Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Merengue en Boca Chica

Rafael Ferrer (American (born Puerto Rico) 1933)
Oil on canvas
60 x 72 in. (152.4 x 182.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 1984
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© Rafael Ferrer
Not on view
Painter and sculptor Rafael Ferrer was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He established his reputation in the art world on the United States mainland during the mid-1960s, as a conceptual artist who specialized in ephemeral works with a political but poetic nuance and with installations that celebrated his Puerto Rican heritage. In the 1980s, Ferrer turned more or less exclusively to easel painting, producing a body of work that not only serves as an effusive homage to the people and places of the Caribbean but also reminds us of the intricate political and economic dynamics that exist between the United States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands.

At first glance, "Merengue en Boca Chica" presents a pleasant beachside resort scene, probably set in the Dominican Rebublic, where the artist owns a home. Underlying the composition, however, are issues of race and class as well as, perhaps, sexual tension. On the beach, five figures face frontally; each seems posed as if waiting to be photographed. Dressed for the sun, a blue-eyed, pale-skinned woman, based on the artist's wife, lounges on a wooden chair in the lower right, her blonde hair pulled back tight. In the center of the composition, a trio of strolling musicians plays a small drum, a guitar, and a guiro (gourd). Palm trees already bent by the wind appear to sway to the tropical rhythms of the combo's merengue. A fourth man, resembling the artist, seated to the left of the woman, stares away, unmoved by the improvised serenade. Ferrer has skillfully affected a "primitive" or "naive" style that approximates the conventions of folk art, which has a rich history and flourishing practice on many Caribbean islands. Following in this tradition, the painting's bright, exuberant colors form a decorative pattern of rhythmic expressionism. Distortions in scale and proportion enhance the narrative.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): Ferrer 83
the artist, Philadelphia (1983–84; sold through the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York to MMA)

Gubbio, Italy. Palazzo Ducale. "Dialoghi nell'arte," June 16–September 30, 1984, unnumbered cat. (p. 93).

Mexico City. Museo Rufino Tamayo. "Nueva Pintura Narrativa: Coleccion del Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York," November 1–December 31, 1984, no. 14.

Phoenix Museum of Art. "New Narrative Painting: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," March 14–April 27, 1986, unnum. cat.

New York. El Museo del Barrio. "Retro/Active: The Work of Rafael Ferrer," June 8–August 22, 2010, not in catalogue.

Lisa M. Messinger in "Twentieth Century Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1983–1984. New York, 1984, p. 102, ill.

William S. Lieberman in Dialoghi nell'arte (Dialogues in Art). Exh. cat., Gubbio Palazzo Ducale. Gubbio, 1984, pp. 92–93, ill. (color).

Marie-Rose Charite Velasquez. "Diamonds on the Street: Rafael Ferrer's New Work." Arts Magazine 58 (February 1984), ill. p. 71 (color).

William S. Lieberman. Nueva Pintura Narrativa: Coleccion del Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York. Exh. cat., Museo Rufino Tamayo. Mexico City, 1984, pp. 10, 43, ill. (color).

Kay Larson. "The Met Goes Modern: Bill Lieberman's Brave New Wing." New York Magazine 19 (December 15, 1986), ill. p. 45 (color).

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