The Farber Collection
Facebook Twitter RSS

José Franco

About José Franco

b. 1958, resides in Argentina

In 1910, the French painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), known as le Douanier (the customs broker), created one of his more memorable pieces: The Dream, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. The creator of such paintings as The Football Players (1908, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and The Sleeping Gypsy (1897, MoMA), Rousseau had been celebrated in 1908 by Pablo Picasso and other artists in a boisterous banquet, where the anti-academic avant-garde discovered new allies in their struggle against “bourgeois” art.

A forerunner of the art known today as naïve or “outsider,” le Douanier was blessed with a boundless imagination that soared beyond the roofs of the Moulin Rouge (still Nicole Kidman-less) to depict exuberant tropical forests inhabited by timid lions, languid copper-skinned women, or merciless hurricanes that seemed to have escaped from the pages of Pierre Loti and Joseph Conrad. The humble artist presented his paintings as realistic landscapes that he had observed during his military days in Mexico. However, his visual sources were in truth the engraved illustrations of books on exotic lands, as well as countless Sunday visits to the zoo and botanical gardens of Paris. Like many painters of his day (and ours), he appropriated found images and transformed them in an exalted, poetic vein.

Eight decades later, a “tropical” artist, José Franco, chose Rousseau as his interlocutor. In the context of 1980s art, Franco, together with Eduardo Rubén and Carlos A. García, set out to recover the expressive values of painting. Franco’s abstract images enlarged the bark of plants or details of animal skins as a sort of camouflage. Projected spatially through the addition of three-dimensional elements and objects, they occupied an indeterminate frontier between art and design.

In Conversación…, the avant-garde art movements of Paris and Havana close an artistic and cultural communications circuit that had been opened in the 1700s by translations, visits, publications, and exhibitions, and that grew more intense during the 20th century. The choice of Rousseau as the appropriated object is linked to the reflexive attitude of Cuban art, ready to cannibalize images snatched from art history as useful objects for its own cultural processes. By means of Franco’s irreverent attitude toward the concept of authorship, Rousseau becomes a co-creator of the piece, and his signature appears in the lower left corner, as if a miraculous, temporary reincarnation had taken place, landing him on Cuban shores. Now his forest is re-elaborated from the Caribbean, where a camouflaged telephone—high technology—ensures communication between different eras and cultures.

References: Camnitzer, Luis, New Art from Cuba, 1994; reprint, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003, illust. p. 210.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri