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Aljira presents major survey exhibition by Cuban-American artist, Luis Cruz Azaceta

Newark, New Jersey—Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art is pleased to present Bending the Grid. Luis Cruz Azaceta: Dictators, Terrorism, War and Exiles, a major survey exhibition of paintings by a leading Cuban-American artist exploring political and social issues through formal experimentation. A profound Expressionist painter, Cruz Azaceta utilizes a humanist narrative to share stories and experiences related to themes concerning war, alienation, and isolation.

An opening reception, gallery walk and catalog signing will take place on January 23, 2014 from 6 to 9pm with the artist and curator Alejandro Anreus, PhD., Professor of Art and Latin American Studies, William Patterson University, New Jersey.

Luis Cruz Azaceta was born in Havana, Cuba. As a teenager, he witnessed many acts of violence on the streets of Havana which created within him a sensitivity towards violence, human cruelty, injustice and alienation—later these became central themes in his work. At 18 years-old, Cruz Azaceta left Cuba for New Jersey then, New York City. In 1969 he graduated from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Cruz Azaceta’s “apocalyptic pop” style characterized his initial entry into the art world. By the end of the 1970s Cruz Azaceta was working in a highly personal vocabulary that synthesized bold colors and thick outlines. Today he is considered one of the great expressionists, utilizing the artform as a social and moral force.

“This exhibition has gathered 29 works by Cruz Azaceta that obsessively explores his most constant themes of dictators, terrorism, war and exiles, ranging chronologically from 1980 to the present. To paraphrase the late art critic Robert Hughes on Goya, Cruz Azaceta successfully makes an eloquent and morally urgent art out of human disaster,” says Dr. Alejandro Anreus. “He belongs to the family of artists that consists of Goya, Max Beckmann and José Clemente Orozco – brutal truth tellers that hold up a cracked mirror to society, while standing with a humanity that must prevail.”

“Stylistically, Cruz Azaceta’ s early work reflected a colorful, Pop art-like tendency in depicting everyday environments charged with violence. By the early 1980s he had consolidated a pictorial language, where a colorful and harsh figuration utilized his self-portrait, not as a narcissistic statement but rather as a stand-in for a humanity suffering through the travails of persecution and oppression,” explains Anreus. “Since then, his style has continued to shift and grow, always discarding mannered repetition in favor of audacious experimentation. What remains consistent is his vision as an engaged, humanist artist, who gives witness to the underdog.”

Inaugurated in 2003, Bending the Grid is a series which celebrates the successful careers of outstanding yet under-recognized national and international artists over the age of 65. Although the work of the featured artists often is grounded in formal concerns, the series focuses on the way each individual artist subverts or adapts these traditions to his or her own purpose. Artists included in the Bending the Grid series to date are Frank Bowling, Judith K. Brodsky, Donald Locke, Miriam Beerman and Helen M. Stummer.

Bending the Grid - Luis Cruz Azaceta:  Dictators, Terrorism, War and Exiles is documented by an extensive, illustrated catalog, including an essay by the curator available for purchase at Aljira. The exhibition will be on view at Aljira through April 26, 2014 and will travel to museums nationally in 2014-2015.  The exhibition is generously funded by The Lambent Foundation and the catalog is supported by a grant from The Joan Mitchell Foundation.

About the Curator

Born in Havana, Cuba, Professor Anreus received his B.A. in art history from Kean College in 1984. He completed his M.A. (1995) and PhD (1997) in art history at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Before joining the William Paterson University, NJ, faculty, where he serves as Professor, Dr. Anreus was a curator at the Montclair Art Museum (1986-93) and the Jersey City Museum (1993-2001), as well as a critic in residence at the Latino Center for Art and Culture, Rutgers University (1999-2000). Professor Anreus has taught art history at New Jersey City University, Seton Hall University and Kean University.

His recent publications are Ben Shahn and The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti (Jersey City Museum and Rutgers University Press, 2001), Orozco in Gringoland: The Years in New York (University of New Mexico Press, 2001), and The Social and The Real; Political Art of the 1930s in the Western Hemisphere (Penn State Press, 2006), which he co-edited with Diana L. Linden and Jonathan Weinberg. His articles have appeared in Art Journal, Third Text, Art Nexus and Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana.

Since 2003 Professor Anreus has been part of the national advisory board of the "A Ver" series of monographs. This is the first series of monographs focused on living Latino artists.

This multi-volume project is funded by the Getty and Rockefeller Foundations and is based at the Chicano Studies Department at University of California, Los Angeles.

His published works also include Mexican Muralism, A Critical History (in collaboration with Leonard Folgarait and Robin Adèle Greeley), published by University of California Press in 2010. He is currently writing a monograph on Cuban-American painter Luis Cruz Azaceta to be published by the “A Ver” series.

Public Programming

March 8, 2014 1:30pm – 3:30pm: Film Screening and Discussion: El Supér, a classic 1979 film about working class Cuban exiles living in New York City. Followed by a discussion with playwright Ivàn Acosta and curator Dr. Alejandro Anreus. Acosta and Anreus will discuss how the original play became a successful movie. 


April 25, 2014: Bending the Grid - Luis Cruz Azaceta:  Dictators, Terrorism, War and Exiles Closing reception and poetry reading by select poets hosted by Founding Director of the Dodge Poetry Festival, Jim Haba.

Other Aljira 30th Anniversary Events and Exhibitions

February 6, 2014 6 – 8pm: Book Signing with author Barbara Kukla for “America’s Music: Jazz in Newark – A Comprehensive History of an American City.” Exhibition of photographs by Bill May and performance by jazz singer Carrie Jackson.

March 29, 2014 to September 28, 2014: Aljira at 30. Dream and Reality: a retrospective exhibition celebrating Aljira’s 30th Anniversary at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, co-curated by Margaret O’Reilly and Carl E. Hazlewood.


About Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art

Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art fosters excellence in the visual arts through exhibitions and educational programs that serve as catalysts for inclusiveness and diversity, promote cross-cultural dialog, and enable us to better understand the time in which we live. Public understanding and support of the visual arts are strengthened through collaboration and community-based educational programming. Aljira seeks out the work of emerging and underrepresented artists and brings the work of more established artists to our community. Through the visual arts Aljira bridges racial, cultural and ethnic divides and enriches the lives of individuals.

Aljira’s operations and programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey Cultural Trust, The Kenneth Aidekman Family Foundation, Bank of America, Brick City Development Corporation, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Greater Newark Conservancy, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, Hyde and Watson Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation, Lambent Foundation, MCJ Amelior Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, PNC Bank, Prudential, The Prudential Foundation, PSE&G Foundation, RBH Group, Spire Group, State Farm Insurance, Telebrands, Tides Foundation, The Turrell Fund, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and many generous individual contributors.

Aljira is located at 591 Broad Street in downtown Newark. For directions visit our website at www.aljira.org. The Center is open Wednesday through Friday, 12–6 pm and Saturday, 11 am–4pm. Phone 973 622-1600, fax 973 622-6526, Website: www.aljira.org. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/aljira On Tumblr: www.aljirablog.tumblr.com On Twitter: @aljiratweets.