Running from April 18 to July 14, 2024, the Hispanic Museum and Library presents The Word-Shimmering Sea: Diego Velázquez / Enrique Martínez Celaya. This exhibition, curated by contemporary Cuban-born artist Enrique Martínez Celaya with Guillaume Kientz, is a profound exploration of memory, identity, and the artistic journey.

Enrique Martínez Celaya is a multifaceted artist known for his work as a painter, sculptor, author, and former physicist. His works have been exhibited and collected by major international institutions. His connection to art began at a young age, notably influenced by a notebook gifted by his mother in 1971, which featured Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of a Little Girl (ca. 1638–42) on its cover. At six and a half years old, the same age as the girl in Velázquez’s painting, Martínez Celaya formed an intimate bond with the image long before he understood its significance. This early encounter with Velázquez’s work left a lasting impression on him, which was deepened during his time in Madrid, where he explored Velázquez’s masterpieces at the Museo Nacional del Prado.

The Word-Shimmering Sea offers an immersive experience that transports visitors into Martínez Celaya’s childhood, evoking the imagination, nostalgia, and emotional landscapes of his early years. The exhibition facilitates a dialogue about the conditions and imagination of childhood, exile, the promised land, the flow of time, the refuge offered by language, and the nature of painting.

Central to this dialogue are the various juxtapositions and pairings that the exhibition presents: past and present, fifty-three years of distance and the immediate moment, childhood and maturity, lost paradise and longing, words and memories. These themes engage in a continuous conversation, with Velázquez’s Portrait of a Little Girl serving as a confidante in this exchange, while painting itself becomes the witness, capturing the material presence and elusive relationship to truth.

The exhibition features several significant works that encapsulate Martínez Celaya’s journey and reflections. Among these are enlarged renditions of his childhood notebook pages, transferred onto canvas drop cloths that bear the history of work and paint. These canvases are superimposed with painted fragments of the sea, symbolizing the fluidity of memory and the passage of time.

Included in the exhibition are seven large-scale paintings of childhood letters partially concealed by the sea, offering a glimpse into the artist’s early thoughts and feelings, now obscured and revealed by the layers of his later experiences. Additionally, four small paintings based on Velázquez’s Little Girl highlight the enduring influence of this early encounter. A wooden sculpture of a boy holding Martínez Celaya’s first-grade notebook serves as a poignant symbol of the artist’s journey from childhood to maturity.

Projections of elements from the notebook onto the ceiling create an immersive environment that invites visitors to look up and ponder the connections between past and present, childhood dreams and adult realities. Strings of paper boats, made by schoolchildren from Martínez Celaya’s childhood town of Nueva Paz, Cuba, add a communal and participatory dimension to the exhibition, connecting the artist’s personal history with broader social and cultural narratives.

The exhibition’s title, The Word-Shimmering Sea, evokes the fluid, ever-changing nature of language and memory. It suggests a sea of words and images that shimmer with meaning, reflecting the complexities of identity, exile, and artistic creation. The sea, both a literal and metaphorical element in Martínez Celaya’s work, represents the fluidity of time and the constant motion of life’s experiences.

The Word-Shimmering Sea is not just an exhibition but a journey into the depths of memory and imagination. It invites viewers to engage with the layers of meaning that Martínez Celaya has woven into his work, encouraging a reflective and contemplative experience. Through this immersive display, the Hispanic Museum and Library offers a unique opportunity to explore the intersections of art, memory, and identity.

In conclusion, The Word-Shimmering Sea: Diego Velázquez / Enrique Martínez Celaya is a testament to the power of art to bridge the past and present, to evoke deep emotional responses, and to engage with the fundamental questions of human existence. The Hispanic Museum and Library invites all to embark on this journey of discovery and reflection, exploring the profound connections between two artists separated by centuries but united by the timeless language of art.

The Word-Shimmering Sea: Diego Velázquez / Enrique Martínez Celaya
The Word-Shimmering Sea: Diego Velázquez / Enrique Martínez Celaya

Link to the original article