Healing and the invention of visual metaphors

“A work of art begins upon its conclusion” Antuan

By Jorge Luis Gutierrez / Visual Arts Manager / Curator of Contemporary Art

September 2012

The Political Economy of Medicine and Contemporary Art

(An analogy to better understand Antuan’ art proposals)

The Nineteenth century holds parallels between medicine and art. On one side, a complete discussion emerged on the role of medicine as a key component of human and social sciences, with significant transformations on the medical standards of pain, healing pathology and convention. Art, affected by transformations such as the emergence of art history as a discipline in the late-eighteenth century, the industrial revolution, the emergence of photography, the appearance of the academy and the museum represented a pivotal system of artistic preservation and dissemination. It also signified a measure of control over what was acceptable or not in art and artistic protocols across national and cultural boundaries.  Both medicine and art coincide in the presence of the new authority structures; in the case of medicine the asylum, psychiatry and the hospital system, where the discourse of unreason and the unequal and misunderstood relationship between doctor and patient emerge. (Neither side has any clear idea of how it develops, or works.) The doctor’s power is almost magical, because the patient has tremendous faith in it without any understanding.

Both in art and medicine, the system of judgment and consideration, supports the development of the authority-figure that guarantees the value and correctness of what went on at the time. In, the case of art the rise of the museum, the academy, the curator (then conservator), the Salon, art history and archeology, all of which with a stifling presence one way or another controlled all aspects of the art world only left to artists imagination and metaphor to spread the horizon of things beyond its earlier limits.

The XIX century holds similes to the XXI century in the re definition of technology, urban spaces, the consciousness of the body, the search for new ways of healing, psychological and body pain and the intersection of art, rational thought  and social sciences.

In, the case of art the emergence of the art market, the appearance of the museum, the academy, the curator (then conservator), the Salon, art history and archeology as disciplines, all of which with a stifling presence one way or another controlled all aspects of the art world, producing irreversible transformations on the production, perception and distribution of the artwork. As with healing and health strong practices applied to social, political and cultural life took place.

Both in art and medicine, the system of judgment and observation, supports the appearance of the authority-figure that guarantees the value and correctness of what went on at the time.

It is within this context that the art works proposed by ANTUAN become relevant within the study of contemporary art.  He inscribes his artistic proposals, his lines of thought within the crossed territories of history and imagination, when he states: “Feed by present, It scripts history to denounce the future. More than aesthetics, art is history. There are two recurring elements in my art: the object and the human form”.

Michel Foucault stated that in XIX century medicine became “not only a question of a reversal of rights, but also of what might be called morality of the body”, placing mental and physical health a crucial concern of society. Cities, technology and philosophical thought evolved including medicine as a key component.

On the other hand, art transformed in an accelerated manner where the objectivity of things existing outside and beyond the artist no longer mattered as much as it once did. The meaning of objects of the outside world became irrelevant.  Artists concerns for representing an object faded while concern for representing the subjective grew. The focus on subjectivity intensified because artists became more concerned with the independent expression of the individual. Reality became what the individual saw and the idea of the healing of mind and body was of course re interpreted by the artists.

That in the nineteenth century medicine began to operate outside its traditional area as defined by the wishes of the patient, his pain, his symptoms, and his malaise. Art moved away from its traditional approach, and artisan became autonomous through the figure of the artist and reality representation became defined by the artist’s subjective perception.

The line of history and art between XIX and XXI first century coincide in the conceptual framework of ANTUAN.  Keeping present the concept of healing as a personal experience transformed into an object of medical treatment becomes reversed in the artist’s strategy of health and art. A subject for medical intervention, today medicine endows with an authoritarian power with normalizing functions that go beyond the existence of diseases and the wishes of the patient.


ANTUAN’s Art in front of a mirror. Taking off layers of skin in the therapy of art

ANTUAN’s proposal searches to liberate or at least conceptually provide alternatives through art to the concept of healing. His work around art-therapy contains affinities between fragments of the past and moments of the future that hang from threads of memory, or in the walls of a space where he presents his artworks. ANTUAN a Cuban   artist living in Miami for most of the year seems to be charged with remote visions.  His memory circumscribing the present with notes, forms and objects conceptually gathered throughout the years transforming into signs of “invented healings” through large scale installations suspended in mental analogies as the artist defines them, with something that indicates current healing strongly linked with analogies of emotion.

ANTUAN’s proposal seems to go beyond the concept of the expression of thoughts and feelings thru the creative process of art as an approach to healing.  He explores the Jungian approach of therapy and healing through art  including  design and icons  of all levels,  intersecting  mythology and its impact on the present time, and the thoughts of local believe and folks approaching his healing installations and art works  far deeper on the collective comatose and with less personal nature. He then places his attention to the psychological advocating that is within each art object he creates.

ANTUAN displays the objects in his artworks and installations, in confrontation to contradictory icons. He accentuates the development and transformation of the original meaning of each piece he creates. ANTUAN clearly believes in the archeological qualities of the contemporary object and the transformation possibilities of the original meaning of each object he works with as an artist.

