About Me

Elvis as Lenin, 2014, watercolor pencil on paper © Jairo Alfonso, artist.

Elvis as Lenin, 2014, watercolor pencil on paper © Jairo Alfonso, artist.

I am an art historian, independent curator and art writer based in New York. I am currently a PhD Candidate (ABD) in Art History at Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey. My dissertation research focuses on the relationship between Cuban art and Soviet visual and material cultures during the Cold War period, having as advisors Dr. Jane A. Sharp and Dr. Tatiana Flores. This research stems from a lifetime project dealing with the role that visual culture played in the ideological battle between the Soviet Union and the United States globally, and particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, during the second half of the 20th century.

After graduating Magna Cum Laude in Art History from the University of Havana, I began working as curator at The Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, Havana (1999-2002), where I organized over two dozens exhibitions of Cuban and international art. I spent three months in a residency at the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen (2001), researching the Cuban art collection towards an exhibition held at The Russian State Museum, Saint Petersburg (2003). There I had my first contact with the work of non-conformist artists from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

My thesis of degree at the University of Havana, Manhattan Tastes Like Sugar to Me (1998), focused on the works of Caribbean artists living in New York, including Ana Mendieta, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Juan Sanchez, Pepon Osorio, Carmen Herrera, Freddy Rodriguez, Jose Morales, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, Marina Gutierrez, among others. I also wrote about the history of Taller Boricua and El Museo del Barrio. In 2002, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College awarded me a fellowship to continue this research. This research was later instrumental to my job as curator at El Museo del Barrio.

In 2004, I moved to Puerto Rico to join the curatorial staff of the Visual Arts Department of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. For two years, I curated award-winning exhibitions, including the project, Print As Metaphor, which won the Grand Prix at the Ljubljana International Biennial of Graphic Arts (2005), and Rewind… Rewind… Three Decades of Video Art in Puerto Rico (2005-2006), AICA Prize for New Media Exhibition 2005 and 2006. I also served as Artistic Director of the CIRCA art fair, where I curated Ten x Ten, a special section featuring international artists, such as Andres Serrano, Nari Ward, Edin Velez, Charles Juhasz-Alvarado and Donna Conlon.

After successful exhibitions on the early work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres in Puerto Rico and New York (2004 and 2006), I joined the staff of El Museo del Barrio as Associate Curator. I served there for six and a half years, co-curating two iterations of the Latino art biennial and the first installment of El Museo’s permanent collection galleries. Working in a culture-specific institution under the great leadership of Deborah Cullen and Julian Zugazagoitia was an extraordinarily experience, but I always sought to maintain certain intellectual independence. Thus, I curated major projects on Cuban art (Killing Time, Exit Art, 2007), and Spanish artists in New York (The Spanish Nexus, Institute Cervantes, 2009).

My last project at El Museo as the multi-venue exhibition, Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, concurrently at El Museo, The Studio Museum in Harlem and The Queens Museum of Art (2012). A modified version of Caribbean traveled to the Perez Art Museum Miami in 2014. In spite of a this success, I decided to return to academia in pursue of my doctorate in Art History.

Rutgers offered me a great opportunity to expand my areas of research to the legacy of Soviet culture, and the non-conformist artistic expressions of the former socialist bloc. Studying at Rutgers has been very enriching, and it led me to reexamine my own ideas on curatorship from 15+ years of experience. I have begun developing new ideas through philosophical and practical workshops on Curatorship as Interventions in Art Histories.

I have recently been appointed Chief Curator of the upcoming 5th San Juan Poly/Graphic Triennial: Latin American and the Caribbean, to take place in Puerto Rico, in 2019.