Felipe Ehrenberg: Testamento: ISLAA 26 May 2021

meli texted that the brother of friend would be having an exhibition at Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA), a small gallery on the Upper East Side. I contacted Denny and Sam to see if they would like to go with me and Denny immediately said yes. Felipe Ehrenberg was a Mexican artist, who died in 2017. He called himself a neologist or sometimes an archivist. He worked in different media but he liked to collect everything. And everything ended up in the collection of collages for Testamento. He travelled the world and made art everywhere. During his exile in England after fleeing Mexico because of the danger of arrest after the 1968 student demonstrations, he co-founded Beau Geste Press, a collective of artists dedicated to publishing the work of visual poets, conceptual artists, neo-dadaists, and experimental artists. And through this was his connection to Fluxus. Denny told me why his yes was immediate. He had seen an exhibition of Ehrenberg’s work at the El Museo del Barrio and there was an interesting fact posted there about him. It seems that the archivist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has to keep and archive anything sent to them – they cannot throw anything out or send it back. So, Ehrenberg took one of his pieces, wrapped it in brown paper, and sent it to the Met’s archivist. Even if the work is never displayed, it will forever live at the Met.

It was one of the first hot and humid days before the NYC summer. I took the bus uptown from Penn Station and met Denny outside. Viewing the exhibition is by appointment only (it runs until August 7th) and we had an appointment for 2:30pm.  There was no one else inside except for a woman at the desk. She handed us a piece of paper, which had information about ISLAA and Ehrenberg and a booklet that had photos of the collages and an essay by Nestor García Canclini in both English and Spanish. The book is available online for free from ISLAA if you cannot make the exhibition.

Curated by Oliva Casa, the exhibition displays for the first time the 34 collages in Testamento (1968-2017) in which Ehrenberg put together documents, clippings, drawings, photographs, stencils, and writings from his archives. The pieces are different sizes – most, I would say, are poster size. They reminded me of the Mexican ex-votos or votives but these collages are not small postcards and they do not have religious significance unless you want to imbue them with such.

This was my favorite because of this poem in the collage:

Letters are like poems.

To write to a friend

you have to wait for

The right poem to ocurre

to you – sometimes,

This poem is elusive &

takes a longer time to

understand – That’s

why we take so

long to answer

But all the collages held some interest for different reasons. It could be a photo that was included. Or a postcard. Maybe how he glued a comic and photos of sculptures on paper and cut the paper into the shape of a penis and testicles. A drip of paint here. Another face covering the face of the Virgin Mary. A ticket to a show. A receipt from a store. A religious medal. Boxes from an impotency drug. A 20-peso bill. Why are some of these together on the same collage? How do they connect?

Clicking here will take you to a slideshow of all the collages. But it is more fun to see them in person where you can see the textures. One of the interesting things I read about Ehrenberg is that he created the art first and then made the drawing. I am very glad meli told me about this and I got to see it.

Afterwards, Denny and walked through Central Park where we hit the park’s greatest hits – the Loeb Boathouse, The Lake, Bethesda Terrace, and Tavern on the Green.  We saw who we thought was a model across from the fountain but then realized it was girl getting her quinceañera portraits taken by a professional photographer. Then we stopped at Rosa Mexicana across from Lincoln Center and had some guacamole and shared tacos.

It was a lovely afternoon to take some time off work and relax.

By Carene Lydia Lopez