Hood Quarterly, summer 2004
Roberto Tejada, Assistant Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism, Visual Arts Department, University of California, San Diego, and co-curator of the exhibition
Luis Gispert is an image-maker in the comprehensive sense of the word. Loud Image presents a broad range of his works—photographic, time-based, and sculptural—with the aim of prompting a conversation between them in order to activate a system of images that are radically of the moment. In fact, it’s hard to circumvent the initial impact of his iconography, insofar as it startles with what it directly submits— images of cheerleaders and objects made of body-shop machinery or speaker boxes. Because his practice poses important questions about American culture, about Latino/a representation, and about the art world in an age of multiculturalism, Luis Gispert has struck a social, cultural, and art historical chord that has launched his work into the forefront.
Luis Gispert is Cuban American. Born in New Jersey and formerly based in South Florida, he presently works out of Brooklyn, New York. An early series of photographs, Sneaking into Backyards (1998–99), was produced in and around Miami-Dade County and directly relates to meanings suggested by his three-dimensional objects produced during those same years. In the left panel of one photographic diptych, an image captures a young man clad in a white t-shirt and navy blue work khakis—the artist himself, in fact—as he leaps over a chainlink fence into a residential back yard. Next to this, and in jarring contrast, is the picture of a garden sculpture: a kitschy pink hippopotamus smiling at the viewer, a yellow sculpted bird perched upon its back.
This work, and others like it, questions the social anxieties with regard to crime in residential urban life as linked to systems of security and surveillance; it layers this relationship to the practice of home adornment—a form of vernacular art that can betray the troublesome undertones of bourgeois social values surrounding home ownership. Related to this, Gispert constructed grey-felt speakers in the shape of objects that reference the domestic realm. In Your Home Is My Home (1999), a wood and felt audio speaker rises from the floor in the shape of an American dream house. Gispert inverts a phrase that typifies Latino hospitality (“mi casa es tu casa”) and so relates the threat of forced entry with the seepage of boom-box culture into the home-sweet-home of mainstream America—an ethos whose self-image is currently in the process of deep-seated political and cultural transformations.
Central to Loud Image is Gispert’s photographic output of orchestrated images (2003–4) that have ventured still further into the domestic, in that Gispert employs his family as sitters for the compositions. In his earlier Cheerleader Series (2001–2), however, the artist employed models as cheerleaders meant to unsettle viewer expectations and the standard reference regarding that model of femininity, a symbol of Cold-War American homogeneity and idealism—or, alternately, the object of a fetishism depicted in all manners of media representation. The series defies our sense of physical prowess and the logic of space with a playfulness that doesn’t obscure its critical content. In Untitled (Car Girls) (2002), two cheerleaders—Asian American and African American—are captured from an interior perspective, directly facing the viewer from the back seat of a car. In other images from this series, Gispert’s cheerleaders are elevated in the literal and figurative sense; suspension wires allow some of the cheerleaders to levitate, at times deliberately pointing to a classic art-historical reference. In Untitled (Car Girls), the two cheerleaders are encapsulated in a moment of distress, as if they were models in a music video that has gone awry. The lavish heavy gold chains around their necks, harmonizing with their snug outfits and long painted nails, are suspended in mid-air, as though the vehicle were spinning wildly out of control. Luis Gispert’s images compel us all to the extent that they force viewers to rewrite narratives about the typologies in visual culture that both perpetuate and make ambivalent the certainties that inform our various social practices.
Luis Gispert/Loud Image is on view from June 5 to September 19. The exhibition was organized by the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue are generously funded by the William Chase Grant 1919 Memorial Fund and the Hansen Family Fund.