ANTUAN circumscribes the elements which keep him in connection with his own origins, defining geographic places, which display a universal means of symbolism, never losing his ability to search.

His artworks have the therapy of the mirror strategy, from which the observer receives visual feedback to configure a new map of his perceived reality through all inclusive metaphors of reality fragments and the preciousness of the experience created by the artist. ANTUAN’s artworks seem never to cease, as if there is more to come, artworks made of objects of use, fragments, and parts, add-ons, characterized more by its components than as a methodological strategy.

ANTUAN’s artworks and the components of his installations keep each of its pieces in its own distinctive realm of meanings and symbols, through its identity it functions as host of its true meaning, giving the viewers the symbolic proof of origin in which everything has its position set firmly in the present.

The capacity to register cross references of origins witnessed through identities is what provides ANTUAN’s artworks healing possibilities. His  art therapy goes through layers of thoughts, wishes and worries of 21st century mankind, placing the viewer at the cross roads of perception; on one perspective art and  history and   the other, the object itself re invented through ANTUANS’s unique, contemporary archeology. In the artist own words; “I like to place the subject before a mirror and take off layers of skin. Then, the object dresses my intention. Objects reveal things about us.”


Contemporary conflict in medicine and art (The drama of the Doctor & the curator) The Inatrapable context of ANTUANS artworks

Every field of human activity is bound and governed by certain ethics, and moral principles and art and medicine are no exception. In fact, at all times and in all cultures, ethics has been at the heart of art and medicine due to their vital presence in the physical and spiritual well-being of humans. The exponents of medicine and art in their respective fields are expected to practice and adhere to these virtues more than any other professional.

The XXI century witnessed rapid strides in the development of medical science, technology, art and communications in every sphere but at the same time, mass commercialization and increasing consumer activism converted ethics in to a dispensable commodity.

This unprecedented moral and ethical burden overt the practice of art and medicine relate to the role they have played and continue to play in our physical, emotional and spiritual life as truly transformative gifts. Art and medicine are gifts that change us profoundly, often received in the form of physical, psychological healing, ideas or spiritual actions.  As expressed by Lewis Hyde in his iconic book The Gift: “Gratitude requires an unpaid debt, and we will be motivated to proceed only so long as the debt is felt. If we stop feeling indebted, we quit and rightly so”.   Antuan’s artworks and that of any artists are gifts, objects presented with transformations, evocative containers of emotion-laden histories and metaphors rather than visual facts in the service of an idea or approach.

However, there are grounds for concern about the extent of the market’s influence over what kinds of art get recognized bought and shown by institutional spaces and museums. The commercial art market is a decisive factor in the shaping of public and critical taste in the visual arts – and nowhere more so than in the field of contemporary art. This becomes a challenge in the practices of curatorial decisions and its ethical-moral implications.

In the current, contemporary art world artists’ dominant presence and that of institutional knowledge seem to be put aside; dealers and collectors seem to be moving the strings of the art scene.  The lavishly catalogued shows that the leading dealers put on, the grand art fairs and auctions, the champagne receptions, the media coverage, the books, the TV and radio programs, the websites. All of those help not only to sustain public interest, but also to determine which artists will get the solo museum exhibitions, win the awards, get the big commissions and fetch the highest prices.

Nevertheless ANTUAN’s creative strategy seems beyond the walls of the “white cube”, placed with prudent distance  from alien interests (political, economic and social), the requests of politicians, sponsors, managers, professionals and large audiences, observant of the so called “culture of entertainment” as said by Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.  Perhaps this is because his art gives us a window into the lives of others. As he states concerning his installation works, “I enjoy if my proposal makes easy an unrestricted interaction between the public and my work. And, a work of the art may be shared with communities in its process of elaboration and execution, as for example, in an installation with of over 200 aids’ patients’ testimonials”.

The related aspects of human healing and therapy that link art and medicine, as previously explained simply are in the middle of confronted visions regarding values and strategies of 21st century mankind.

In the case, of medicine, even with the business side and its enormous impact and influence,   as stated by William Osler (considered the father of modern medicine); “The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head”. The idealism remains intact medicine is still an art, and its challenges continue to exercise both the mind, as well as the heart even when it has become greatly intertwined with business.

The art industry can now almost be compared to the music industry or the film industry. All new platforms for art are valued, if they add up in the evolution of art.  Commercial galleries can act quickly, and they can pull off grand projects, sometimes at a faster pace than museums even when Museums, are increasingly expansionist.

Stakes are higher now that commercial galleries face competition from the leading auction houses. In the last 2 decades, the art fairs have emerged as the patrons on trends and style, and the significant change is the electronic information making possible to show images anywhere. But the art market does not necessarily help build environments in which the arts and arts education thrive and contribute to more vibrant and creative communities.

