Wilfredo Prieto, Untitled, 2008, pen on paper, 10 5/8 x 14 3/8".

Wilfredo Prieto, Untitled, 2008, pen on paper, 10 5/8 x 14 3/8".

Wilfredo Prieto


Wilfredo Prieto, Untitled, 2008, pen on paper, 10 5/8 x 14 3/8".

Wilfredo Prieto is mostly known for his sculptures, installations, and performances, but, like most other artists, he has also produced a good many drawings over the course of his career, many of them related to his better-known work. Although his drawings have occasionally been included in his exhibitions, “Café hecho por Di” (A Coffee Made by Di) was the first to focus on them entirely. This show included 150 small untitled drawings (some of them dating as far back as the Cuban artist’s student years, others quite recent) and a single vast one, some thirty feet long. What stands out more than any individual work, however, is the difference between Prieto the draftsman and Prieto the sculptor. The crux of his work as the latter is always his surprising use of materials, exemplified in his celebrated exhibition at the Barcelona branch of NoguerasBlanchard in 2007, when he gathered all the dust in the exhibition space under a long red carpet. But whereas Prieto’s sculptures are physical and expansive, his drawings are conceptual and concise, consisting of basic forms made with the utmost simplicity, sometimes including words or phrases. Like the drawings of Bruce Nauman or Nedko Solakov, Prieto’s say a lot with little; all three artists, though very different from one another, share a certain plainness of expression. The materials Prieto uses in his drawings are basic: ballpoint and felt-tip pens and pencil. The motifs he examines may sometimes be the same as in his sculptures—one drawing, dated 2006, depicts a bar of soap, a smear of grease, and a banana, the elements used in one of Prieto’s most famous works, Grasa, jabón y plátano, also from 2006—but the results could not be more different. The drawing shows something that exists as an immaterial hypothesis, whereas the sculpture confronts its viewer with real physical stuff that commands a visceral response.

Paradoxically, the contrast between Prieto’s drawings and his sculptures becomes even starker when one learns that many of the drawings are directly related to his installations (Ascendent Line, 2008, produced for the Frieze Art Fair, and Apolítico, for the 2003 edition of the Havana Biennial, for instance). While it is true that some of these drawings can be seen as simply sketches for sculptures, most of them formulate a different and complementary approach, precisely by showing the underlying ideas as concisely as possible. This interplay of opposites was particularly evident in the single large drawing in the show, a frieze on which Prieto has sketched motifs relating to all of his sculptural projects up through 2010, a kind of conceptual summa that reflected this familiar material through the most basic of mediums.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.