1988 (June 10) ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte) graduation exhibit.
1989 (June-July) Roto expone—Adriano Buergo (Broken), Castilla de la Real Fuerza, Havana, Cuba.
Gerardo Mosquera, “Adriano Buergo,” in Roto, catalogue for the exhibition (Havana: Castilla de la Real Fuerza, 1989).
b. Havana 1964, resides Miami, Florida
Adriano Buergo is among those Cuban artists ambidextrous enough to integrate his art into the dynamics and aesthetic itinerary of a collective such as Puré [which he co-founded] and at the same time successfully create an individual body of work, both in the context of the so-called “Prodigious Decade” or “Cuban Renaissance”: the mythic 1980s.
The 1990 drawing Roto (Broken) belongs to the saga “Roto expone” (Broken Holds, an Exhibition), an installation that lent its name to Buergo’s show at Havana’s Castillo de la Fuerza in 1989. In the catalogue notes, Cuban art critic Gerardo Mosquera stated that the Roto installation was the “most important” work in the show, as “an odyssey in ten chapters” starring “a Cuban electric fan, fitted with the motor of an old American air-conditioning unit, tied together with ropes, from Adriano’s own home.”
For most Cubans, putting together a fan with parts scavenged from other appliances—including motors from air-conditioning units or Soviet washing machines—was far from an unusual or Surrealistic bricolage. It was just an everyday occurrence, part of the “popular mechanics” of survival. Bricolage was also a frequent modus operandi in the Cuban art of this decade, with installation art, “bad painting,” and “bad form” serving as its launch pad and naturalization certificate.
Coming from humble beginnings (like many artists in his generation), Buergo did not invent bricolage, but simply extracted it from its everyday environment, using an inclusive, intertextual, postmodern approach. In this way, he proceeded to cross-breed everyday cultural elements with a technical and theoretical density acquired in his years at specialized, tuition-free schools of the arts, San Alejandro and the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA).
Buergo invoked such technical, academic virtuosity, such verisimilitude in the representation of objects, and such exquisite interplay of light and shadow that, in the case of Roto, the work could be easily mistaken for Baroque Tenebrism had the artist not placed his light source so precisely. If it were a candle instead of a kerosene lamp, one might think that Buergo was re-creating a still life in the best tradition of 18th-century European painters, à la Chardin. But the composition—the use of the shot-reverse shot—is more reminiscent of a counterpoint or dialogue between two beings, and thus the portrait genre. But the lamp, in focusing its light on the fan, partially masks it in obscurity and anonymity.
The artist endowed these two figures with a life story, as in an ethnographic investigation. According to Mosquera, “Roto suffers, dreams about his glorious past, sprouts wings and flies away to the consumerist society. But there he feels out of place, frozen, and he comes back home, where he is lovingly received by the kerosene lamp, the ‘chismosa’ [‘gossip,’ a type of makeshift kerosene lamp]. Difficult loves, as García Márquez would say, because she comes to life during power failures and Roto needs electricity. What’s more, his air current extinguishes his lover’s tenuous, feminine light.”
Clearly, Roto is a work that overflows with meaning once it’s contextualized. It is part of a visual narrative that, as a diegesis, relates to comic books and their use by artists of Buergo’s generation. Infused with an irony that borders on parody, it also evokes, to a certain extent, a sentimentalist, innocent perception, disengaged from the harsh realities of life.
Utopia, transformative will, disillusionment, exodus, rootlessness, and reunion: all are experiences common to the lives of artists from Buergo’s generation who, like him, ended up emigrating—some without the possibility of return, an option that Roto did have. As a result, this work and its creator became a parable about situations in which many Cubans, artists or not, found themselves.
Buergo’s dexterousness was already apparent in previous works such as Naturaleza Muerta–Naturaleza Viva (Still Death–Still Life, 1988), a painting born of the irreverence and scatological humor flaunted by Puré—an art collective created in 1986 by Buergo and classmates Lázaro Saavedra, Ciro Quintana, Ana Albertina Delgado, and Ermy Taño. As Mosquera wrote in the previously quoted catalogue, “Buergo is the painter of Cuban filth,” and his attitude was that of a participating critic—a position perhaps symbolized by his description of “a cross composed of a loaf of bread and a turd, painted by the artist,” which corresponds to Naturaleza Muerta–Naturaleza Viva.
True, this piece depicts a crucifix. But it also brings to mind the Holy Spirit, the third personage of the Holy Trinity, represented by the dove in Christian iconography. In this work, Buergo uses vernacular religious imagery—at that time considered “in bad taste” or kitsch, but enthroned in many Cuban homes—to allude to the terrible taste and poor quality of “our daily bread,” the one implored for in the Lord’s Prayer, as it manifested, in reality, in Cuba.
There is no coprophilia in this image. Nor is there an invitation to ingest food or digestive waste. What we see here is an irreverent symbiosis—a visual analogy and parable—intertwined with a strategy of re-signifying icons and dogmas, undertaken in the 1980s by some of the then-young Cuban artists.
—Israel Castellanos León