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Henry Ballate

Henry Ballate was born on July 30, 1966, in Aguada de Pasajeros, Cuba. He is a Cuban-American visual artist, curator and Art History Professor, is an innovative, eclectic and provocative figure in the local art scene. His work is easily recognizable through his use of known iconography, which are essential to his public interventions and appropriations. He received his MFA in Visual Arts and his BFA in Graphic Design from Miami International University of Art and Design (2007). Previously he studied lessons of drawings and painting at Accademia Italiana, Florence, Italy. He graduated from Art Instructors School (Matanzas, Cuba, 1990). Throughout his career he has exhibited at solo and group shows in America, Europe and Asia. Galeria, Matanza, 1990, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam, Bienal de La Habana,1991, Miami Art Basel, Miami’s Independent Thinkers, Miami International University of Art and Design, Soho Arts Miami, Arteamérica Art Fair, Solo Art Miami, San José’s National Gallery,Costa Rica, National Art Gallery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Contemporanea Strozzina, Firenze Italy, Contemporary Art Museum, Moscow, Russia, Vargas Gallery, Pembrokepine, Florida. His works are part of private collections in Canada, Germany, USA, France and Italy.



by Roxana M. Bermejo


I have always defended that along with any good work of art there is a theoretical thinking entrenched. Sometimes, the piece works as a constant for critical thinking, other times, it works as its trigger. This last case, of course, is much more intense, interesting, explanatory and revealing. Definitive.


I think of Duchamp setting his fountain in the middle of a gallery, signing his fountain, saying this is not a urinal, and the audience applauding. After him, I think about Arthur Danto and a little behind in George Dickie, I think about how post modernity opens up and I think about Duchamp himself telling me: I'm Interested in ideas, not just in visual products.


And I think about the Idea, and since the Idea is intangible, I think of its embodiment facing the new times. And I go back to Duchamp and I think what Duchamp would do in the new times. And then, I think that Duchamp has not died, that it's always the others who die. 


Duchamp illuminated the paths for contemporary art. The above is at this point an axiom a thousand times repeated. I will not even take a line to explain it: everything that came after Duchamp drinks from him; necessarily drinks from him.


Duchamp opened the intertextuality, the conceptualism, the loss of the aura of the work, and the Institutionalization of art. After him, nothing was left in the same place. Nothing was sustainable without his signature. There is no doubt that the urinal is the most authentic, artistic and valuable piece of the 20th century.


Now, we should ask ourselves where the shots are pointing, where the art of the 21st century is being urinated. And although many sins of skepticism, and although I myself sin... I think that sometimes a piece comes to light that makes us believe in reincarnation.


If Duchamp lived- I know I sound a bit fanatical, but in essence I am- if Duchamp lived, this would be his work and the signature of Henry Ballate would be the equivalent of R. Mutt in that urinal of 1917.


I'm not going to make it obvious by explaining the reasons that drive me to think the above, nor will I comment on the choice of an element of our daily life becoming an icon of the plastic arts, nor will I talk about the commercialization of art, or the globalization of information. Well, maybe that's what I'll tell you a little about.


Surpassed the limits that disturbed Duchamp facing the power of the Art Institution, new challenges arise for the contemporary world, among which stands out the generalized possibility of access to the work, the uncontrolled inflow of information, the possession and non-possession of the totality of knowledge, and the incapacity that generates the possibility or encompassment of everything.


Warhol had already warned before, and Warhol had driven consumerism into the most dangerous area of all: art.


There, on this point, this painting signed by a certain Mr. Ballate is placed. Will he know that his work is just a pretext to revere, perhaps update the memory of that great duo of Dada and Pop? Let us suppose he knows. Let us suppose that this is due to the use of traditional methods and materials to make your piece, a QR, a simple QR that like any good QR is, although similar to those of its kind, unique and unrepeatable.


The hand of the creator (perhaps the least important element in front of this framework) leads, with chess skill, the arrangement of the small black-white paintings on the canvas in such a way that, at the end of the path— and giving participation to a spectator mediated for its contemporary extension of openness to the world (Digital Devices)— comes face to face with a work of universal art. This is the idea, in a few words: give away a work hidden behind a QR.


Is this art? Perhaps, if we stick to the very principles of Institutionalization, where every element presented in a circle of art and appreciated by an audience of art, immediately becomes a good or bad piece, but an artistic piece at last. However, maybe it is not art. Perhaps it is not pure art, and it grows as a mixture of a globalized curatorial exercise. Will there be a specific intention behind the selection of the works that appear through the window of the QR?


These iconic works, will they be punctual and will they bring a message to those who look for them? Let's say yes. And suppose that for that simple reason, the first of them, the firstborn of the series, presents us “The Urinal” through an interactive work, composed of small black canvases, conceived in a traditional way. A hundred years after the birth of “The Fountaine,” “The Source” by Henry Ballate is a piece that can be transformed through the rearrangement of its components, leading the viewer to experience other relevant works of Art History.


Afterwards, the order of apprehension of the sample matters little. It is in the interest of this project to reach its public in the same chaotic and fractional way in which the information flies. It is his interest to wander between the techné of the piece itself and the classic techné of what is online, dissociate us from the authenticity of the work, compared to the legitimacy of the work, compared to the effectiveness and essence of the work.


To all these, what is the work?

Who is the artist?

Oh Duchamp!

What you have done in contemporary art!

