To successfully make a Morir Soñando, a beloved Dominican beverage, one must employ a gentle, patient hand. The drink is an artful blend of milk, orange juice, evaporated milk, sugar and ice, and the temperature of the ingredients and the speed at which they are blended must be just so, or the milk will curdle.
A group exhibition curated by Alex Santana at the Knockdown Center in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens takes its name from the drink, which translates as “to die dreaming,” and the show strikes a delicate balance one would expect from a perfectly mixed Morir Soñando. The beverage, said Santana, is “like a metaphor for a softness, for care, for precision that I believe all these artists are applying in their practices.” She added, “At first I was thinking about softness and what it means to be soft in this political moment and how these artists might be thinking about their work. So that’s the metaphor that grounds the show.”
“Morir Soñando” includes pieces by nine artists working in painting, sculpture, video and textiles. Notions of cultural identity, gender identity, duality and diaspora feature prominently. In Cristina Tufiño’s single-channel video “Dear Pilar” (2018), the artist uses original footage, campy clips of Coca-Cola commercials, idealized representations of femininity, Caribbean motifs like coconuts and palm trees, and archival photographs to expose a personal narrative that jumps from Puerto Rico to Japan to ancient Egypt. Tufiño ties the video — essentially a memory letter to her grandmother — and an accompanying sculpture to her family’s matriarchal legacy. The sculpture, “UZU,” which directly faces the screen that plays the seven-minute video on loop, is a ceramic sphinx on a pedestal made of sand and dirt. Various relics and sacred objects are placed on the shrine-like piece.
Penn Eastburn’s 54” x 72” painting “Have U Hugged Urself Today” (2017) is a chaotic field of thick, intense color and bold, meandering lines, the outline of a human figure gently embracing itself just barely discernible beneath the swirling maze of paint. A frenzied inner turmoil and the basic human desire for tenderness and love tumble together through the painting, which Santana described as an “intimate confessional self-portrait type work.”
In Valery Jung Estabrook’s video “Eggbirth” (2015), the artist, situated in a cartoonishly lush, bucolic setting, births a hardboiled egg from her own mouth — three accompanying miniature-garden wall sculptures incorporate cracked eggs whose bright yellow yokes drip and ooze into spring green grass and cheery pink flowers. The exhibit is hypnotic and surreal, a tender portrait of birth that also manages to sexualize the process.
Curating a fluid group show can be tricky business, but Santana found success in selecting works that, while diverse in material, origin and aesthetic, inhabit common ground in their earnestness and vulnerability, and a refreshing and intimate dialogue threads through the exhibition. Like blending orange juice and milk, the juxtaposition of these varying works results in a surprising, compelling and deeply satisfying experience.
Top Image: Installation view. "Morir Soñando." Curated by Alex Santana. Knockdown Center, New York, June 22–August 19, 2018. Courtesy of Andrew Kaplan