By Rafael López-Ramos
Coinciding with the Art Basel Miami Beach fair, Carlos Rodríguez Cárdenas presented his personal show The Journey of the Conquest at the Nkisi Project space, curated by Bernardo Navarro with the collaboration of José Bedia. Since the mid-1980’s, Cárdenas’ work has been characterized by exquisite and ironic artistry, which has served him as much in representing the eschatological and social themes he exhibited at the 1989 Havana Biennial; as in capturing the tranquil urban and architectonic reflections that he now presents to us. Metaphors relating to construction and architecture have been a constant in his oeuvre since the end of that decade. Let us recall, for example, Construir el cielo, the painting where a half-finished, blue, brick wall on a black background cast an ironic glance at the contradictions of institutionalized utopia; while the piece of body art Mi casa es mi cuerpo -black and white photograph of the artist with bricks drawn on his torso and face- made reference to social conflict stemming from the lack of housing in densely-populated major cities, such as Havana.
In his work, Carlos achieves a curious restaging of modernist discourse, converting it into a postmodern sui generis by establishing an equivalence between its apparent expression of deconstruction and its celebration of modernity. Rodríguez Cárdenas’ references to modernism pass through a sieve of admiration and influences. Such is the case with the legacy of Antonio Vidal, his teacher at the Escuela Nacional de Arte, and the recognizable presence of Paul Klee in his oeuvre. The most recent evolution of his artistic work involves a double movement - internal development of what was achieved during his Cuban period and synchronization with what has been happening in contemporary painting since the middle of the past decade, from the new English painting to the geometrized museum plans of Luis Cruz Azaceta’s most recent work.
These paintings are also a celebration of the nature and landscape of New York, city in which the artist established residence many years ago. New York is the megalopolis par excellence, distinguished by its gigantic architecture, its chaos and frenetic activity. In the work of Rodríguez Cárdenas, New York is transformed into a more sympathetic new order with a balance of quasi Cartesian geometries that soften and humanize the urban beast. His visual language is characterized by subtle counterpoints, making each element fit into its opposite as in a cogwheel - mysticism and rationality, the yin and yang of a skyline that travels on a canvas train covering an entire wall, a polyptych defined by a harmony of neutral and geometric tones - consistency and solidity, a harmonious union of the smog in the city, the clatter of the subway and the smooth rolling of waves on the Hudson.Originally published in the April/May 09 issue of Wynwood Art Magazine