Museo Fernando Peña deFilló
Calle Padre Billini, corner Calle José Reyes
Colonial Zone (Cuidad Colonial)
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
January 25, 2018
How’s this for pedigree? Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the New World, the capital of the Dominican Republic and its largest city. Its Zona Colonial, the Colonial Zone, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Spanish colonial palaces,churches and residences dating back to the 16th century. Tourists with maps in hand and residents shopping or sitting in cafes wind their ways through wide pedestrian walkways, sun bleached narrow side streets, broad plazas and commercial businesses.
In a city bursting with art and culture, this little museum is unique: a creative combination of traditional and contemporary art.
You’d never guess it but the museum underwent a major transformation when the foundation overseeing it purchased the 17th century building next door to relocate the permanent collection of its namesake, the work of Fernando Peña deFilló into the newly purchased building. The renovation was seamless. The entryway to join the two buildings looks like that’s the way it’s always been.
The new space is saturated with light and has an easy glide path for visitors to navigate through it. The de Filló space opens up to a gorgeous atrium with greenery at the perimeter, a view of Spanish style wrought iron balconies on the second level and the natural beauty of the Dominican Republic blue sky over head. A small library with reference books and photos of the artist that track his career and social friendships give a personal context to deFilló.
The size and proportions of the museum make it a delight to visit. You don’t need to pack a lunch to take in its contents. Having these two sections of a museum, one contemporary with emerging artists and another displaying and honoring the work of an established Dominican artist could be a case study in adaptation and re-purposing.
The most refreshing idea is what’s happening in the rooms in which deFilló’s work formerly resided…the work of leading edge emerging artists like Natalia Ortega Gámez. Her show, “Soon I Will Be Done,” takes an eons-old tradition, making vessels from mud, the skin of the earth, and gives it a 21st century treatment.
Pottery can span the bridge from practical to aesthetically pleasing, sometimes in the same vessel. The rich soft terracotta color invites you to run your fingers along the smooth contours. “Pick me up and use me,” it whispers.
That’s precisely what happens.
The second room of her work is a revelation. Smart Pottery!
At first glance, the vessels placed on a low platform around the room appear unexceptional. After a moment I am surprised by low, haunting, dreamy sounds floating through the room that remind me of the under sea songs of whales. And soft percussive sounds that remind me of wind chimes. Finally, I spot a small white speaker unobtrusively set high in the corner of the room.
Ortega has built airways through many of the vessels. Her musician boyfriend created a resonant soundscape by blowing gently through them or tapping on them. In effect, the mud of the earth is singing to us! This is precisely the kind of imaginative fusion that emerging artists strive to create. It’s surprising, outside the box thinking and invites viewers to interact with it.
The artist takes one our iPhones and slides it into a slot in one of the vessels. The sound is amplified through the phone! (I have no idea how this works). Way cool.
Alex Martinez, the architect who transformed and renovated the two buildings, has his fingers on the pulse of the vibrant art scene in Santo Domingo.
“Everybody knows everybody else,” he says, “the art scene on the island is very small.”
The curator of the show and one of the leaders of the Sindicato is Quisqueya Henriquez.
“There is no way to call an artist a contemporary artist if you don’t work from ideas that you translate to objects of some kind, so it’s all conceptual-based,” she says.
“We are an island. We want to internationalize the work we produce and show our work in Latin America and abroad. One or two of Natalia’s pieces of work will have its next stop in Madrid.”
The economics of working as an artist can be harsh. Why pursue it? Most enter the field because they have a passion to create and will endure whatever sacrifices are necessary. Being a member of a collaborative isn’t so much a safety net as it is a laboratory filled with the ideas and passions of like-minded and driven comrades that feed on the bubbling vat of wild ideas that percolate inside it.
When commercial galleries present the work of an emerging artist they take 50% of the profits. Artists can put up with that. They reinvest their profits into the collaborative to fund the artists in it. According to Henriquez, what they don’t like is that the galleries don’t do much give he artist a splash through social media and marketing.
The Museo deFilló is a dream come true for an emerging artist. No charge for exhibiting here and solid promotion of the exhibit. If the emerging artist sells work, 60% of the sale goes to the artist and 40% of the sale goes to the collaborative/syndicate in which they work.
The contemporary work draws traffic and a younger audience to the Museo Fernando Peña deFilló. Brilliant. Everybody wins.
Photos of the upper edges of the still wet mud collapsing against each other are printed on silk. Gentle breezes make the material slowly undulate, a Textile Tango.
Alex Martinez, Natalia Ortega, Quisqueya Henriques
Shapes and sizes, practical and fanciful.
Second room: an orchestral presentation of Natalia Ortega's work. The soundscape created by using the vessels is otherworldly.
ranging series of nudes and abstact work
his work spills over into a small library
with photographs documenting his personal and professional career, including his friendship with fellow creator Oscar de la Renta.
Architect Alex Martinez spent considerable time finding designs appropriate to the original buliding's tiles, had them reproduced. He actively supervised the renovation of the 17th century building that now houses the de Filló works to respectfully retain the original floor plan of the building.
Elegant gateway leading to an open air atrium lush with foliage
Panorama, distorted, street scene. The buildings are painted different colors to differentiate then. Signage identifies them as well.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.