Manolo PascualCabeza de rinoceronte
Marcos LoraEntre Ítaca y San Borondón, 1997
Raquel PaiewonskyLevitando a solo un pie, 2003
Marcos LoraPuente, 1995
Jorge PinedaAfro, 2006
Pascal MeccarielloLa silla de Pilatos, 2002
Jorge PinedaNiña tatuada, 2001
Bismarck VictoriaMáquina blanqueadora, 2001

During the second half of the 19th century it began to take shape in the Dominican Republic. It was a national art form that though mainly expressed through pictorial art, counted on an essential exponent in the field of sculpture: Abelardo Rodriguez Urdaneta. The coming modernization process occurred all along different events, such as the U.S. occupation of the country between 1916 and 1924, and the establishment of the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo who, held power from 1930 to 1961.

In that atmosphere, the reinforcement of the nationalist potential that paved the way for the emergence of a late artistic vanguard –once compared to similar processes that occurred in some other countries of the region– which played an important role in the recognition and affirmation of the country’s identity come to pass. It is worth mentioning the name of Celeste Woss Gil in pictorial art among the pioneering figures of the time.

In 1942, with the founding of the National School of Fine Arts, the teaching of sculpture became quite important and the first local sculptors were formed. The large emigration of European exiles (especially Spaniards), between 1939 and 1941, was also a major event for the development of this expression.

Beyond his teaching, Spanish sculptor Manolo Pascual, the first director of the National School of Fine Arts, displayed a fruitful personal labor which included working with traditional materials and the introduction of polychrome wood and metal, a material he managed to master in the accents of modernity that he gave to the sculpture art.

Pascual proved to have a unique sensitivity to the distinctive elements of the national Dominican and Caribbean culture, its ethnic background and popular traditions. To his modernist vocation, he added the richness of the language of avant-gardism and reached a high level of stylization in its formal structures, up to the threshold of abstract expression.

Another young Spanish artist, Antonio Prats Ventós, is the link of continuity between the generations of exiled artists that entered the plastic culture of the island. During the first stage of his career, Prats Ventós fostered interest in human Dominican types, in addition to treating the religious theme in pieces that seem to be inspired on the local tradition of wood-carved saints, as a conscious expression of an affirmation proposal of national identity. In these thematic preferences, and in the artistic appreciation of the local timber wealth, lie his contributions to the Dominican sculpture of the 1940s and 50s.

Domingo Liz, Luichy Martinez Richiez and Antonio Toribio form the most outstanding triad of exponents of modern Dominican sculpture that ever emerged from the National School of Fine Arts, where an avant-garde move towards abstraction was planned as the 1950s were already rolling on. Amidst all that, the Trujillo dictatorship was breaking out again.

The death of Leónidas Trujillo (May 1961) opened a new phase in the Dominican Republic. The so-called “democratic transition” that was supposed to begin by the end of the dictatorship turned out to be a tumultuous period. Events such as the 1963 military coup, the heroic leftist resistance, the invasion and subsequent occupation by U.S. troops, were answered in the cultural life of the nation with the emergence of numerous artistic groups with a strong social activism, practical and theoretical props of the most advanced thinking, figuratively speaking.

Despite the complex context of economic crisis, social instability and disruption, crucial to the development of art and culture and some of its most important institutions, the Dominican sculpture continues its process of renewal. It is noticeable the work of new artists such as Ramiro Matos, who together with Domingo Liz and Antonio Toribio, in addition to the new contributions of Ventós Prats, smoothened out the path for the further U-turn the sculptural art in the country was about to take.

It is of paramount importance to highlight two of Ventós’ key works within the framework of the Dominican sculpture of the period: “Procession of angels for a dead statue” (1969), and “The Forest” (1973). This piece, despite the conventional material and technical limits of woodcarving, points to a more complex concept given the effective combination of volumes, and the importance conferred to the space as an interconnection element among the components of the work.

However, it is artist Soucy de Pellerano the egregious example of the transition to a new sculpture in the Dominican art scene. His metal structures, incorporating scrap iron and mechanical performance gears, provide mobility and life to the pieces. These practices defined his affiliation with kinetic art, which was spreading all over Europe, in many places in Latin America, and in the poetics of the new French realism of those years.

