Teresita Fernández on the Violent Nature of the American Landscape

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Teresita Fernández defies expectations. For more than 20 years, the Miami-born, Brooklyn-based artist has pushed boundaries, literally and figuratively, through her large-scale sculptures, mixed-media works, and high-profile public installations, such as the seemingly illusory “Fata Morgana” in New York City’s Madison Square Park in 2015 and cocoon-like “Autumn (... Nothing Personal)” at Harvard University last year. Her highly evocative work, at its heart, explores the many complex layers embedded in things—an idea that’s inspired, in part, from the traditional East Asian garden concept of shakkei, or “borrowed landscape,” something she discusses in-depth with Spencer Bailey on this episode of Time Sensitive.

Even if Fernández’s beautiful, affecting art can be enjoyed on the surface, to fully grasp her shrewd explorations of landscape and her exquisite experimentations with materials—from ceramics to charcoal to gold to graphite—viewers must look at them closely and read them deeply. If they do, they’re likely to come away with a greater, and certainly more real, understanding of the complicated colonial history of the Americas, as well as the sublime beauty inherent in so many of the natural wonders around us.

In the lead up to her mid-career retrospective, “Teresita Fernández: Elemental”—perhaps her most ambitious exhibition yet, opening at the Pérez Art Museum Miami this fall (Oct. 18, 2019, to Feb. 9, 2020)—the 51-year-old artist recently came by The Slowdown’s New York City headquarters to share stories about her life and work, from being raised by hardworking Cuban exile parents in Miami to studying for her M.F.A. at Virginia Commonwealth University in a then largely Confederate-proud Richmond. As this interview makes clear, Fernández’s life is as wonderfully layered and complex as her art.

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