The Farber Collection
Facebook Twitter RSS

Gustavo Acosta

About Gustavo Acosta

Gustavo Acosta has been identified as an artist of “individualistic” tendencies (Camnitzer, 1992, 264) by virtue of his aesthetic position, which defines painting and its conventions as basic foundations for discourse. This stance is similar to that of other painters of Acosta’s generation, such as Carlos Alberto García, Eduardo Rubén, and José Franco. As a participant in the 1982 Landscape Salon in Havana, Acosta approached—under the influence of American conceptual artist Roger Welch—unexplored areas of the Cuban cultural landscape in drawings that referenced photography. In his 1983 exhibition, Expreso Matanzas-Cienfuegos (Matanzas-Cienfuegos Express), he depicted images taken from old photographs and tourist postcards: train stations, abandoned trains, and rural way stations, painted in gestural strokes that seemed to drop a veil of nostalgia or forgetfulness between the viewer and the image. In 1984, he was awarded the Artistic Drawing Prize in the First Havana Biennial for this work.

Around 1989, Acosta’s interest turned toward the Italian metaphysical painting of such artists as Giorgio Morandi and Giorgio de Chirico, and toward the evocative works of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. In contrast to the 18th-century Italian aquatint master, who revered archaeological ruins, Acosta creates—without use of photographic references—architectural spaces that hint at mechanisms of social control: empty squares, solitary rostrums and flags, the Colosseum, or buildings similar in style to the Casa del Fascio in Como, Italy, designed for Mussolini by modernist architect Giuseppe Terragni. In these settings there is no visible trace of human presence. A dense impasto, generously applied, contributes to the gloomy, menacing atmosphere superimposed on an intricate, cell-like structure. “In the dramatic, theatrical painting of Gustavo Acosta, the color black shares its ominous dominion almost equally with other elements. Its effect on the viewer cannot be isolated from the effects produced by the titanic proportions of the architecture, the austere eclecticism of their columns, staircases, streetlamps, and flags, the inhuman emptiness of the settings, and their vast and immeasurable spaces” (Hernández, 1991, 4).

Titled Los Caminos de Roma (The Roads to Rome), this series of paintings was featured in Acosta’s solo exhibition of the same name, held at Castillo de la Real Fuerza in 1989. Two years later, it was expanded in Las Sugestiones del Límite (Suggestions of the Limit), Acosta’s last exhibition in Havana before his departure for Mexico. Urbi et Orbi was exhibited in that show. Its subject is the Tallapiedra power plant near the port of Havana, a neoclassical building designed in 1905 by the French engineer Georges Carpentier, father of celebrated Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier.

A photograph of the plant, which Acosta had manipulated for a possible LP album cover, served as a visual theme that was later repeated in several paintings. In Urbi et Orbi, the artist sketches the station with spare strokes. He excludes the neighboring railroad, elevated several feet above ground level, as well as other, more modern structures next to the plant. The building looms in solitude, almost derelict, surrounded by deep, dark shapes and projecting no light. The noisy chimneys, which usually spout black smoke, are quiet, as if the building were immersed in a motionless, fixed time, from which there is no return.

In 1990, the former Soviet Union and its political system fell apart. The fuel supplies that the Eastern Bloc had been sending to the Caribbean island were reduced to a minimum. For Cuba, this marked the beginning of the so-called “Special Period.” During years of scarcity, without the spare parts to fix frequent breakdowns, the Tallapiedra power plant became the popular symbol of an obsolete technology—incapable of illuminating the city nights or the dreams of several generations of Cubans.

References: Sánchez, Osvaldo, Los Caminos de Roma (catalogue), Havana, 1989. Hernández, Orlando, Ruinas (invisibles) de Gustavo Acosta (Gustavo Acosta’s (Invisible) Ruins), catalogue of the exhibition Las sugestiones del límite (Suggestions of the Limit), Havana Gallery, Havana, 1991.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri

Watch Video