s augmentation—commissioned by the artist-run gallery Noplace, the National Museum, and the Oslo Municipality—I thought about the first iteration of Potemkin Village, shown in last year’s state-funded Havana Biennale. According to the artist, the Cuban authorities denied his request to prop his work against the governmental Hispanic American Culture Center, the censorship apparatus he was protesting and whose façade he had replicated. Looking at images of the work as it was realized, the effect of the Havana Potemkin Village is still striking: A perfect, cream-colored doorway leans against a crumbling real-life counterpart that is practically in ruins, like a spare part brought in way too late.

The term “Potemkin village” refers to artificial constructions that suggest a country is doing better than is actually the case. Norway—repeatedly deemed the “best country in the world to live in” by the United Nations—is an interesting place to erect such a structure. There’s no gaping visual gap between Grosch’s monumental building and the Styrofoam and epoxy pieces of pediment and columns standing in front of it. Why, one could reasonably ask, go to all the trouble of making an elaborate cover-up of something that’s arguably in fine condition as is? Perhaps to make a slightly subtler point than in Havana: That you should beware when the façade and the full structure become indistinguishable.