The Museo Jacobo Borges has as its motto a line taken from German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys to the effect that “Every man is an artist.”
In relation to the museum’s current exhibition of folk art from the four corners of Venezuela, that statement seems to hold true.
The pieces on show range from Piaroa Indian basketry – featuring representations of mythical beasts – to religious carvings of saints made by artisans from the small towns and villages that dot the interior.
With the work of 80 folk artists on display, this is a fitting tribute to all those untrained artists who take the time out from the hard grind of their daily lives to satisfy a creative drive that, perhaps, we all possess but that few of us act upon.
But in a small space upstairs – tucked away from the rest of the carved wooden effigies, basketry and ceramics – is another exhibition of 31 sculptures that go beyond dedication, craftsmanship and religious zeal.
Entitled “Punto de Explosion,” it’s an exhibition that has much in common with the naif artwork that fills the rest of the museum, but which at the same time vividly demonstrates the subtle dividing line that exists between inspired folk art and what we understand by “Art with a capital A.”
A folk artist, for example, tries to mold his material to capture as closely as possible, and to the best of his ability, the outward form of the animal, bird, saint or historical figure he has chosen to represent.
But Jesus Alberto Erminy – himself an untrained artist in the academic sense – goes one step beyond when he transforms bones, driftwood and the discarded detritus of modern man into inspired forms that suggest rather than represent the world of nature. “It starts with the thing itself – a piece of wood washed up on the beach, a fish bone, or a hubcap on the side of the road – and from there I get the inspiration to make a piece,” says the 35-year-old artist. “It’s an organic process but there’s a conceptual side to it as well, because I want to recycle these objects into sculptures that reflect an ecological message, that force people to look again at the natural world.”
The power of Erminy’s sculpture to attract the public was evident on Sunday as crowds of adults and children were drawn into the partitioned exhibition space by an eight-foot high ostrich that stands guard at the entrance.
Made from driftwood, a car axle, suspension springs and the wooden knobs from a wardrobe for its eyes, it’s a large, imposing piece. But the best pieces in the show are those that combine the simplest elements, pieces like “Tucan” and “Jirafa,” that are more abstract and rely on the imagination of the viewer.
This is Erminy’s first exhibition, the culmination of six years of collecting and assembling sculptures from discarded material in his house and workshop on the road out of Turgua.
Although coming from an artistic family that includes the painters Magaly and Marisabela Erminy and the acclaimed art critic Peran Erminy, Jesus Alberto was a late starter. He studied electronic engineering in Boston, before returning to Venezeula to work in computers for IBM in 1986 and only began to assemble sculptures for a hobby around 1989.
Now, that hobby is his life and he supports his art from the occasional work he does in furniture restoration and carpentry. Given his first break when Sofia Imber, director of the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (MACCSI), bought a sculpture last year – and buoyed by the sale of over half the pieces in the show on the first day – Erminy now feels ready to take on the challenge of a foreign exhibition.
In the meantime he’s having to get used to the interest the exhibition has generated in his work and reconcile himself to the loss of some of his favorite pieces. But as he says, “the difference between art and folk art is when the artist uses his knowledge and creativity to arrive at something new, a new way of seeing the world. As an artist I can only continue on the road; the work leads me, leaving behind the past and creating new futures that further explore the connection between man and nature.”
REVIEW FROM DAILY JOURNALby Russell Maddicks,Daily Journal StaffTuesday, January 21, 1997
"Artist uses scrap to make novel sculptures, art"