New York

Pedro Perez

Marilyn Pearl Gallery

In 1966, when Pedro Perez was 15, he and his family moved from Cuba to Florida. Unlike many exiles and refugees, he chose not to assimilate, though not out of nostalgia for his past. He studied art in college and graduate school and pursued a career as an artist. Although his work has gone through several phases since he began exhibiting in New York in 1982, he has continued to make paintings and sculptures that are expressive investigations of being an exile from both Cuban and American culture.

The five mixed-media sculptures shown here were made between 1985 and ’88. The most recent of these suggest that he has not only begun to accept his cultural anomie but has also deepened his understanding of it. In doing so, he has found ways to go beyond his marginalized state without trying to make mainstream art or rejecting his lifelong sources.

Perez has placed working clocks and used 22-carat gold leaf in all five pieces. He has also incorporated a variety of disparate objects (umbrellas, magnifying lenses, mirrors, beer bottles, light bulbs, velvet curtains, etc.) mixed together with such materials as modeling paste, papier-mâché, sand, and wood. These colorful, garish works bring to mind reliquaries, votive objects, and altars, but, to subvert the sentiments and nostalgia associated with such heavily inscribed religious objects, Perez evokes a broad range of emotional stances—including anger, accusation, and humor—and comes up with increasingly unpredictable combinations of elements. He has, in effect, made self-reflexive fetish objects.

Art Police, 1985–86, the oldest work in the show, consists of several parts. On the wall is a large acrylic on canvas mounted atop a narrow, black wooden bench, to which is attached an umbrella, an abstract sculpted form, and a small dioramalike scene that projects slightly from the edge of the bench. In front of these are a miniature “barnyard”—featuring a black picket fence, the upper half of a clock-face, and five green-beaked black papier-mâché roosters wearing sunglasses—and a lone rooster on a tiny platform with wheels. Perez has written a slogan on the edge of the shelf supporting the diminutive diorama’s two comic figures: “Stop the Crime of BAD ART—Call the ART POLICE.” The accusation points in two directions simultaneously: at the art world (its institutions of power and its bystanders) and at the artist and his work.

The Tombstone of the Lump of Meat, 1987, represents a new stage in Perez’s development. It is quieter in tone and reveals many more layers of meaning than anything the artist has previously exhibited. The sculpture consists of a low bridgelike platform, on either end of which is a T-shaped bar supporting a pulley system that unites the entire work. The pulley is used to move a large gilded sailboat mounted on wheels back and forth through the houselike structure that occupies the middle of the platform. The facade of the “house,” also covered with gold leaf, is studded with protruding lights and features two clockfaces and two archways whose borders are stenciled with the title phrase. Two dozen unopened beer bottles are arranged in orderly fashion in groups of six, flanking each archway. This Rube Goldberg-like contraption evokes both the dilemma of existing in the emotional no-man’s-land betwixt and between two cultures, and the pointlessness and alienating routine of so much of life in an industrialized nation. By exploring such interiorized territory, Perez has entered a new stage in his highly resonant art.

John Yau