Critics’ Picks

View of Suzi Ferrer’s Portrait in Six Dimensions, 1973, Acetate ink and mixed media on Plexiglas, 60 x 19 x 1/4".

View of Suzi Ferrer’s Portrait in Six Dimensions, 1973, Acetate ink and mixed media on Plexiglas, 60 x 19 x 1/4".

San Juan

Suzi Ferrer

Museo de Arte y Diseño de Miramar | MADMi
607 Calle Cuevillas
September 18, 2021–March 19, 2022

In a passage from Velázquez, the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset mocks those who think that history is shaped like a reef, as if information were washed up by the tide. Undoubtedly, this paradigm suits the status quo: Rather than comply with dominant interests, the historiographical canon is established through a—presumably impartial—process of sedimentation.

However, the manner in which the image of an era is formed or in which forgotten artists are recovered is much more arbitrary and even haphazard. This retrospective seeks to shed new light on the decade-long career of Suzi Ferrer (1940–2006), focusing on the years the American artist lived in Puerto Rico. Curator Melissa M. Ramos Borges undertook an almost archaeological endeavor to restage installations from the 1970s—works that had been shown only once or twice publicly and then languished unseen for decades.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically to reveal the rapid evolution of Ferrer’s interests: from the art brut painting of the mid-1960s (drippings, earth tones, the undeniable influence of Abstract Expressionism) to the more markedly political, feminist, decolonial, and antimilitarist works of the 1970s. The artist drew liberally from the religious iconography Catholicism had brought to Puerto Rico—as is evident in The Nudelman Altarpiece, 1972, a collection of suspended paintings on transparent Plexiglas featuring scenes such as the ecstasy of St. Teresa, the temptation of St. Anthony, and the martyrdom of St. Sebastian—but Ferrer injects it with hypersexuality. Wide hips, large breasts, ubiquitous genitalia, and pornographic poses mix with the floods of text that reappear throughout the artist’s work alongside surprisingly agile drawings. Another admirable reconstruction is the installation Portrait in Six Dimensions, 1973, consisting of six Plexiglas silhouettes hanging by their necks. Each summarizes a cliché of femininity conceived by the dominant patriarchy. Ferrer’s artistic career was brief and primarily linked to her years in Puerto Rico. While she may never be prominent in any canon, the history of art is occasionally satisfied with those small grains that gather on the reef.

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.