Alberto Borea

By Ian Cofré, New York City | January 28, 2013

On an unseasonably warm fall day in October, on a Friday afternoon, I am at Y Gallery, where I am to meet Alberto Borea (b. 1979, Lima, Peru) to tour his second solo exhibition in New York titled “Because of Construction” .

Alberto Borea

I enter before he arrives, and upon descending into the gallery, I become aware, as always, that Y Gallery is one of the few subterranean exhibition spaces that I know of in New York. Having back-to-back basement spaces to work with presents challenges, which Borea faced during his first solo exhibition with Y in 2010, Fortalezas”, but with its diffuse, even lighting and larger footprint, the current Orchard Street space has a more traditional feel. The show takes advantage of that, arranged into a miniature, museum-like environment, with an emphasis on several seemingly traditional objects, unlike the artist's previous installations. The works are predominantly contrasts between black and white positive and negative space and resemble the fragile, encased findings of an archaeological dig. We discussed those underpinnings as he led me through the exhibition.

IC: Why did you choose this particular style of installing?

AB: I basically wanted...a museum of ancient cultures, a Peruvian museum, a Latin American museum, a generic world museum, an historical relate the contemporary world or the global and local sphere, local problems, with ancient ideas or the ideas of cultures that are in decline or have disappeared...because of a dominant culture that has razed them.

IC: And what is the connection to the show's title – a typical preface to an announcement justifying or excusing poor subway service for commuters in New York?

AB: “ Because of Construction” is something you hear and you never know if it's true or not...that kind of faith you put in a government or an almost invisible entity is a bit of the context I wanted to give this show.

IC: Your work typically deals with urbanism and the obsolescence of technology. How does this work differ?

AB: We forget where we came from so that we can be who we want to be. And in that sense, this exhibition of a museum of huacos [Incan and Pre-Incan ritual ceramics and pottery] a search for an identity of who I am − a search for a general identity, not just mine alone. But I think of it as an open sociological study... [to] understand the reality in which I live.

Borea collapses time and geography, draws equivalencies between displaced Native American cultures, and places himself almost literally in the shoes of the worker as he packages the failed American Dream, the housing market implosion, immigration policies, and other assaults against working class people into the objects on display. On observation, there are a few readymades that engage different levels of these concerns simply and directly: The Sound of this City, 2012, a Manhattan skyline constructed from inverted Andean pan flutes; Nothing, 2012, plexiglas signage as a broken down symbol of the home as vital unit due to the real estate crash; and Destino, 2012, a leather glove bearing the artist's threaded palm lines as a forward looking relic.

The more compelling work in the exhibition deconstructs these atomistic concerns and recombines them into approximations of ritualistic objects. Immigration Line, 2012, the ghostly lineup of masks made from torn U.S. immigration documents, vacillates between a representation of identification and anonymity, and most starkly, the ripping action as a choice between accepting to participate or not in the sanctioned reality of society. To the artist, that freedom to present oneself as one wishes to be seen draws connections back to ritual sacrifice in ancient cultures, the 1980s political upheaval and terrorism in Peru, which he witnessed, and the invisible and discarded class that the title alludes to. Two series of works, Concreto and Archaeological Cycle, trace their lineage directly to huacos. Three abstract portraits, or huaco-retratos, are fashioned from a combination of the working tools of construction workers, artist's stretcher bars, and plexiglas, which the artist readily admits:

AB: It kind of joins two professions that...[do] not necessarily meet or integrate today – [it deals] a little with the loss of that. The idea of the huaco is almost a Romantic one, though not naive, but it is the idea of an older culture integrated in terms of ideas, ideology, and art.

IC: These pieces contrast with the less ambiguous Archaeological Cycle I, II, and III, collaged from catalogs selling guns, real estate, and Native American artifacts, and which appear indisputably frail.

AB: It is basically the feeling, the eviction, and the displacement. For me, this is a circle and the wheel of history, and weapons symbolize the means between one thing and another..., rather, economic violence, not plain violence, and the violence of inequality are what interested me at the moment.

The artist's work has continually engaged the dialectic between ruin and renewal. The result of this relation should be seen as the symbols and mark making of a contemporary artisan. His ruminations on the working class are not necessarily literal like in Existe Resiste, 2012 and San Cristobal, 2012. The former is an homage to the working class, a shoeshine box reconfigured into a fractious self-portrait that repeats the overlapping mantra “exist...resist...” in self-affirming whispers. The latter is a landscape of the hillside slums of San Cristóbal constructed from matchsticks and encased in a light box with a fluorescent bulb.

AB: We all know that it can't burn, but just the idea that the possibility is there that it suddenly bursts into flames...

IC: Their proximity elevates a tension and suspicion of one's belief, or cognitive dissonance. And the accompanying video...?

AB: The fire has to be in this piece, not because it narrates something that can happen in the future. I was interested only in the act of change, of exercising the act of lighting a the idea of promise of change. So part of it was the idea the potential for change, something could ignite or something could disappear.

What his answers reveal is a strategy that Borea employs repeatedly in the exhibition, starting with the subject of the worker as the nucleus and using the museum and huaco as metaphor for the vessel, empty but for its purpose as a repository of ideas or political and economic forces that affect the worker, that preserves a poignant reminder of unrealized desire and a cycle of failures. The reconciling of disparate preoccupations that Borea posits results in a body of differing formal solutions connected by their materiality and that translate on occasion into successful individual works that are surprisingly personal and plaintive.


“Because of Construction” was on view from September 7 through October 7, 2012 at Y Gallery. 165 Orchard St, New York, NY Alberto Borea is represented by Y Gallery.


Alberto Borea, was born in Lima, Perú in 1979. His works have been exhibited in several solo and group shows in Latin America, Europe and the U.S. Most recently he participated in “New York” at The Museum of Americas Washington DC, 2012 / “Salvajes”, at Traneudstillingen, Denmark, 2012 / “Remesas: Flujos Simbólicos” at Fundación Telefónica Perú, 2012 / “Dublin Contemporary” –the Dublin Biennial, 2011 / The “S-Files” -El Museo del Barrio Biennial, 2011; among others. He has participated in different programs and artist residencies including Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2008 (Fundación Cisneros Grant), Art Omi International Artists Residency (2009), The International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) and currently at the LMCC, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. He lives and works in New York.


*Ian Cofré is an independent curator based in New York. His next project, Bigger Than Shadows, opens on November 3 at DODGEgallery, New York.