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This essay was written for an exhibition of work by José Antonio Hernández-Diez, Saint Guinefort and Other Devotions (Caracas: Sala RG [in the Casa de Rómulo Gallegos], 1991) by the critic Luis Ángel Duque [including a rough English translation]. It begins with an overview of all the artist’s work, starting with his great childhood interest in robotic toys. The critic comments on his first exhibitions and most important works, pointing out that Hernández-Diez belongs to a generation of artists that can be considered “Neo-Conceptual artists.” The second part of the essay explains the medieval legend of the dog/saint/sighthound San Guinefort, the theme of one of the works in the exhibition. Finally, Duque describes the technical elements and analyzes the symbolic content of the works presented in the show.
The essay “San Guinefort y otras devociones” (1991) by the Venezuelan critic Luis Ángel Duque (b. 1954) is considered a key text on the Venezuelan artist José Antonio Hernández-Diez (b. 1964). It not only provides biographical and critical information that show the importance of this artist, but it is also valuable as historical and anthropological research. Regarding the artist, Duque states that his work Los sueños no duran más de cinco minutos included in the exhibition Expresiones libres (Caracas, Galería de Arte Nacional, 1988) was Hernández-Diez debut in the public art scene. In Duque’s opinion, this was the launch of “the most unusual, inventive Venezuelan artist of the last decade.”
From an anthropological and historical perspective, Duque gives us an excellent, detailed account of the different versions of the legend of Saint Guinefort. This background helps enrich the reading of the exhibition as a design for a “new Christian iconography.” Moreover, the essay precisely defines a historical moment in contemporary Venezuelan when significant changes took place in the aesthetic trends—identified by Duque in the late 1980s. The writer states that 1988 was a year of transition and confusion in Venezuelan art, when the work that proliferated included ethnographic installations such as those seen at the Bienal de La Habana. Also typical of that time were creations that were “frank parodies” of the painting that had “ruled” since the early 1980s. The critic identifies Hernández-Diez as one of a group of artists that appeared with new approaches, using installation and multimedia as direct media through which to express their ideas. Stating that “There was a unanimous feeling that the historical time for Expressionist painting had expired (…),” Duque recognizes them as a generation of “Neo-Conceptual artists.” The distinguished artists in this group were: José Gabriel Fernández (b. 1957), Oscar León Jiménez (1969–90), Alí González (b. 1962), Sammy Cucher (b. 1958), as well as Hernández-Diez, himself.
This text is reproduced in the Guía Catálogo/Guía de Estudio No 136. Exposición CCS-10. Arte venezolano actual. (Caracas: Fundación Galería de Arte Nacional, 1993). In the catalogue version, the writer adds an “Appendix” in which he links the video Sagrado Corazón, which was part of the exhibition San Guinefort y otras devociones, to the work Sagrado Corazón – Activo, shown by the artist in El espíritu de los tiempos at the Ateneo de Caracas between September and October 1991.