Combining a verbal practice with a visual one is Pedro Vélez, a Puerto Rico-born artist and writer who has spent much of his career in Chicago and the Midwest. Known for his incendiary voice, Vélez wields his unabashedly critical views on the art world through both his text-based artworks and his art criticism in publications like the now-closed journalism branch of ArtNet, Chicago’s Newcity Art and New York’s Art F City. In his visual practice, posters, postcards and collages are full of institutional critique, art world gossip and topical cultural references. Notorious for naming names, Vélez’s past work included imaginary exhibition announcements replete with lineups of real-life collectors, dealers and artists. Further provoking his audience, often layered beneath his texts were photographs of hot girls who are painted to appear bruised and battered: images that function both as blatant vehicles of shock-value and stand-ins for targets of consumption and objectifying gaze.
In his first Whitney Biennial appearance, Vélez continues to point fingers, here calling out art world power figures, institutions and the unchecked biases of the art press, often in regards to race. In his posters, the artist’s writing is combined with quotes from and photographs of fellow critics and colleagues (full disclosure: the writer of this article appears amongst the depictions of critics and colleagues in Vélez’s presentation at the Whitney, and an extension of that work exhibited at Monique Meloche Gallery in Chicago). Recent art world issues that appear in this work include the debacles at the Detroit Institute of Arts and El Museo del Barrio, and the incompetence of the art press in their reporting of those events. Littered with hashtags, Tweets and snippets of emails and articles, Velez’s works are also a reflection of art publishing in an online world: a non-stop scrambling for clicks, and all the commentary that subsequently follows. Velez’s writing and art practice work in tandem, and he sees this dual-sided career as something he shares with many others in Chicago.“I have gravitated my whole career between the Midwest and Puerto Rico,” he says.“Our multidisciplinary practices have influenced the way in which art is being made in the US, or art centers like New York and Los Angeles.”
By Robin Dluzen – March 1, 2014
Whitney Biennial: The View From Chicago