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The Phillips Collection features projections and sculptural portraits by the Los Carpinteros collective
Los Carpinteros, Retráctil (still), 2018. Single-channel HD video, sound © Los Carpinteros, Courtesy KOW, Berlin 17:06 min.

WASHINGTON, DC.- In its 10th year of Intersections contemporary art projects, The Phillips Collection presents the 28th installation: Cuba Va! by Los Carpinteros, an artist collective best known for merging architecture, sculpture, design, and drawing. On view October 10, 2019–January 12, 2020, the project features two single-channel HD video projections—Comodato and Rétractil—and a group of sculptural portraits. Together, the films and portraits outline social transformations in post-revolutionary Cuba, offering critical commentary of dominant ideologies and power structures. Cuba Va! is Los Carpinteros’s first museum presentation as a collective since their separation in summer 2018.

“We are thrilled to host Los Carpinteros’s Cuba Va! as our 28th Intersections exhibition. Their decadeslong collaborative work, characterized by formal and conceptual ambiguity and implicitly political narratives, plays into Duncan Phillips’s vision of bringing together artists from all corners of the world,” said Dr. Dorothy Kosinski, Vradenburg Director and CEO of The Phillips Collection.

"This will be Los Carpinteros’s first museum project as a collective since they split last year after 26 years of working together,” explains Dr. Vesela Sretenović, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Phillips. “Although the artists decided to pursue their individual careers, this presentation of their collaborative works will continue the Phillips’s tradition of ‘firsts’ by staging a new beginning of the long celebrated Cuban collective.”

Comodato (2018), a 22-minute video projection, captures a range of interiors of Cuban domestic spaces. Gradually shifting from affluent homes to modest ones, and ending with homes in some of the poorest communities, Comodato questions the classless status of Cuban society. Rétractil (2018), a 17-minute-long projection, presents the confession of poet Heberto Padilla, forced to publicly denounce his criticisms of the Cuban government in the 1970s. In Comodato, images flow seamlessly throughout the different interiors with great beauty and sadness, and in Rétractil—shot in black-and-white—a bleak narrative unfolds by way of a nouveau realism-style documentary. By screening the films on opposite sides of an enclosed gallery, Los Carpinteros confront the personal and public sides of life in all shades, from gentle to violent and rich to poor, raising questions about the unsettling relationship between the two and the social responsibility of the individual.

The videos are accompanied by newly created groups of three-dimensional portraits of elderly, common citizens rendered in the heroic style of Cuban revolutionaries, such as Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. The portraits mix elements of pop art with social realism, genres that strove to achieve populism and mass appeal, the former to consumerist culture and the latter to socialist ideals.

The title of the exhibition, Cuba Va!, is a riff of the 1970s popular song by the Experimental Sound Collective that at that time expressed a revolutionary calling and faith in the future. “It echoes a sense of irony and nostalgia that are hallmarks of Los Carpinteros’s work, while highlighting the living contradiction of Cuba—idealism and disillusionment, humanism and terror,” says Sretenović. Mixing aesthetic execution with political underpinning, the subversive artworks of Los Carpinteros remain equivocal and open-ended.

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