MoCA Westport and the Westport Public Art Collections Committee announce Paul Camacho: El Ritmo y La Unidad (Rhythm and Unity), a new exhibition featuring approximately 40 selected works by Paul Camacho (1929-1989). Primarily drawn from the Westport Public Art Collections (WestPAC), the show also features works lent by the Housatonic Museum of Art (Bridgeport, CT) and the Benjamin Ortiz and Victor P. Torchia, Jr. Collection.

El Ritmo y La Unidad will be on view at MoCA Westport from January 13 – February 26, 2023. 

The exhibition was curated by Alexandra M. Thomas, an art historian, critic, curator, and PhD candidate at Yale University in History of Art and African American Studies, with a certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Paul Camacho: El Ritmo y La Unidad (Rhythm and Unity) is a monographic exhibition of the late artist’s formal experiments with portraiture, geometric abstraction, and still life. As a Puerto Rican artist active within the mid to late 20th century, his work must be understood within the context of industrialization and modernist abstraction as it flourished in the global 1960s.

“The show is titled El Ritmo y La Unidad because Camacho instills each painting with a vibrant sense of color and movement, ultimately creating unified representations of everyday life and eccentric designs,” stated Thomas.

“More than ever, modern and contemporary art can serve as a lens through which to experience joy and view the world through a visionary lens. This exhibition of paintings by Paul Camacho is one such moment to reflect on the role of visual storytelling as well as local and global histories as they impact our lives. Consider the titular focus, El Ritmo y La Unidad, as an invitation to ponder the dynamic patterns and vigorous flows that shape Camacho’s body of work.”

– Guest Curator Alexandra M. Thomas

This year’s annual collaboration between MoCA Westport and WestPAC will once again enable audiences to enjoy selections from WestPAC holdings of more than 1,800 artworks at a public venue. Most of these works are housed in public schools and municipal buildings, not always accessible to the public. The exhibition will also include a “Learning Gallery” with approximately 20 works of abstract art from WestPAC’s collection, curated by WestPAC Committee Chair Ive Covaci, PhD.

“Understanding the work and life of artist Paul Camacho (1929- 1989) and his activity locally during the 1960s and 1970s is long overdue. Advancing our understanding of the role that he, and artists of all backgrounds, played is essential to studying anew the thriving art community that existed in and around Westport. Through donations of thirty-three works by Friends of the James Daugherty Foundation, local collectors, and the artist himself, WestPAC is likely the largest repository of Camacho’s art in the nation,” stated Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, Westport Town Curator.

“As an artist who observed and responded to the industrialization and modernization around him, Camacho also painted the future–and the times we find ourselves in today. Camacho’s life in Westport creates a unique relationship with local viewers, while his ties to Puerto Rico brings his work to a larger audience and conversation,“ stated Liz Leggett, MoCA Westport’s Director of Exhibitions.

MoCA Westport thanks Wendy and Jacques Bouthillier for their generous support in funding the El Ritmo y La Unidad exhibition. Their gift allows the Museum to make this extraordinary collection available in a formal museum space.

A series of affiliated Cocktails and Conversation events will be held on select Thursdays. Learn more here. 

In 2023, MoCA Members will receive FREE unlimited gallery admission, FREE access to exhibition openings, and FREE admission to Cocktails & Conversation events. Members also receive early access to ticket sales and discounts on concerts, select classes and other programs. And coming soon, MoCA joins the Fairfield Westchester Museum Alliance (FWMA) offering MoCA members FREE admission to eight affiliate museums. Join our Member community today! 

For more information, please contact Liz Leggett, Director of Exhibitions, at liz@mocawestport.org. MoCA Westport’s winter hours are Wed 12 – 4PM | Thursday 12 – 7 PM | Friday – Sunday 12 – 4 PM. MoCA Westport is located at 19 Newtown Turnpike in Westport, Connecticut. MoCA Westport believes the arts should be accessible to all; if you need financial assistance with admissions, classes, or event registration, please contact the Museum at info@mocawestport.org.

View the exhibition guide here.

About The Curator

Alexandra M. Thomas is a PhD candidate in History of Art and African American Studies, with a certificate in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Interdisciplinary in nature, her research focuses are: global modern and contemporary art; African and African diaspora visual culture; feminist and queer theory; performance studies; architecture, film, and media.

She is co-teaching the fall 2022 “Critical Practice” course for Yale MFA students. Her seminar focuses on issues of race, migration, and diaspora. She has also taught African and African diaspora art history courses at UMass Amherst and Fairfield University.

Thomas is curating the upcoming exhibition, “Homecoming: Domesticity and Kinfulness in Global African Art,” (2023) at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, where she is the 2021-2023 curatorial research associate in African art.

