Wilfredo Prieto’s new work, Sin título (alfombra roja) (Untitled [red carpet]), 2007, is his second work created specifically for the space of the Galería Nogueras Blanchard, following Biblioteca Blanca (White Bookcase), 2004. Like the earlier work by this Cuban artist, this installation is formally severe, apparently consisting only of a long, red carpet unfurled across the length of the space. But looking at the edge of the rug, the viewer can easily see that under it there is a great deal of dust, which gathered in the gallery while it was closed for the summer. Though many viewers—myself included—were hesitant to step on the carpet, and even more hesitant to boldly lift it up, everyone knew that the piece’s trick lay there, on its underside.
The intervention, quite simply, entails a powerful metaphorical density. First, and most obviously, the red carpet—supreme symbol of power—is portrayed here with all the hidden grime that sustains it. Crucially, however, what’s at stake is not only an abstract appeal to any hegemonic structure; the carpet also literally invites us to enter into an art space, a place endowed with the power to include and validate, where worldliness and sophistication conceal hypocrisy and dirt. Prieto’s art is characterized by the use of this sort of light-handed mischief to reveal the weaknesses in the rhetoric of power—for instance, by “recycling” the official Cuban newspaper Granma as toilet paper, in [Sin título (Papel higiénico)](Untitled [Toilet Paper]), 1999; or by stripping an array of national flags of their semiotic power by reproducing them in different shades of gray, in one of his most celebrated pieces, Apolítico (Apolitical). This time, all the honor promised by a red carpet is rendered commonplace by exposing its dirty underside. His mischief becomes a sort of subtle, low-intensity violence, whose political efficacy lies more in demonstrating an unruly genius than in the real effects of an action. But, in addition to these evident metaphors, alfombra roja has a more tenuous side: the protocols of the prohibited. Though the dust does not go unnoticed, it is barely visible. In order to prove that the core of the piece and its concern lie in what is hidden, the viewer must defy convention and, rather than walk over the carpet, lift it up and display the havoc it conceals. But how likely is that any viewer will actually do this? That act is more likely to remain in the hazy terrain of possibility, and the structure of power knows this. An impressive display is all it takes to reinforce the implicit prohibition. This is how we are made complacent.
Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.