Competition: Latin America & Caribbean
Rolando Peña is an internationally known multimedia artist who has been involved in theatre, dance, and fine arts since 1958. A student of architecture and design at Universidad Central de Venezuela, he joined the theater faculty of that university in 1963. In 1965 he staged the pioneering multimedia shows Testimonio and Homenaje a Henry Miller with the writer José Ignacio Cabrujas, which featured dance, theater, films, slide projections, and other elements, the first such performances in Caracas.
Supported by a grant from the Venezuelan government, he then moved to New York City to study dance with Martha Graham, Alwin Nicolais, and Merce Cunningham. He was quickly accepted by some of the iconic figures of the day. In 1966 Allen Ginsburg and Timothy Leary joined him for the psychedelic show The Illumination of the Buddha, and the following year he founded and directed the Latin American vanguard group The Foundation for the Totality, which presented exhibitions, happenings, films, publications, and other projects. Soon he became involved with Andy Warhol and his famous Factory: Warhol filmed many of The Foundation for the Totality’s happenings, and Mr. Pena acted in some of Warhol’s films.
Rolando Peña’s own film Diálogo con Ché, which he scripted and acted in and José Soltero directed and shot in New York, was invited to the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, and the Cinémathèque Palais Chaillot in Paris. Moving back to multimedia, in 1975 he exhibited Santería at the Bogarin Workshop Gallery in New York, and this same multimedia installation was the opening exhibit at the Annex at the Contemporary Art Museum in Caracas.
But beginning in 1980 he found the theme that became the predominant focus of his subsequent work: crude oil. Mr. Peña uses oil as an expression both of Venezuela and of how Venezuela is perceived internationally. By means of sculpture, graphics, film, and video, and sometimes live performance, he examines the ideas of power, money, and religion through the vehicle of oil and the machinery associated with its extraction.
His initial exhibition on this theme was entitled The Oil Tower, which was mounted in 1980 at the Alternative Museum. He was supported in part during these early years by Fellowships from the Venezuelan National Endowment for the Arts (CONAC) and CAPS in New York, and a grant from the National Art Foundation in Venezuela (FUNDARTE). In 1997 he was chosen to represent Venezuela at the 47th Venice Biennial. His project El Modelo Estándar de la Materia: Tributo al Siglo XX, an interactive multimedia installation, was mounted in 1999 at the Sofía Imber Contemporary Art Museum in Caracas. He presented many video installations with oil as metaphor in the ensuing years, including The Oil Spill, at the 2000 London Biennial; El Modelo Estándar de la Materia, at ExpoHannover in 2000; Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking: God’s Barrel, at Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo El Gallo in Salamanca in 2002, which then travelled to the Instituto Italo Latino-Americano in Rome and the Museo Pinacoteca Amedeo Modigliani in Follonica, Italy, and was revived as a mural for the Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas in 2008.
Increasingly recognized as an important figure in the art world, several tributes to his work were organized, such as at “Interarte 99” in Valencia, Spain, in 1999; at Feria Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo, at Mercado de Fuencarral in Madrid, organized by the European Association of Young Artists, in 2000; and the lecture series “Arte Ciencia y Tecnología, en la obra de Rolando Peña” presented at the Andrés Bello Catholic University. In addition he served as a Professor of Multimedia at the Ateneo de Caracas in 1972-73; as an invited conferee at a conference on contemporary art at the University of St. Denis in Paris in 1985; as a guest artist at the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones from 1998 to 2001; as a guest lecturer at Andrés Bello Catholic University from 1999 to 2007; and as the organizer of special events for the Organización Nelson Garrido (ONG) in Caracas since 2001.
His knowledge of contemporary art has led to his curating several international shows: Les Droits de l’Art at Chapelle de la Salpêtrière, Paris (1989); Pierre Restany Le Coer et la Raison, at Morleix, France (1991); V Muestra Internacional de Video, in Seville, Spain (1991); AU DELA, Observatori 2001, at Segundo Festival Internacional de Arte, in Valencia; and Performance Art (Dialogues-Performance) at ONG in 2007.
During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, Mr. Peña will be working on a new interactive multimedia exhibition entitled Make Oil Green, which adds the topic of global warming to his persistent interest in and exploration of the theme of oil.