The prodigal son

by Roxana M. Bermejo


Admiring a work from the very moment of its creation, of its birth, of its anodyne, is an indescribable pleasure. To see it, and know with certainty that it will be included in the closed circuit of the institution of art; knowing that it is a genuine piece, a blow and a shot in the dark...


November 8, 2016

The United States is motivated with fired enthusiasm by the presidential elections of 2016. Not often in American History have we seen such a high degree of bewilderment in voters. On what is often called the “red” or republican side we find one of the most unpopular candidates in recent history to receive the Republican Party nomination, Donald Trump: full of faults and impurities. On the “blue” or democrat side these is former US Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is accused of mishandling documents and misusing her powers as Secretary of State. Both candidates are deplorable options; both broken ...perhaps one more than the other (although that is a topic for another article). Trump is accompanied by his promise to "Make America Great Again" and his wife, a beautiful ex-model decades younger with a somewhat shady past by conservative morality standards. This includes several nude and lesbian-leaning images which will undoubtedly shake up how she is viewed as First Lady. Artist Henry Ballate takes on one of these controversial images and juxtaposes it against the solemn American Flag while using Clinton’s presidential campaign slogan, “I’m With Her.” The resulting piece which is polysemic unlike other works of art provides the viewer the ambivalence between the title and its visual representation. To digress, it allows the viewer to wonder or determine for themselves who the creator will vote for. 



Timely in its birth, the work cites not only this political environment in which it was created but also to the history of art. It echoes the witty and clever way the great icon Jasper Johns’ flags that were raised against the background of newspapers of the time. Under the same auspices Ballate also places his composition of solid lines on a deceptively white base that lets you glimpse in depth the news where Trump is presented as the next president of the United States. On the camouflaged newspapers - which disturbs the artist enough to want to erase them, this fiery image of Melania is based on the simplicity and purity of graphic design, a simplicity that seems to have been extracted to a greater irony from the unequivocal propaganda language of newspapers.


In the midst of this electoral tidal wave Henry's piece is perhaps no more than a summary of the current state or a frustrated response to the continuous chatter in the face of those who want to change the party. I fervently believe that the power of a work becomes to a large extent the temporal space in which it is raised; the emotional environment in which it reaches the world as a child who can already be disturbed from the womb of its mother. In this sense I cannot doubt that “I'm With Her” is a product, the product of a hybridization process. For that reason alone, it is as anachronistic as it is striking, pregnant and sarcastic…as if from the union of both candidates a son was born and America welcomed him with open arms. 

Henry Ballate, site-specific intervention during Miami arts week. Ballate, who is also an Art History Professor, is an innovative, eclectic and provocative figure in the local art scene. His work is easily recognizable through his use of known iconography, which are essential to his public interventions and appropriations. Ballate will no longer appropriate a canvas, a wall, or event, this time it will be the ocean. The site-specific installation, Status, appear as floating sculptures on the beach between 20th and 21st street on December 1st, 2016.  


El arte vino del mar

Por: Roxana M. Bermejo


Como parte de la gran oleada artística que acompaña la Feria de Art Basel en esta edición de 2016, encontramos un sinfín de propuestas que avivan, embellecen y provocan a la ciudad de Miami. El escenario miamense, estructurado a través de diversas muestras cada una con núcleos y criterios independientes, nos regala incluso la propiedad de aquellas obras que exceden el espacio galerístico-museal y aparecen, sorprendiéndonos,  desde una entrecalle, desde un tejado o desde el mar. Así nos llega  -bajo el auspicio de Kendall Art Center-  la pieza Status, iniciativa del artista cubano-americano Henry Ballate.


Bañada por la dimensión urbana, por la línea que el horizonte traza entre el cielo y la tierra, entre el cielo y el agua, entre el agua y la tierra... nace esta propuesta, un site specific que se asoma entre las olas de Miami Beach. Ubicado a las espaldas del Bass Museum y El Parque de las Artes, esta obra casi literalmente “saca la cabeza” desde la playa, se alza y nos invita a, cuando menos, decirle adiós parados en la orilla. La literalidad de la expresión deviene del hecho de que la creación de Ballate se compone por  un conjunto de 12 cabezas ¿humanas?, ordenadas en fila, que miran hacia un punto en común, siguen el impulso y la certeza de aquel que los capitanea. Próximas a arribar, o a partir, o a seguir... el mar que las envuelve será quien tenga la última palabra en el destino de estos seres que surgen, al mismo ritmo del amanecer, tal vez anunciando futuras promesas o realidades. 


Recurrente resulta la cifra seleccionada por el autor. El número 12, desde la interpretación bíblica, significa “lo elegido”, de ahí que existiera una decena de discípulos de Cristo y una decena de tribus de Israel a las cuales se les entregara la Tierra Prometida. Sin llegar aún a la ribera, estos personajes quizás imaginen, desde su postura de emigrantes, que la que se abre paso ante sus ojos es su Canaán. Lo observan, sin embargo, desde la distancia, sin tener certeza de la llegada, o el abandono. A la postre, yo tampoco tengo total certeza de que la obra sea a cabalidad religiosa, política, o una mezcla prepotente de ambas, que denuncia la necesidad del hombre de seguir un ideal. Al final del camino, el movimiento resulta lo único real en esta pieza, pérfida metáfora del status humano, del nunca conformarse, del nunca detenerse...


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