At the Yale Art Gallery, Thomas researches 19th century African American portraiture as a curatorial intern in Modern and Contemporary. Prior to that, she worked on the reinstallation of the African art collection as a 2020-2021 curatorial research assistant. In 2018, she was a Wurtele Gallery Teacher. Since 2021, she is one of the assistant directors for the Schomburg Mellon Summer Humanities Institute in Harlem, where she herself was a fellow in 2017.

Thomas has worked with various other museums and cultural institutions, including: Mystic Seaport Museum/Discovering Amistad, Museum of Modern Art, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Rose Art Museum, and the Guggenheim Museum.

Read the Curator Statement

Alexandra M. Thomas
December 12, 2022

Exhibition: Paul Camacho: El Ritmo y La Unidad

On view at MoCA Westport from January 12th through February 26th, 2023, Paul Camacho: El Ritmo y La Unidad (Rhythm and Unity) is a monographic exhibition of the late artist’s formal experiments with portraiture, geometric abstraction, and still life. Camacho instills each genre with a vibrant sense of color and movement, ultimately creating unified representations of everyday life and eccentric designs. As a Puerto Rican artist active within the mid to late 20th century, his work must be understood within the context of modernist abstraction, influenced by industrialization, as it flourished in the global 1960s. Through these works, viewers can experience Camacho grappling with figural and abstract representation in ways presumably influenced by his cultural upbringing and everyday surroundings.

The exhibition arrives at a unique moment in our collective history. One could reasonably look at the world and perceive public health, the environment, social injustice, and international relations as markedly worse than they were several years ago. Indeed, we are still grappling with the repercussions of several political and ecological disasters. Still, at such a time, the art world has sought to proliferate beautiful and timely alternatives to global catastrophes. More than ever, modern and contemporary art can serve as a lens through which to experience joy and view the world through a visionary lens. This exhibition of paintings by Paul Camacho is one such moment to reflect on the role of visual storytelling as well as local and global histories as they impact our everyday lives. Consider the titular focus, El Ritmo y La Unidad, as an invitation to ponder the dynamic patterns and vigorous flows that shape Camacho’s body of work.

From the census we know that he was born as Pablo (later anglicized to Paul) Camacho in Morovis, Puerto Rico in 1929. As a child he moved stateside, living in New York City and then Fairfield County (Bridgeport and Weston). The experience of Puerto Ricans in New York is a well-documented migration pattern and cultural milieu, especially in the Bronx where Camacho lived, yet our own local histories of Puerto Rican art and life in Connecticut remains relatively underexplored (1). Since the late 19th century, Westport and its surrounding towns became a place for modern artists to work and thrive. In the 1960s and 70s, Camacho felt at home among this crowd, and was accepted as part of the invigorating artist colony. In Westport, he befriended art historian Burt Chernow who would later become the founder and director emeritus of the Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport (2). Chernow’s support, as well as other local art world figures such as Benjamin Ortiz of Bridgeport, made possible much of the collection on view in El Ritmo y La Unidad.

Historicizing Camacho within global modernisms of the 20th century elucidates key themes in his practice. The purely abstract geometric paintings are simultaneously influenced by the Puerto Rican landscape and post-WWII industrialization. In works like Geometric Abstraction (c.a. 1965-1967) and Untitled (ca 1970), Camacho chose intense colors to make an emotional impact on the viewer and considered his palette to evoke the warmth of Puerto Rico. In this way his work shares a formal and ecological lineage with other modern Latin American/Caribbean painters such as the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) who’s 1943 The Jungle exemplifies the influence of surrealism and cubism on modern Latin American abstraction. Like Lam, Camacho’s work was clearly influenced by African aesthetics and the geometric abstraction of African masks. Egyptian Beauty (1964), Egyptian Eyes (1964), Isis of the Nile (1964), and Nefertiti (1965) are among Camacho’s portrayals of symbolic figures in pan-African feminine beauty inspired by the queendom of Ancient Egyptian civilization.

In Boy’s Head (1964), a child’s head is rendered in cubist form — shapes broken up and reassembled —parallel to Pablo Picasso’s evocation of African masks as a muse for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). That visual motifs in African and global Indigenous art likely influenced Camacho’s practice is tethered to the blended cultural narratives of Puerto Rican identity, in which Taíno, European, and African legacies are embedded in the fabric of Caribbean and Latin American art and culture. The sharper-edged geometric abstractions of several Untitled works from the 70s illustrate Camacho’s interest in technology and industrialization. Having claimed that art should reflect reality, including “technology, with its suggestive forms of the future,” these works reflect futuristic machination rendered in bold hues (3). Such aesthetic considerations of industry are often associated with Kazimir Malevich and European modernism. Yet, Latin American artists play a fundamental role in the history of industrialization and geometric abstraction: Uruguayan Joaquín Torres-Garcia and Brazilians Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, and various more (4). When modern Latin American artists grappled with European modernisms, they made their own interventions drawing from their own aesthetic and cultural environments. A complete history of geometric art cannot be narrated without including artists from Latin America. Camacho likely engaged with these modernist art histories and their impact on his practice in 1977 when he founded the Frente Group in San Juan, Puerto Rico with fellow artists Luis Hernández Cruz, Antonio Navia, and Lope Max Díaz. The Frente Group in Puerto Rico was shortlived but still published a newspaper and portfolio of prints grappling with ideas of social renovation in art.

