¡Peposo! A Conversation with Pepón Osorio

Friday, May 9
6-8 pm
Silberman School of Social Work
2180 Third Avenue, East 119th Street, Auditorium




An Evening with Acclaimed Artist Pepón Osorio

By Clarisel Gonzalez

When Pepón Osorio was 16, he took a bus to the museum at the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Río Piedras and saw an art piece that had a lasting impression on him: Francisco Oller’s 1893 painting El Velorio: The Wake.

That early impression with Oller’s art definitely left its mark on Osorio to use his own art to address pressing social issues. Today Osorio is an internationally recognized artist known for challenging the stereotypes and misconceptions that shape our view of social institutions and human relationships. He will visit Centro Friday to join an engaging conversation on Osorio’s colorful, often riotous, installations. with Jennifer A. González, author of the new book called simply Pepón Osorio and Chon Noriega, who wrote the preface.

Evelyn Collazo, Centro events coordinator, said, “We’re looking forward to seeing Pepón back in New York and to hearing him speak about his art that has traveled the world.”

“Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in 1955, Benjamin ‘Pepón’ Osorio is one of the world’s foremost installation artists, noted not only for his exploration of form across diverse cultural registers but also for his commitment to an artistic process grounded in social justice, collaboration with disenfranchised communities, and blurring of the institutional boundaries for artistic practice and exhibition,” wrote Noriega, professor in the UCLA Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media, director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, and adjunct curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in his foreword in the book published by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center and distributed by the University of Minnesota Press (2013).

The artist is best known for constructing installations from found objects and objects that he customizes or creates. His work emphasizes the exhibition space as an intermediary between the social architecture of communities and the mainstream art world. He has worked with well over 25 communities across the U.S. and internationally, creating installations based on real life experiences.

Osorio lives in Philadelphia and is a Laura Carnell professor at Temple University’s Tyler School of the Arts. He was educated at the Universidad Inter-Americana in Puerto Rico and Herbert H. Lehman College in the Bronx and received a masters from Columbia University.

His work has been shown at such venues as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Bronx Museum of Art and El Museo del Barrio in New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC; and El Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and El Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Puerto Rico. Internationally, his work has also appeared at the Museo Alejandro Otero, Caracas, Venezuela; Africus Institute for Contemporary Art, Johannesburg Biennale in South Africa; Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico; Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wilfredo Lam, Bienal de Cuba, Habana, Cuba; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain; the Sao Paulo Bienal, Sao Paulo, Brazil; and at storefronts, department stores and in homes throughout the world. He was awarded a distinguished John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation Fellowship and was most recently featured in the PBS Art21, Artist of the 21st Century documentary.

In the introduction to González’s book she wrote of how Osorio is one of his generation’s most important installation artists because of a pivotal decision he made early on: to apply his skills of collaborative art to innovative public art projects as a way of bridging “the cultural and economic divide between museum spaces and marginalized spaces of the disenfranchised.”

“Bringing an innovative and collaborative spirit to difficult topics such as prison life, domestic violence, AIDS, poverty and foster care, he encourages his audiences to see these sometimes tragic conditions of life through the eyes of those who live them,” wrote González, who teaches in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in New York.

“He has frequently reworked the spatial logic of the gallery to invite viewers to explore intimate, unfamiliar, or forbidden territories of daily life,” she stated. “His richly decorated and elaborate installations invite a certain pleasure of the eye while simultaneously making concrete the material hierarchies of social space in relation to class and race. Indeed, he is an artist who works as carefully with the material and formal details of the work as with the political implications of its subject matter.” While many of his works focus on Puerto Rican communities in New York and most recently Philadelphia, González states that his approach is more of an exploration of human relations and the politics of representation.

In his foreword, Noriega writes that “Osorio situations his work across art and non-art spaces – museum, art gallery, public space, community setting, and home – refusing to presume the authority of a native or insider status in any one of them.” Osorio’s work also has used theatrical staging as a way of introducing “an idea of the Puerto Rican home into artistic discourse,” Noriega states.

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