As a genuine harbinger of an extended concept of sculptural art fairly evident through her installation-prone, engaging and interdisciplinary doing, Soucy de Pellerano knew how to give a tone of social criticism to the development project that by that time was intended to be carried out in her country. Her name deserves to be labeled as the highest expression of sculptural art in Dominican Republic in a period that stretched out to the second half of the 1980.

As in most underdeveloped countries in our region, the option of immigrating to the United States becomes a usual alternative for the poorer classes. At the same time, the Dominican Republic is a permanent inbound destination of Haitian migration which provides a more radical internal note of inequality and poverty. The particular duality of the migratory phenomenon, the complex problem of ethnic self-recognition, and the graveness of social circumstances, such as violence, abuse and defenselessness of women and children, body organ trafficking, and the like, weave a cobweb of issues whose impact is reflected in culture and art, especially in those expressions that support an attitude of criticism and commitment to the nation.

In the institutional system, there were circumstances that favor the evolution of art during this period. Here we find, for example, the reactivation of the National Biennial of Plastic Arts (1979), and the “Eduardo Leon Jimenes” National Art Contest (1981). In the same breath, there is the gradual growth in the number of galleries, where the Art Nouveau Center(1982) holds a relevant position for its avant-garde profile since it supports the promotion and marketing of pop-art, besides the outstanding work of the Gallery of Modern Art (founded in the mid-60), which turned later on into the Museum of Modern Arts of Santo Domingo, and whose board paved the way for the execution of an event of particular significance for the Dominican art: the Biennial of the Caribbean Biennial.

To the abovementioned aspects, it should be added the increasing participation of Dominican artists in other exhibitions and international events which panned out to be areas of confrontation and encouragement, such as the Havana Biennial. Last but not least, there was the foundation in 1983 of the Altos de Chavon School of Design. This center of private sponsorship is supported on cutting-edge pedagogical conceptions, plus a broad and updated perspective on artistic creation processes.

That was the cultural context of the Generation 80 group, the emblem to raise awareness through group exhibits towards the many creators that were formed in the context of that decade, and in which young artists, as well as beneficiaries of this strategic promotional alliance, became conscious of the benefits of a group spirit that allowed them the confrontation of ideas and experiences, let alone the opportunity of generating ideas that were not influenced by the budgets of an artistic market clearly interested in the most conventional and accommodating languages. Those artists, having a stronger poetical conception who had belonged to Generation 80, along with some other graduates of the Altos de Chavon School of Design, became within the course of the 1990 and the beginning of new millennium, outstanding figures of the current Dominican art.

Most of them opted to develop a creation that went deeper into the cultural background, while increasing the formal options by means of profitable hybrid languages, whereby a harmonious bond tended to forge the discourse of the installation. It is precisely in this context that the vital segment of the Dominican sculptural contemporary art meets its continuity, expansion and consolidation: Bismarck Victoria, Tony Capellán, Pascal Meccariello, Johnny Bonnelly, Mónica Ferreras, Belkis Ramirez, Raquel Paiewonsky, Marcos Lora and Jorge Pineda.

Some of these artists are born sculptors as Victoria Bismarck, who has preferred to work with the volumetric uniqueness of the piece, but incorporating the common object or the component of pure sculptural elaboration in an environment that involves the engagement of other media, such as photography, painting and the occupation of the space itself, in an interest of full museum design that has close ties with the inclusive spirit of the installation doing (especially notice her “Whitening machine” one of the most interesting works of the artist, made in 2001).

Others, like Tony Capellan, downplay the action on the everyday object, choosing most of the times an accumulative process with mountings that are usually spread out in gallery space on discursive frameworks that stress three-dimensionality and make the best of this sort of repetition game. All this in the service of efficient communication of works dealing with social issues involving masses (“Caribbean Sea”, “Land of Sunshine”, “Target Shooting”, “Organ’s market” are key examples of Capellán’s poetics).

Artists such as Johnny Bonnelly, Pascal Meccariello and Marcos Lora, have also worked with the common object out of the home environment and / or drawn by hand, in accordance with their placement in showcases or retable of an obvious sculptural vocation. Johnny Bonnelly stands closer to that crafting expression that characterizes his sculptures of medium and large format in terms of color, texture, composition and ensembles. (“The ciguapa’s erotic trip”, in 1987, and a recent work, “Po po popular art” in 2006, portray these characteristics as well as the purification and maturity level that his artistic discourse has been reaching.)