Camacho maintained a practice of dynamic brushwork, exuberant colorwork, and innovative representations of his everyday life and cultural environment throughout his career. Before his death in San Juan in 1989, Camacho exhibited his paintings all throughout the 1970s in Puerto Rico, mainland United States, and Europe. El Ritmo y La Unidad is one step in the right direction toward further analysis and engagement with the impact and politics of Camacho’s body of work. Efforts to honor and understand Camacho’s practice must be conceptualized within ongoing work to uplift and represent Puerto Rican artists and their communities.

 1. See Pioneros: Puerto Ricans in New York City 1892-1948 by Felix V. Matos-Rodriguez and Pedro Juan Hernandez (2001) and Aqui Me Quedo: Puerto Ricans in Connecticut: Los Puertorriquenos en Connecticut, by Ruth Glasser (1997). 

2. See “Burt Chernow, 63, Art Historian and Writer” in New York Times, June 15, 1997. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/15/us/burt-chernow-63-art-historian-and-writer.html

3. See “Paul Camacho” in Artist Directory, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. https://www.mapr.org/en/museum/proa/artist/camacho-paul

4. See exhibition catalog for “Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection / Abstracción Geométrica : Arte Latinoamericano en la Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. https://www.si.edu/object/siris_sil_703465

About The Abstraction Learning Galleries

Learning Galleries are dedicated spaces in each Westport Public School for the display of WestPAC works to support teaching and learning with original art, furthering Burt Chernow’s founding mission for the Collections. The WestPAC committee collaborates with art and other subject area teachers to develop rotating installations that complement their curriculum and classroom projects, focusing on specific themes, genres, styles, or media. This installation features some of the works that have appeared in the “Abstraction” Learning Gallery, first developed for Long Lots Elementary, and most recently displayed at Coleytown Elementary School.

In focusing on abstract art from the 1960s and 1970s, this gallery complements the main exhibition on Paul Camacho, who was also working in abstraction during these decades. The artists included here represent a range of approaches, such as geometric and hard-edge abstraction, color field painting, and abstract expressionism. Prints by Alexander Calder, Chryssa, and Richard Hunt relate to their better-known work in sculpture, allowing students to make connections between two- and three-dimensional forms. Students of all ages can delight in recognizing geometric shapes and learning about color theory. Five prints in this gallery were published by the Collector’s Press Lithography workshop, run by Ernest de Soto in San Francisco from 1967-1972, which allowed many painters to experiment with lithography in continuing their investigations of abstraction.

The WestPAC Learning Gallery initiative is generously supported by grants from the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center.

About Paul Camacho

Pablo (later anglicized to Paul) Camacho was born in Morovis, Puerto Rico in 1929. As a child he moved stateside, living in New York City and then Fairfield County (Bridgeport and Weston). The experience of Puerto Ricans in New York is a well-documented migration pattern and cultural milieu, especially in the Bronx where Camacho lived, yet our own local histories of Puerto Rican art and life in Connecticut remains relatively underexplored.

Camacho maintained a practice of dynamic brushwork, exuberant colorwork, and innovative representations of his everyday life and cultural environment throughout his career. Before his death in San Juan in 1989, Camacho exhibited his paintings all throughout the 1970s in Puerto Rico, mainland United States, and Europe. El Ritmo y La Unidad is one step in the right direction toward further analysis and engagement with the impact and politics of Camacho’s body of work. Efforts to honor and understand Camacho’s practice must be conceptualized within ongoing work to uplift and represent Puerto Rican artists and their communities.

Since the late 19th century, Westport and its surrounding towns became a place for modern artists to work and thrive. In the 1960s and 70s, Camacho felt at home among this crowd, and was accepted as part of the invigorating artist colony. In Westport, he befriended art historian Burt Chernow who would later become the founder and director emeritus of the Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport. Chernow’s support, as well as other local art world figures such as Benjamin Ortiz of Bridgeport, made possible much of the collection on view in El Ritmo y La Unidad.

Photo Credits:

  1. Paul Camacho, Still Life With Wine Bottle No. 3, from Westport Public Art Collections, watercolor and gouache on rag wove paper.
  2. Paul Camacho, Isis Of The Nile, from Westport Public Art Collections, oil on canvas. 
  3. Paul Camacho, Portrait of a Woman With Sun Rays, from Westport Public Art Collections, tempera on poster board.
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