Center for Art,
Research and Alliances
June 01 – August 11, 2024

Javier Téllez: Amerika

Exhibition Cover

CARA’s Summer 2024 exhibition, Javier Téllez: Amerika, is Javier Téllez’s (b. 1969, Venezuela; lives and works in New York) first institutional solo exhibition in New York City in nearly two decades. The exhibition showcases a newly commissioned film installation alongside a series of works related to the film, as well as a selection from a never-before-exhibited atlas of photographic images cropped and collected by the artist from illustrated magazines and books over the past twenty years. 

Téllez’s practice is centered around the moving image as a medium, and includes extensive research into image creation and storytelling from the early days of cinema to the present. His work often revisits classic films, literary and philosophical texts, and myths to deconstruct familiar archetypes of perceived deviance, marginality, and ungovernability. Téllez rejects Western society’s production of otherness, and explores how all individuals are social and political actors. Through close engagement with groups composed of psychiatric patients, people with disabilities, or refugees, Téllez critiques institutional structures and fosters spaces where subjects intervene in their own representation. Their work wonders aloud: Who is counted in civil society? What are the boundaries between the normal and the pathological? And whom do these constructions presume to protect? 

This solo exhibition centers around the film installation AMERIKA, commissioned by CARA. Drawing from cinema histories and vaudeville, AMERIKA mobilizes reenactment, fiction, and metaphor to respond to the ongoing exodus of millions of Venezuelans from their home, motivated by the state's repressive policies, continued violence, and socioeconomic collapse. Since 2014 it is estimated that more than seven million Venezuelans have left their home, with at least 60,000 arriving in New York City, and over 460,000 spread across the United States since 2022–a testament to the forced displacement of these communities as a result of economic mismanagement and populist politics, accompanied by rampant corruption, food scarcity, and high levels of crime, all heightened by a dictatorial government.

Téllez produced AMERIKA in collaboration with Andrea Arias, José Díaz, Luisandra Escalona, Leonardo Mesa, Nazareth Merentes, Jesús Ramírez, Omar Ríos, Mariana Vargas—a group of Venezuelan refugees currently living in New York. Téllez, himself an immigrant from Venezuela who has been living in New York since 1993, worked with these non-professional actors to produce a short film inspired by the work of Charlie Chaplin—the iconic actor and filmmaker who challenged authority and social control in his work, advocating for social justice and human rights. Known for his slapstick comedy and social commentary, Chaplin offered humorous social and political critique that continues to resonate with audiences around the world. Téllez and his collaborators draw from Chaplin’s films The Immigrant (1917), Gold Rush (1925), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940), reenacting scenes from these films to question power, hegemony, and intolerance toward the other through a collectively developed script that uses narrative to highlight the shared concerns and experiences of migrant communities. AMERIKA portrays and condemns the abuse of power in totalitarian regimes, and renders both the gravity of loss and the necessity of hope that comes with fleeing one flawed paradise in search of another.

Interweaving cinema histories, social commentary, and poetics, the exhibition presents the film installation AMERIKA alongside protest signs, similar to those that can be seen in the film itself. This work is dedicated to freedom and the right to dissent without fear of repression, echoing political struggles depicted in Chaplin's early-twentieth century films and up until the present day. Additionally, CARA presents for the first time an archive of photographic images cropped and collected by the artist from illustrated magazines and books that explore archetypal representation of subjects like masks, mirrors, cinema screens, taxidermy, waxworks, miniatures cities, maps, dollhouses, Bunraku, and skulls. Téllez’s rigorous collecting practice generates a working library of references that record how certain visual metaphors, tropes, and references reemerge in the production of cinema and storytelling.

Javier Téllez: Amerika
June 1-August 11, 2024

About Javier Téllez

Javier Téllez (b. 1969) is a Venezuelan artist based in New York. His work reflects a sustained interest in questioning exclusion as a social construct, while bringing peripheral groups and invisible situations to the fore of contemporary art addressing migration, disabilities and mental illness as marginalizing conditions. Tellez’s projects have often involved working with those segregated by society to produce film installations that question power structures and the notions of the normative.

Téllez has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Thurgau Kunstmuseum, Warth, Switzerland (2022); Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2018); the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester (2018); the Blanton Museum, Austin; the San Francisco Art Institute (2014); Kunsthaus Zürich (2014); SMAK, Ghent (2013); Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (2011); CAM-Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon (2010); Aspen Art Museum (2006); The Power Plant, Toronto (2005); Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York (2005); and Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2000). He has participated in group exhibitions at Guggenheim Museum, New York; MoMA PS1, Long Island City; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Castello di Rivoli, Torino; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; ICA, Boston; and Renaissance Society, Chicago, as well as Aichi Triennial (2019); dOCUMENTA, Kassel, Germany (2012); Manifesta, Trento, Italy; Sydney Biennial; and the Whitney Biennial, New York (all 2008); Venice Biennale (2001 and 2003); and Yokohama Triennial (2001). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1999, and in 2016 the Global Mental Health Award for Innovation in the Arts from Columbia University, New York.

This exhibition is curated by CARA’s Senior Curator Rahul Gudipudi and produced by Agustin Schang, with assistance by Marian Chudnovsky and CARA's team.

Photos by Kris Graves.