Terence Gower — Havana Case Study
September 12 – December 15, 2017
On the occasion of the second Chicago Architecture Biennial, Neubauer Collegium Exhibitions will present Havana Case Study, a new project by New York-based Canadian artist Terence Gower.
Havana Case Study is the second in a series of installations that use American diplomatic architecture as a lens through which to analyze US international relations (the first work in the series is Baghdad Case Study, 2012), and is based on extensive research in Havana and in US archives. In the late 1940s, the US embarked on an ambitious embassy-building campaign, employing the leading modern architects of the day, and calling for an architecture that expressed “the US as an open, dynamic and cooperative modern country…” Gower’s research examines the embassy program’s attempt to represent the aspirations of a government and its foreign policy through architecture, and how both the function and meaning of embassy buildings have been altered by the US and host governments over the course of their existence.
Designed by the New York firm Harrison and Abramovitz, the new Havana embassy opened its doors in 1953, then closed them in 1961 when the US and Cuba broke diplomatic relations. Sixteen years later, in 1977, President Carter opened the US Interests Section (USINT) in the building, under the formal protection of Switzerland. The embassy once again raised the US flag on July 20, 2015, under president Barack Obama, who made the reestablishment of diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba one of the mandates of his last two years in office. With the election of President Trump, the future of relations between the two countries are once again uncertain.
The centerpiece of the exhibition imagines a comprehensive architectural exhibition on the embassy building, as presented in the late 1950s, at the height of the modernization and expansion of Havana. On an enormous tabletop platform at the center of the gallery, the artist frames details from this period in a complex display of architectural models, photographs, and archival documents, and overlays these views with more recent photographs and newspaper clippings that report on the many uses the building has served—mostly for propaganda purposes—since the Cuban revolution.
When the embassy opened, the balcony off the ambassador’s office, high up on the sea façade, was singled out for special criticism by a State Department inspector. He described it in his report as “Mussolini-style”—perhaps wary of stoking Cuban sensitivity to perceived US imperialism. But the balcony remains in place, an artifact of the diplomatic state of limbo of the 1960s and 70s. Installed outdoors, adjacent to the Neubauer Collegium, Gower’s sculpture Balcony, 2016, is a 1:1 scale outline of the ambassador’s balcony—a symbol of diplomatic stalemate and its political and economic fallout. The balcony is rendered in rebar, a basic construction material that has been put to impressively extensive use in Cuba: in furniture, fences, security grilles, car parts and even fairground rides. In the rawness of its five interchangeable sections, Gower’s monumental sculpture assumes an ambiguous appearance: is it a deconstructed remnant of a bygone era, or is it under construction, soon to be hoisted triumphantly into place on the Collegium’s west façade?
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Terence Gower (b. 1965, Canada) Recent solo exhibitions include Simon Preston Gallery, New York; Labor, Mexico City; and El Eco, Mexico City. Recent group exhibitions include Museo Jumex, Mexico City, CAPC, Bordeaux, Institut d’Art Contemporain Villeurbanne, Lyon; Witte de With, Rotterdam; Museo Tamayo; Tensta Konsthal, Stockholm; MACBA, Barcelona; Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC; and the Bronx Museum, New York, who commissioned the artist’s public pavilion, SuperPuesto. He has participated in the Porto Alegre, Curitiba, and Havana Biennials. His video works have been presented at the Kunstverein in Graz, Austria; Stedelijk Museum SMBA, Amsterdam; Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Madrid; Espai d’Art Contemporani de Castelló, Spain; Fundación Telefonica and the Architecture Biennial in Buenos Aires; and film festivals in New York, Chicago, Florence, Italy and Rotterdam, Holland among others. Gower has recently received a Guggenheim Fellowship, University of Gothenburg Research Fellowship, Smithsonian Artists Research Fellowship, NYSCA Architecture, Planning & Design Project Award, Graham Foundation Fellowship, Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant, Peter Norton Family Foundation Grant, World Views Studios Residency (WTC, New York), Cité des Arts Fellowship (Paris), Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship (Genoa), and a fellowship to the Residencia Internacional de Artistas en Argentina (Buenos Aires). In 2017, Gower will release his third monograph, Form, Model, Syntax, Display: Terence Gower Sculpture Works with Black Dog Publishing, London.