While Pascal Meccariello is addressing an increasing diversity of materials, even when dealing with the body through manipulated photography, he conceives the support of the human body as a sort of “biological sculpture” and resorts to light boxes, easels and dissimilar elements forming resolved compositions like altars (notice “Sings of a soul” of 1997, which allows him to consolidate those mystical atmospheres so closely related to the spiritual and intimate reflections which are the centerpiece of his poetry).

Meanwhile, Marcos Lora uses a kind of original craftsmanship, based on its cultural roots to produce yawls, so recurrent in his works, following a procedure similar to that the one used by indigenous people to build the canoes they used to sail the Caribbean Sea with. (The works presented by this artist in the 4th and 5th Havana Biennials are well known.) Moreover, it is his personal way of installing what gives a sculptural character to the pieces and scenarios where three-dimensionality and open dialogue, with the space involved, take the lead.

Lora prefers to respect the physical integrity of the incorporated object; but taking the maximum advantage of his symbolic potential of origin (Kapicúa Kid is a made in 2002 that appears to initiate a quest journey, quite attached to the documented inquiry of individual stories containing an ethical-social message.)

However, in Raquel Paiewonsky’s work prevails the most demanding and virtuous crafting. She makes and models each and every element, at the time she carefully selects the ideal material to create a discourse that transmits the interest in the accomplishment of the work and for that exquisite completion that shows off her knowledge of textile design to deal with the installation issue. (A paradigmatic work that follows this same line is the set of pieces that formed her personal exhibition “Vestial” presented in 2001 in Santo Domingo, during the celebration of the 4th Caribbean Biennial.)

As to Monica Ferreras, she goes for the nitty-gritty. Ferreras is likely the most conceptual of all the artists we have identified as top expressions of the contemporary installation doing in the Dominican Republic. Her works, clearly leaning to the minimalist aesthetic, when in the exhibition space, appeal to be highly sculptural proposals (Notice the pieces “ISO” and “Maze”, both from 2000), where the untarnished volume still remains, devoid of secondary accidents, in an effort to emphasize the metaphorical power of the morphology she conceives to organize the aesthetic material.

Belkis Ramirez and Jorge Pineda highlight the way the sculptural doing, from the installation conception, relates to other expressions, such as engraving and drawing. Belkis, a renowned maker of the engraving art, once she decided to transgress the traditional way of conceiving and presenting the artistic result of this demonstration, set out to engrave its origins, and to show them in full gallery space with all the semantic force that fosters the occupation itself as part of an active creation of meanings. (One of the most important and best conceived pieces by the artist was the one done in 2001 under the title “From sea to worse”.)

Similarly, the figures Pineda carves in wood using tradition behind imagery of wood-carved saints, interacts with the pictures captured by the artist on the walls of the gallery and engage in an interaction that attests the intelligent and complete plurality of expressive media, borrowings and exchanges among them, which are proved true in the result of the installation doing. (See works like “The Village”, 2004, “Afro”–Grand Prize of the “Eduardo Leon Jimenes” xxi edition in 2006–; and “Afro: Issue I”, which has just taken part in ARCO Fair in Madrid in February 2010.)

All these artists serve to illustrate how, in recent years, sculptural creation in the Dominican Republic has considerably widened its expressive resources and concepts that support it by embracing proposals of a great significance and from an unlimited variety of nontraditional methods. An interesting aspect is the way creators have managed to implement this expansion of resources and concepts in favor of an artistic expression deeply committed to the Dominican complex reality. It is not to be ignored the fact that among the various motivations that encourage them, migration, poverty, social deprivation, child defenselessness and violence play a notorious role as some of the most urgent social problems of this Caribbean nation.

Double morality and the perils of a society that moves towards a consumer model regardless of widespread conditions of poverty for the vast majority of its population, the manipulative empire of mass media, women discrimination, racial issue, the recognition of indigenous and African roots, and the validation of different expressions of traditional folk culture, also have a significant space among the concerns of the representatives of sculpture, a demonstration unfairly ignored by art historians in the Dominican Republic and despite being an inevitable chapter in the history of the Caribbean arts.