“Art Got into Me”:
The Work of Engels the Artist
October 9 – December 22, 2019
This monographic exhibition features more than fifty works created by Engels the Artist over the past ten years. Born and raised in Haiti, he has been living in Brooklyn for more than three decades. For Engels, the canvas is a limited space that requires subversion, inversion, expansion, or containment. He engages in a sort of metonymic game, whereby the container becomes the contained, and the support becomes the object itself. The fabric of the canvas, the wood of the stretcher, and the metal staples are part of his iconography. Abstract and poetic, his sculptural paintings are both aesthetically appealing and profoundly meaningful. “The strict economy of line and texture, the use of everyday objects, and makeshift elegance recall my grandmother’s home in Port-au-Prince, which against all odds had splendor,” says the artist.
While Engels’s art is in dialogue with European and American art traditions such as abstraction, arte povera, conceptual art and minimalism, to name a few, his work also contains spiritual elements and tackles Haitian historical and social themes. One of the key works in the exhibition, Cotton Pearl (2017), reflects the historical tension that accompanied the colonization of the Americas. The word cotton refers to the slaves who were brought from Africa to work the cotton fields, while pearl signifies Haiti in colonial times, when, because of its natural beauty and rich soil, it was considered the “pearl of the Caribbean.” The apparently calm surface of this white Cotton Pearl hides a world of conflict, as the large wall sculpture is in fact made of broken parts that seem about to explode.
The themes of Engels also echo the reality of other Latin American countries. Haiti is located in the Caribbean, in the heart of Latin America. Not surprisingly, Engels’s work was included in a 2012 exhibition at Zane Bennett Gallery (Santa Fe, New Mexico) titled Latin American Art: A Contemporary View, and was presented alongside the work of major Latin American artists including Mexican Rufino Tamayo, Argentine Antonio Segui, and Brazilian Tiango Gualberto.
Curated by Patrice Giasson, the Alex Gordon Curator of Art of the Americas, with the assistance of Cynthia Newman, Curatorial Intern, “Art Got into Me”: The Work of Engels the Artist will be view from October to December 2019. The exhibition will include an artist residency during which Engels will create new works inside the museum. A fully illustrated monograph, the first in the artist’s career, will accompany the exhibition.
“Art Got into Me”: The Work of Engels the Artist is organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY, in collaboration with the Willowell Foundation. This project is funded by the Alex Gordon Foundation, with the support of the Alex Gordon Estate, the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art, and the Purchase College Foundation.