In contrast, societies are facing issues specific to the emergence of the 21st century, mass migration, climate change and economic collapse, in an increasingly uncertain world. ANTUAN’s artistic conceptual framework and resulting art objects address these global issues without losing the immediate local context through a socially observing arts practice.

ANTUAN’s artistic objects, due to its aesthetic innovative character, its anthropological approach, its historical oriented conceptual framework, perfectly fall within the context of French freelance journalist and curator of Warhol TV, Judith Benhamou-Huet quote: “A work of art is an object that has acquired an intrinsic value quite independent of its religious meaning, practical use or weight in precious metal. It is a symbol of freedom, a mental disposition, a transcription of the soul, an encapsulation of all the most noble in man”

His expressive itinerary, conceives the interpretation of human thought and reality plunging energy in the combination of ideas, themes and objects maturing a feeling of enchantment in the minds and hearts of the spectator, becoming the essence of his healing dialogue through art.

As the artist states regarding the role his art plays in a broader context; “Art has a great relationship with seduction. I like that art may alter our perception. It scripts history and feeds on the present to denounce the future. More than aesthetics, art is history. There are two recurrent elements in my art: the object and the human form”, regarding the role his art, transformational in itself, contends through the journey of art and healing in a broader contemporary context.


The culture and thought of well-being. ANTUANS strategy

Over the past two decades, ANTUAN is mounting global evidence through his artistic proposals from health, culture, and social science fields linking arts engagement and cultural participation with increased participation and enhanced audience and community wellbeing, alongside other instrumental values of the arts.

It proposes that the field of collective art development, and to be more specific, socially engaged arts practice, demands a more rigorous inquiry of relevant arts based conceptual frameworks, to be grounded as a acknowledged art proposal. While other art disciplines as used by other artists are positioned within the historical trajectory and protocols of specific art mediums, Antuan’s practice is inherently interdisciplinary.

Antuan artworks can slip simultaneously through two perspectives of time. On one angle he bears the complex circumstance of our present, the contradictory story of Western history where we are today.  At the same time he collects fragments from a mangled past excluded by history, creating objects and installations of unstable harmony. For him the work of art hold no utopias but ideas made real and imposed on the world through the temporary harmony of art.

ANTUAN’s  expressive itinerary, conceives the interpretation of human thought and reality plunging energy in the combination of ideas, as he combines variants of three concepts; myth, metaphor and archetype in his artworks.  This pluralistic perspective itself constitutes a middle-ground between created and realist approaches to meaning, leaving its viewers with more paths to follow and tales to spin.

The culture and thought of well-being in ANTUAN’S work seem as a strategy with notions of secrets, esoteric knowledge and hidden meaning taken from history. His artwork and installations can integrate models and account for the effectiveness of symbolic healing in all of those referents that govern existence in and beyond art.

The space that ANTUAN has conquered takes the shape of a proposal of method, an unplanned restitution of power to the artistic discipline, in a context were the art market seems to be melting the limits defining artistic creation.  Antuan holds an entire universe for himself; he explores it and understands it.

To write about ANTUAN is always a challenge. Between  the simple complexity of the whole in his works or rather the intuitive accessibility that he induces in various levels of the work’s interpretations, we find indisputable beauty in his art  as well as the roughness of certain objects that compose them.  The slow work of time, of history and places that the artist has accumulated during his journey, make the magical dimension of his objects emit distinct energetic healing qualities. Antuan combines with mastery healing and the invention of visual metaphors.


“I am manipulating,” says the Alchimist, “No, you are dreaming,” says Novalis

“I am dreaming,” says Novalis. “No, you are manipulating”. The reason for such

a profound duality is that fire is within us and outside us, invisible and dazzling, spirit and smoke.

Gaston Bachelard


 JLGV / 09-2012 ©

Bio:Jorge Luis Gutierrez

A dynamic visual arts institutions manager and curator, developed an extensive experience running museums, collections, art organizations and college art galleries. Gutierrez has guided exhibition programs engaging a spectrum of curators, scholars, critics and diverse audiences in its activities; displaying a broad historical, cultural, and aesthetic range of visual arts.

He holds a BA in Architecture from Universidad Central de Venezuela, a Master of Arts and Doctoral studies in Visual Arts Administration at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, New York University. Served as curator of the National Photography, Film and Video Collection in Venezuela; Director of the National Document Conservation Center, Venezuela; Advisor for the Organization of American States in South America and the Caribbean on museum and archives practices; Executive Director, Office of Cultural Affairs. National Library of Venezuela; Director of the Alejandro Otero National Museum of Visual Arts, Venezuela; Director and Chief Curator of the Miami Dade College Art Gallery System and the Freedom Tower Museum.

Author of several essays, book introductions and forwards, catalogs and books on art and photography. Has contributed to promote an open, multifaceted view on Latin American and Caribbean art and has been instrumental in the production and curatorship of key iconic modern and contemporary art exhibitions throughout the Americas. Currently is consultant for the Triennial Miami of Contemporary Art and advisor for art exhibitions and cultural organizations.