Cuban artists have been mired in the same representational fracas that plagued Soviet art for most of the 20th century. Seeking to expose a bitter social realism in their work, art from the communist bloc remained staunchly grounded in direct metaphor. Cuban-born, Miami-based artist Rafael Domenech is somewhat of an anachronism. Though he emigrated from the island just several years ago, his work is influenced by Western strains of conceptual art more than other artists from Cuba. Domenech’s latest show, “The List of Messier Objects,” at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, exhibits a mixture of sculptural pieces-composed of Plexiglas, plywood, and various other industrial materials. Yet, it’s not so much what’s hung on the walls that makes this show stands out, it’s the process by which they came to be that’s really on display.
As a whole, the show represents an artist in full control of his subject matter. Unlike most of his colleagues, Domenech is completely hands-on, from buying materials, to manufacturing, and even installing his pieces at the gallery. “I don’t believe in people sending out their work to be fabricated by someone else,” he explains. “I like going to the wholesaler, looking at materials, engaging in conversation; for me, it’s a better way to work.” The creative process is not just a means towards an end, but the object of representation itself. Domenech carefully plans his pieces and has even collected his handwritten notes and sketches in bound books labeled Formica, which viewers are encouraged to flip through, putting them in the midst of the artistic thought process. The show’s title references a German astronomy tome (produced between 1771 and 1966) that the artist uses as an organizational guide for the internal consistency of each piece and the relationship between the sculptures themselves. Much like the book, the exhibit is a work in progress-an active rather than passive creative process. In Untitled (Organic particle RH 2018), for example, Domenech zip-ties elliptically shaped pieces of wood and Plexiglas in a manner reminiscent of the ordered chaos found throughout the universe.
Working from local magazine clippings, he was interested in the extensive use of orange in commercial layouts (notice the use of orange throughout the show). From that jumping off point he worked to create various forms-keeping results he was satisfied with and recycling rejected pieces into newer work. Just like a photographer sorts and edits through hundreds of pictures to select the perfect shot, Domenech hones a critical eye on his craft.