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

April 18 – July 14, 2024, Curated by Enrique Martínez Celaya with Guillaume Kientz

Enrique Martínez Celaya is a contemporary Cuban-born painter, sculptor, author and former physicist whose work has been exhibited and collected by major international institutions. In 1971, thirteen years after the Revolution in Cuba, Martínez Celaya received an important gift from his mother: a notebook with a cover featuring Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of a Little Girl (ca. 1638–42). He was six and a half years old at the time, the same age as the girl in Velázquez’s painting. Their closeness in age and her constant company led him to form an intimate connection with her long before he realized that her portrait was painted by one of the most important artists of all time. Years later while living in Madrid, Martínez Celaya discovered Velázquez through the Museo Nacional del Prado’s collection. The Spanish artist strongly influenced Martínez Celaya’s artistic journey.

The Word Shimmering-Sea will be an immersion into Martínez Celaya’s childhood notebook. The setting will facilitate 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. What does this dialogue consist of? A series of juxtapositions and pairings: past and present, fifty-three years of distance and the immediate moment, childhood and maturity, lost paradise and longing, words and memories, to name a few. Naturally, these pairings engage each with other in an ongoing conversation. Velázquez’s Portrait of a Little Girl is the confidante in this exchange. And painting, with its material presence and elusive relationship to truth, is the witness.

The exhibition features enlarged renditions of these notebook pages on canvas drop cloths, layered with the history of work and paint, which is then superimposed with painted fragments of the sea. Exhibited works include these seven large-scale paintings of childhood letters partially concealed by the sea, four small paintings based on Velázquez’s Little Girl, a wooden sculpture of a boy holding Celaya’s first grade notebook, projections of elements from the notebook onto the ceiling, and strings of paper boats made by schoolchildren in his childhood town of Nueva Paz, Cuba.