Antonio Martorell’s “Retorno al hogar (Labrando)”


A solo exhibition by leading Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell, “Retorno al hogar (Labrando),” which opened on February 21 and will be on view until July 27, 2019. As 90 grados reports, this exhibition celebrates 100 years of the Puerto Rico Museum of Contemporary Art’s [Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (MACPR)] founding. [“Retorno al hogar (Labrando)” can be translated as “Returning Home (Working).” A beautiful verb, labrar may mean to work, to plow, to carve, to cultivate, to create… and more. “La Labra” is also the nickname of the building where the MACPR is located; it used to be the site of the Labra Middle School. Leave it to “El Maestro” Martorell to bring us such a rich and resonant title!] Here are excerpts from “Retorno al hogar (Labrando)” de Antonio Martorell celebra 100 años de la Labra en el MAC” (90 grados).


According to executive director and chief curator Marianne Ramírez Aponte, on approaching this commemorative date, which ended in 2018, the MAC [Museo de Arte Contemporáneo] was interested in creating a program that would not be limited to highlighting the value of the building’s architectural heritage. She was also looking for a reflection on the rich cultural life that has taken place around the structure as an integral part of the development of Santurce, and the daily life of the surrounding community—a reflection that would expand on the idea of the building as a “home” for education. The space has had this double role in an uninterrupted way, first as a school and then as a museum.

This thought, along with the recognition of a valuable artistic career that extends for over six decades, gave rise to the invitation that she extended to the artist to develop the Retorno al hogar (Labrando) project as one of the main components of the building’s centenary celebration. Ramírez Aponte comments that there is no better choice than Martorell—former student of the Labra School, resident during his youth and active worker in Santurce from the days of his legendary Taller Alacrán [Alacrán Workshop]—to propose an approach to the building and the neighborhood based on his art and life experiences. She adds that the artist, as a founding member of the MAC and a witness to its development over 35 years, also enjoys a privileged position to critically reflect on the vision and position of the organization regarding the value of the museum as a contemporary institution at the service of community.

Martorell himself explains his return: “Why the return and why the home? Maybe because one always tries to return to the places of our memory and also because the Museum of Contemporary Art of Puerto Rico, site of the Labra Middle School, has been and is my home twice. I’ll explain. My early adolescence was spent at the Labra, as we called the building that now turns 100 years old, coinciding with my own 80 years… So this santurcino [Santurce native] who now has his workshop at Playa de Ponce, is returning, not to the past, which is impossible, but to his neighborhood and the clay of the bricks that surrounded his dreams; to the inner courtyard that cloistered his first and muted desires; to the windows that opened to the street, rain, and wind, before the air was conditioned and the horizon was erased with buildings that fruitlessly try to scrape the sky.”

Retorno al hogar (Labrando) includes graphic work, drawing, installation and performance. The selection of works and the design of the exhibition created by guest curator, Humberto Figueroa, shows a selection of Martorell’s artistic production over the past two years. [. . .]

Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero. For original article (in Spanish), see

[Photo above: First photo by Ada-Damari Vilar; second photo from 90grados.]

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