Exhibition by Agustín Bejarano. Provincial center of Plastic arts and Design. Barreto room, San Ignacio street Nr. 28 corner to Teniente Rey, Old Square, Old Havana. March-April of 2018


by: David Mateo


Throughout my career as an art critic I had the opportunity to exchange criteria, curatorial and editorial ideas with my dear friend Rufo Caballero. A state of complicity arose between us that managed to remain safe from the inconveniences and tensions of the intellectual world; that eluded the continuum, linearity, to manifest its true intensities for specific historical periods or dilemmas. I am thinking, for example, of that stage of didactic exhibition experiences or thesis of the nineties, when we started the first contacts; of the journalistic commitments made from media platforms such as Revolution and Culture, La Gaceta de Cuba, Cuban Art and Art by Excelencias; of our participation in national colloquiums or academic tribunals; and of the theoretical gatherings of the Villa Manuela gallery of the UNEAC, which we organized together and which attracted so much public.

There were several artists and expressions that served as pretexts to reconcile some of our expectations and value criteria. These concertations have been well documented in exhibitions, articles and monographic books. Agustín Bejarano was one of the main artists with whom we maintained a close professional relationship; that is why I am very pleased that he has decided to dedicate this last exhibition of his, of a certain retrospective character, decanter, to the memory of the exceptional art critic, and that he has invited me to write a few words for the catalogue.
When I asked Bejarano about the precise reasons for this decision to pay tribute to Rufo, he told me the following: Twenty-five years have passed since the exhibition "Corte Final" (Final Cut), an exhibition I carried out in the Luz y Oficios gallery, which included the words to the catalogue of the Doctor of Art Sciences Rufo Caballero. They were the initial steps of his career as a specialist when he began an unexpected reflection on my work in the text, which he named The Echo Chamber, in which he reflected on the value of an artist's work from his early achievements. In a certain way he alluded to the success I had achieved up to that moment with the series "Huracanes" (1987-1989) and the prizes awarded as a student of the Instituto Superior de Arte. Also for that decade (1997) I obtained the Grand Prize in the National Hall of Engraving. So for more than one reason, this exhibition that I am now doing acquires symbolic value.

Rufo Caballero and I were always aware of Agustín Bejarano's artistic production, and we frequently wrote about his work in catalogues and national press media. Although for a long time I had the impression that he liked to focus more on painting and me on the graphic part (printing on acetate), Bejarano, to my regret and other followers, was decreasing over the years. The monographic book published in 2006, in which the renowned specialist Caridad Blanco also participated, is proof of the factual significance of our exchanges and research priorities around her work. I have continued to write about Bejarano's work whenever an opportunity presents itself, and although - as is logical - my connection to his work has been acquiring new nuances and perspectives, my considerations about the value of his visual production have not undergone radical changes. I still believe -as Rufo Caballero did at the time- that he is one of the most original and versatile artists who gave Cuban plastic art the end of the century.

Both critics were seduced from the beginning by the virtuoso imagery of the Camagüeyan artist, by his unusual poetics of visual associations, erected from a restless and at the same time sublime relationship between the classic and the contemporary. We recognized his obstinate -and sometimes aberrated- immersion in the technical artifices of engraving and painting, but above all we felt admiration for his intuitive capacity to inquire into events, to deal with the historical heritage of art and its modes of representation. There are some lines written by Rufo Caballero himself in the decade of 2000 that describe with eloquence and poetic nuance this innate virtue of the artist, remarkable since the beginning of his artistic work: It was splendid the early maturity with which the creator observed the self-sufficiency of the world, its intricate and lost aleph. I glimpsed it, I sensed it, without being able to explain it to him. It was a connoted world, which did not find the word, the order of reasoning, the virtue of philosophy.

Rufo Caballero's words were accurate and premonitory: clarity and turbidity, order and chaos in the same dimension of personal presentiments. But we are still verifying the evolution of Bejarano's intuitive capacity from the technical processes and artistic methodologies, from the systematic and detailed tracking of his own and other people's images, from the selective counting of the epochal data and the anecdotary, and even from the memorial exaltation of the apparently unimportant. Bejarano's ability to retain names, dates, personalities and socialized gestures is impressive. Evocation, remembrance, are now unconditional allies of this power of discernment.

If this was the case before, now more than ever the foundations of Bejarano's work continue to shun doctrine, dogmatic and "enlightened" speculation, to be erected on substrates or experiential layers, on concerns, observations and suspicions, which perhaps some of us had considered rhetoric or dismissed. Other representative and allegorical densities - debtors of the review, of the visual pastiche, but also of the will to situate - are beginning to be shown as the axes of the artistic cycle in which it currently finds itself.
Bejarano has explained to me that the structure of the exhibition of the Provincial Center of Plastic Arts is divided into two parts: One is called "Memories", and is a compendium of works from different stages of his work, which denote important stages of his career to date, and the other is made up of sets of paintings on canvases, recently done in mixed techniques on large formats, and which include diptychs and triptychs. I've called this series "Olympus".

On the background of these last pieces, Bejarano has told me: "Olympus" is inspired by the previous series "Human Frontiers", for which Rufo professed great sympathy, and about which he wrote vehemently for the catalogue of the exhibition presented at the Toronto International Art Fair, in 2003. "Olympus" forms the main nucleus of this exhibition, which I entitled "The Chamber of Echo" (in connection with the inferences of Rufus), of neoclassical cut, given the completion of the columns and characters that are represented (like statues) on pedestals and niches. As a whole they refer to utopian cities, loaded with an epic narrative (with obelisks, flowers, stars and heraldic); in which columns are reiterated that give the impression of going up and down, that support the philanthropic diatribe, and resemble the keys of a piano or a macro-organ of music, the same that symbolically accompanies us throughout life.

It is no less true that these recent works, which will be exhibited at the Provincial Centre of Light and Occupation, will give the opportunity, especially to the youngest, to evaluate the most influential and innovative periods and works in Bejarano's career, but we will also find - and this is for me the most convincing benefit - new paths, new compositions and images that speak with humility, and even with astonishment, about glory and fall, love and brokenness, subjection and vehemence; that rehearse, as much for the theme of the insular spirit as for that of the daily scene, domestic, other symbolic pedestals of cult.