Bienvenu Steinberg & Partner is pleased to present Glenda Leon’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition incorporates some of the key works that have punctuated the career of the Cuban conceptual artist over the past two decades, as well as a new body of work. Glenda Leon is interested in the interstices between the visible and the invisible, between sound and silence, between the ephemeral and the eternal. Her installations, sculptures, watercolors and performance-based videos question and transcend the dichotomy between the natural and the manufactured, between the body and society.
The exhibition opens with Hermoso Punto Azul (1999-2000), from a series crucial to understanding the artist’s relationship to politics, an essential aspect in the Cuban context. Standing in front of the “revolutionary” messages omnipresent in the Cuban landscape, the artist focuses the camera lens on a minuscule flower, therefore turning the propaganda into a foggy background. One of her very first artworks, it was inspired by a fragment from Milan Kundera’s novel Immortality: “She said to herself when the onslaught of ugliness became completely unbearable, she would go to a florist and buy a forget-me-not, a single forget-me-not, a slender stalk with miniature blue flowers. She would go out into the street holding the flower before her eyes, staring at it tenaciously so as to see only that single beautiful blue point, to see it as the last thing she wanted to preserve for herself from a world she had ceased to love.”
Coming of age during Fidel Castro’s regime, Glenda Leon grew up in the high-tech global age and her daily life ricocheted between almost infinite access to information and very limited access to human freedoms and basic necessities, including food and soap. To create the sculptural installation Shapes of the Instant (2001), she convinced the workers at a soap factory in Havana to give her a box of soap bars, then, in an unusual transaction reversing economic logics, she asked her friends and relatives to exchange the new soaps for their used ones. More than a hundred eroded soaps bars are installed in a grid arrangement on the wall. At first, the variation in soft shapes and colors prevails; upon closer reading, one encounters delicate abstract drawings made of hair embedded in the soap. Slow bodies, tender abrasions: here, the clean recalls the dirty and the repulsive becomes delicate. With a radical economy of means, Leon invites us to reconsider our relationship to our body, to each other and to the larger universe. Interior and exterior, public displays and private activities: these seeming opposites coexist in a poetic alignment in her work, informing and transforming one another. Likewise, In Every Tear is a Shape of Time, an eye formed by fake eyelashes “cries in colors”, in Campo de Juego, a bed becomes the game field for different sports, eliciting multiple interpretations.
Palabras Masticadas (Chewed Words) is another invitation to discover the beauty that lies in the discarded. Multicolor chewed gums are attached to the letters of a Portable Remington typewriter. The artist has been using gum as a medium and altering typewriters since 2003. Here, she's interested in the relationship between the mouth that chews and the mouth that speaks: the written word, the spoken word and the masticated word. The imprint of the mouth on the gums, like the faint negative space of the body on the soap bars, shower after shower, become elements of an unconscious collective intimacy. In Estrellas Masticadas (Chewed Stars), old chewing gums encrusted on the sidewalk of Havana, have been connected manually with a pencil to form constellations. The sublime and the discarded converge again. Chewed gums bear their chewers DNA, in these new constellations people are being united and reminded that we are all somehow related.
The Cosmos is a recurrent subject in Leon’s work. In Cielo Prohibido (Forbidden Sky), the molecular structure of illegal drugs is turned into a stellar map. In this series inaugurated in 2012, the artist questions the classification of certains drugs as illegal while others seemingly more dangerous remain accepted by society. In Inversion III, a single channel video from 2016, the artist meticulously scrapes a dollar bill and smokes its remains in an absurdist commentary on our modern addiction to making money.
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1976, Glenda Leon lives and works in Madrid and Havana. She received a graduate degree in Art History from the Havana University in 1999, and graduated from Academy of Media Arts Cologne, Germany in 2007. Her work has been shown extensively at Biennials and institutions all over the world. Upcoming exhibitions include: Fundació Miró Mallorca, Palma, Spain (2023); Brownstone Foundation, Paris (2023); Aichi Triennale 2022, Ichinomiya City, Tokoname City, Arimatsu (Nagoya City), Japan (2022); Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome, Italy (2022). Select solo exhibitions include: MARCO de Vigo, Pontevedra, Spain (2021); MEIAC, Badajoz, Spain (2020-2021); Metropolitan Museum of Manila, The Philippines (2018); CAMM, Gran Canaria, Spain and Matadero Madrid, Spain (2015). Select group exhibitions include: 15th Cuenca Biennial, Ecuador (2021); PAMM, Miami (2021); The MoMA, NY (2019); Spiral Garden, Tokyo, Japan (2018); Dakar Biennale, Senegal (2018); Walker Art Center, MN (2017); Museo de la Universidad de Antioquía, Medellín, Colombia (2016); Havana Biennial, Cuba (2015); SITE Santa Fe Biennial, NM (2014) and 55th Venice Biennial, Italy (2013). Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Centre George Pompidou, Paris; PAMM, Miami; The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana; Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal and Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto.