Entering the room of Edouard Duval-Carrié’s Imagined Landscapes at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, one is reverently disarmed—in the way that walking into a grand, Renaissance-style church can do.
Duval-Carrié’s church, however, is one reserved for a liberationist theology, and a subaltern politics.
The shadowy, glimmering purplish, and deep marine-hued paintings contain scenes pregnant with menacing tropical flora. Based on paintings commissioned in the 19th century by colonial powers, the work engages the subject of the show: how the State and Church worked to represent and distort the image of Florida and the Caribbean, and how that legacy continues to linger about today.
Edouard Duval-Carrié, After Bierstad–The Landing of Columbus, 2013, Mixed media on aluminum, 96 x 144 inches; Photo: Ralph Torres; Courtesy of the artist
As a response to the destabilizing efforts of the Protestant reformation, the Catholic Church started deploying the use of art as a tactic for recapturing its market share of the God-fearing. In the 1600s, the development of the Baroque—an aesthetic of elaborateness, bigness, and vividity—was expressly for the purposes of capturing attention, entrancing the senses, and disciplining the naughty.
The PAMM exhibition is meant to feel Baroque, and does, but with a strange, maybe questionable caveat: the Haitian-born artist’s paintings are paired with equally mammoth, similarly ostentatious chandelier sculptures, whose purple aura gives the room a sort of B science fiction movie set effect.
Amongst some of Duval-Carrié’s terrains are the bodies of tyrannized natives, as well as their colonial subjugators, including conquerors on horseback and an anachronistic application of time-travelling Disney characters. All of the depictions, created on imposingly large resin panels, are landscapes awash in inky swamps of black and silver glitter, twinkling with the unsettling, deviant specter of invasion.
Duval-Carrié has resided in Miami since 1992, moving here after studying at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He’s known for some incendiary work that negotiates the historical and contemporary representation of Caribbean people and politics.
One illustrative example of his pictorial politics is his 1979 portrait of Jean-Claude “Bébé Doc” Duvalier, the much-feared President (read: Dictator) of Haiti from 1971 to 1986. Duvalier, as good a génocidaire as his dear old Papa Doc, is shown in a wedding dress by Duval-Carrié, along with other members of the regime, inside a torture chamber.
Edouard Duval-Carrié, Crystal Explorer, 2013, Mixed media on aluminum, 96 x 144 inches; Photo: Ralph Torre; Courtesy of the artist
Imagined Landscapes consists of Duval-Carrié’s latest works, produced over the last year or so. Instead of satirizing the real history of repression, as mentioned above, the new works are a response to the art-historical advent of landscape painting. And besides the use of the potentially tired Disney trope—how much is Disney like the brutal colonial powers of the past? Or, how could it not be the perfect symbol for the colonizing ideology of consumption and corporate statism?—the paintings evoke an imagination that was trying to wrap its own head around its conquests, one which then sought to misconstrue the reality of these mosquito-ridden sub-tropical hellholes as heavenly, economically productive Gardens of Eden.
(Image on top: Edouard Duval-Carrié, After Martin Johnson Heade–Cascade and Hummingbirds, 2013, Mixed media on aluminum , 96 x 144 inches; Photo: Ralph Torres; Courtesy of the artist)