Return to Articles

“Teatro Human,” o/c,
63 x 70”, 1993.


“La Tina en Rojo,”
o/c, 1997.

“Tarde de Piano,”
o/c, 1998.

“La Familia Belleli y Bañista,”
o/c, 1998.


by Shirle Gottlieb


(Museum of Latin American Art [MoLAA], Long Beach) Following fast on the heels of Laura Hernandez' incredible and enchanting exhibit, Trip into the Realm of Myth and Dreams, comes The World of Gonzalo Cienfuegos: Two Decades of Painting.

Once again we have the opportunity to experience the work of an important Latin American artist who has seldom been seen in this country. Born in Santiago de Chile in 1949, Cienfuegos has exhibited widely in his own native land--also Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, even France--but this is his first major exhibit in an American museum.

Beautifully installed--and filling every inch of the gallery--are approximately 50 large-scale paintings, plus a few drawings that Cienfuegos completed over the last twenty years. But don't come expecting typical Chilean landscapes, Inca iconography, the Andes, or Spanish Colonialism. The inner vision of a well educated, well traveled artist, these are highly sophisticated works that evoke European sensibilities, rather than those of the New World.

The first thing you'll notice is that each painting depicts a group of motionless, trance-like figures in a provocative, surreal setting--one that elicits the dream world of de Chirico or Magritte. In fact, Cienfuegos' oeuvre is loaded with historical and literary references.

Enhanced by brightly colored backgrounds and stylized interiors, these narrative paintings suggest stories that are open to myriad interpretations--each one a different stage set that suggests many possibilities. It is left to us, the viewers, to identify the characters, recognize the artist's clues, and give personal meaning to each scenario.

Sometimes there are specific allusions to other paintings, other places, other times (i.e., Goya's Maja, Magritte's bowler hat, Matisse's gold fish). Sometimes a likeness of the artist himself, a full-frontal nude, or rotund people (reminiscent of Botero) are incorporated into the composition. Sometimes a back wall is missing through which we see poetic dreamscapes, images that relate to the Italian Renaissance, or metaphysical symbols.

But always, each figure in the painting exists in his/her own private world, totally isolated from the others, staring vacantly into space. And always, regardless of appropriation, Cienfuegos transforms his figures into characters that are shaped by his personal experience in metropolitan Chilean society.

Whether speaking of composition, historical reference, intellectual wit, social commentary, or sheer intrigue, you just can't beat Conspiracion Frustrada (Frustrated Conspiracy), Amanecer Ingravido (Break of Dawn), or the Teatro Humano (Human Theatre). In fact, in a nutshell, the latter is what Cienfuegos has been depicting all along.