William Cordova on Juana Valdes in “Relational Undercurrents” at MOLAA


As part of the Annual Guide to Galleries, Museums, and Artists (A.i.A.‘s August issue), we preview the 2017–18 season of museum exhibitions worldwide. In addition to offering their own top picks, our editors asked select artists, curators, and other experts to identify the shows they are looking forward to. Here, William Cordova talks about Juana Valdes.

“I am looking forward to Juana Valdes’s contribution to ‘Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago,’ an exhibition curated by Rutger’s University professor Tatiana Flores, which opens at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California. The show, part of the Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time initiative, includes more than eighty artists and is divided into four thematic sections. Valdes’s work is in the section called ‘Conceptual Mappings.’ She connects the migratory narrative of the African diaspora to a visual lexicon of familiar objects with unsettling results. 

“In the past, Valdes’s research-driven installations—which encompass photography, ceramics, textiles, performances, and printmaking—have used materials sparingly. Her contribution to ‘Relational Undercurrents’ features a massive custom-designed table covered with thrift-store ornaments and tchotchkes resembling living room decor. 

“Wooden gazelles, plaster Virgin Marys, faux Persian crockery, West Indian cups, Japanese flasks, china bowls and cups—all these are knickknacks familiar from yard sales but also objects whose fetishized likenesses can be seen in seventeenth-century Dutch still-life paintings. Valdes is interested in revealing the loaded hierarchy of those paintings and their mode of displaying non-Western goods as status symbols.  

“Valdes’s installation makes us inspect mass-produced objects as part of the neocolonial narrative. In large and small digital prints, she manipulates perspective and scale to direct scrutiny to penciled prices or ‘made in China’ labels. Valdes is an artist’s artist—a methodical practitioner deeply invested in addressing the concept of perception and changing our perspectives in the process.” 


“Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago” at Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, Calif., Sept. 16, 2017–Jan. 28, 2018; Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, summer 2018; Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Florida International University, Miami, fall 2018; Portland Museum of Art, Maine, spring 2019; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, summer 2019.

WILLIAM CORDOVA is an interdisciplinary cultural practitioner based in Miami and upstate New York.