New exhibition at the Art Museum invites you to discover the intimate universe of Jose Campeche

“Campeche is one of those figures to which we must return,” says Juan Carlos Lopez Quintero, curator of the Puerto Rico Museum of Artan institution that opens to the public today, Saturday, September 9, starting at 11:00 am, the exhibition “Jose Campeche painted it: Archdiocese of San Juan Collection.”

“In 2012, the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico presented the largest retrospective of Jose Campeche, which Dr. Arturo Davila worked on with me, which was a great luck for me. In that exhibition, there were more than 70 works and more than 40 years of Don Arturo’s research were summarized. That time I had to do a historiographical account of the critics of Campeche and at the stage production level, everything was built in order to recreate his time. But Now, we are inaugurating something very new, very contemporary, which was definitely the result of the above. This is a proposal that we hope will be attractive to the ordinary citizen as well as to the expert.”, adds the curator.

The Museum of Art of Puerto Rico has been the custodian, for four years now, of the collection of the Archdiocese of San Juan. Of the 61 works that make up it, 23 are from Campeche. “I started studying the collection and found many interesting things. For example, Although it is a religious collection, they are portraits and all Campeche scholars agree that the best Campeche production is precisely its portraits. But Campeche did not limit himself to painting prints, which the church strictly proposed, but rather took his liberties, that is why there are pictures where he writes: ‘Campeche invented it and painted it’”, he elaborates.

Then “I wanted to investigate where these works were originally and for that I turned to Dr. Arturo Davila and Rene Taylor. This is how we arrived at Old San Juan. And Old San Juan de Campeche was not the tourist area we know today. It was organized into two powers: the military and the religious. And Campeche participated in both worlds: he was an oboist and organist in the Cathedral and he was a soldier, he defended Puerto Rico from the attempted conquest by the English and was a visual chronicler of the siege. That is why he paints the Ex Voto of the siege of the City of Puerto Rico by a British army, which we have in the room.”

Assembly of the exhibition that will open to the public on Saturday, September 9. (Nahira Montcourt)

But how is a curator’s conceptual work reflected in the room? “You have to have a good team. And in this montage I work hand in hand with Alberto Rigau, museographer and graphic designer; Miguel Torres, who is the supervisor of the preparers of the MAPR, who has participated in more than 100 productions in the 23 years that he has been at the Museum; and Luis Y. Aponte, a young talent who arrived at a magical moment.”

This exhibition is interesting because it is the first one that we do that does not have modules, it is not a labyrinth, it is an exhibition without walls: people will enter to fully see the Campeche universe, a complete panorama, a holistic vision. And despite that, it is an intimate exhibition”says Torres.

Furthermore, “the key to developing the museography for this exhibition was precisely that it is the collection of the Archdiocese of San Juan, because you can talk about Campeche in many ways, but this collection led us to think about Old San Juan,” says Rigau. “The museum experience for ‘Jose Campeche lo pinto’ was organized through the San Juan that he himself knew. That led us to the buildings: the facades of the structures that once housed his works function as coordinates to contextualize the visitor in a familiar landscape. For example, the five ovals that are in Santa Ana, were located there because those oil paintings were placed in an altarpiece in the oratory of Santa Ana, and so on, with the other pieces. We are bringing together family groups (of works) that were together, separated and the Archdiocese of San Juan put them together in its collection. Also, the walls are not white, we are using gray and light blue, to give the impression of a sky, because the idea is that the painting comes out of color”.

The museography has six monumental murals of the San Juan temples, which are presented with their current facades, so that the public can identify them.with the exception of the Conventual Church of San Francisco, “because Campeche gave us a painting showing the facade of the church as he saw it and I wanted people to see it with the eyes of Campeche, exactly as he saw it,” adds Lopez Quintero.

Cristina Gaztambide, executive director of the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico and Juan Carlos Lopez Quintero, curator of the exhibition.
Cristina Gaztambide, executive director of the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico and Juan Carlos Lopez Quintero, curator of the exhibition. (Nahira Montcourt)

The person responsible for painting the murals on the monumental facades in the room was Luis Y. Aponte. “First, the silhouettes of the buildings were prepared digitally, that image was transferred to the projector, taken to the wall and with that I started working. Making a mural can be a daunting process because it requires a lot of precision and care. Each mural was done by hand, using the freehand drawing technique with a brush. It took me a little over two weeks to paint all six buildings, but I have a good hand. Everything had to be straight and clean.”

Regarding graphic design, Rigau explains that “Campeche was a person who was exposed to many influences and kept informed of events abroad. Although the printing press arrived in Puerto Rico when he was already in his last days, he must have seen the newspapers with the news that came from Spain, such as the Gazeta de Madrid, which already existed in 1780, and that led me to investigate, thinking about what else Campeche could have seen in its time? That is why I am using the Baskerville font for the content of the exhibition, that is, the texts in the room of this exhibition were worked in a font that Campeche himself saw”.

For its part, Maria Cristina Gaztambide, executive director of the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico, comments that “’Jose Campeche painted it’ is a commitment to bring Campeche to our time. Although his work is a stamp of a past time, more than 220 years after his death, his figure is still from our time, current. Campeche was the son of a slave and a poor immigrant from the Canary Islands. A story similar to that of many of us, whose families also made a whole here from their nothings from other places. Campeche developed his exceptional artistic talent here, with few opportunities, virtually no formal instruction, no teacher. Without leaving Puerto Rico, indeed, without leaving the islet of San Juan. But far from crushing his spirit, this island and that islet provided the conditions for him to fly. And that world – which is also ours: our streets, our nature, our people, our devotions and desires, some captured in these prints – was the germ of his creativity at the same time that he recognized his talent. In some way, Jose Campeche was one more Puerto Rican, one more of us. However, his talent, his perseverance and his legacy remind us that from here he can be great. Giving our best, we can all be Campeche”.

Kumneger Media
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