A Timely Retrospective of Artist Adolfo Rene Sanchez

On view during Miami Art Week 2023, the Valle de Lágrimas / Valley of Tears exhibition shed new light on the seminal talent’s shrewd critique of pop culture.

An often overlooked fixture of the 1980s downtown New York art scene, Adolfo Rene Sanchez applied his unique brand of figurative interpretation to everything from large-scale canvases to magazine illustrations. The Cuban-born artist drew inspiration from the country’s traditional music and also various literary styles. Artists like Salvador Dalí, Diego Rivera, and James Rosenquist—known for skewing realism in their respective ways—had a significant impact on his approach. Like these pantheonic painters, he sought to reflect on different aspects of the counterculture that surrounded him. Sadly, like so many creatives in this community, he died from AIDs-related complications in 1990.

 

Adolfo Rene Sanchez portrait

Adolfo Sanchez.

 

“Adolfo had an active social life and enjoyed frequenting dance clubs such as The Garage, Danceteria, Club 57, and others,” says Oliver Sanchez, the artist’s brother. “His gentle empathetic demeanour was congenial to many, and his talent as a painter quickly gained him accolades from most.” Sanchez was a keen observer of his surroundings and, with a slightly ethnographic stance, was able to capture the moment in spellbinding pictures. It was a modus operandi that garnered him early acclaim.

 

Adolfo Rene Sanchez art

 

Ten expansive paintings he created in 1987—a collection dubbed Valle de Lágrimas / Valley of Tears—satirizes 1970s Mexican fotonovelas. Presented at alternative Miami Design District arts venue Swampspace by local gallery Spinello Projects during this year’s Miami Art Week (December 4-9), the large acrylic works incorporate select melodramatic, often lurid, scenes extracted from this type of comic strip. The exhibit was mounted as part of the platforms’ jointly programmed Gay Era solo-show series highlighting a group of talents whose work explores the rich diversity of the queer experience. Other exhibitions have spotlighted talents like Anthony Goicolea, Barnaby Whitfield, and Kris Knight.

 

 

While Victimas! Tu Andas Igual con la Ta suggests one’s revenge for a dearly betrothed’s affair, Noticia! El Poderoso Recibio Su Castigo graphically depicts a man with a bullet hole in his head. It takes on a surrealistic dimension as one set of eyes is closed and another remains open with a mischievous gaze. Enveneno! A Golpes No Es la Forma clearly evokes the notion of machismo often propagated by fotonovelas of being protected by a powerful man—in this case, one carrying a weapon.

 

 

The special showcase offered a new perspective on an artist who has rarely received the due he deserves. Along with contemporaries like Bruno Schmidt, Kenny Scharf, and Keith Haring, Sanchez had a significant impact on postmodern art. His unbridled style opened the door for more risqué and honest modes of expression.

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