Prepare to be dazzled
Raúl de Nieves opens first Boston exhibition at ICA
On Sept. 1, Raúl de Nieves’ first Boston exhibition, “The Treasure House of Memory” opened at the ICA Boston. Running through July 24, 2022, the solo show features a new body of work by the artist and explores themes of memory and personal transformation.
Born in Mexico, de Nieves is now a New York-based artist, performer and musician. His enigmatic works span the gamut from intricately adorned figurines to stained glass narrative paintings to engaging performances. This range allows visitors to take in the full breadth of de Nieves’ style and to spend time with the small, intentional details of each work.
“This exhibition grew out of Raúl’s desire to look within himself — at his experience, past work, recurring themes — to chart a self-possessed way forward in his life and work,” says Jeffrey De Blois, assistant curator and publications manager and organizer of the exhibition.
The flagship image of the show is “The Fable, which is composed of wonders, moves the more” (2021), a life-size jeweled horse rearing back on its hind legs. The piece is powerful, but also radiates the joy of a figure self-actualized and self-expressive. Cultured pearls, metal, glass and resin bring the piece to life, but it stands with the ease of a living, breathing creature.
“The Fable” connects to several other images in the show, including a three-panel painting depicting Saint George and the Dragon. On it, the saint slays a dragon on horseback. Nearby, another sculpture with a jewel-encrusted appearance depicts two interlocking bodies with horse heads. It appears as though the bodies are in the midst of transformation into horses themselves. These horse motifs throughout the show articulate a kind of power and freedom.
The opulent nature of the sculptures, covered in glass, metal, sequins and other materials, alludes to traditional costumes in Mexican culture as well as the extravagance of clothing warn in drag and ballroom spaces. By bringing in his Mexican heritage, queer culture and a spectrum of religious themes, de Nieves delves into the components of his own experience and identity and articulates them in stunning and thoughtful artworks.
There’s a lot to unpack in this show, but the feeling of the exhibition is overall joyful. The color and texture of de Nieves’s works pulls viewers in from the start and the feeling of self-actualization and strength in that identity emanates from the works.
“‘The Treasure House of Memory’ reflects on a question in the title of one his works: Who would we be without our memories?” says De Blois. “As in all of his work, Raúl answers through ornately beautiful, life-affirming artworks.”