Juan Antonio Olivares (b. 1988, Bayamón, Puerto Rico) studied between New York and Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. He has exhibited in the USA and Europe, including Jan Mot in Brussels, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, which this summer held his first major institutional solo show. The artist lives and works in New York.
Olivares’ practice is wide-ranging, encompassing video, sound installation, drawing and performance. A feature all his works share, however, is the artist’s meticulously detailed and technically refined approach, which imbues his practice with a great depth and poignancy.
The American artist has taken the contemporary condition as his subject, unpacking issues and themes that hit home for the millennial generation, such as office-life and routine; displacement and the modern immigrant experience; the bittersweet memories of childhood; and universal loneliness. His works use advanced digital technologies to merge together these socially and historically-specific concerns with larger existential questions. Weaving fictional, and occasionally autobiographical, narratives, Olivares’ works produce surreal yet touching scenarios, which move the viewer emotionally towards empathy, but also into contemplation of the intersection of these philosophical questions and everyday life.
Moléculas, a 2017 film which formed the centre of the artist’s Whitney show in Spring 2018, is a perfect illustration of this quotidian existentialism. Rendered in hyper-realistic 3D animation, a one-armed teddy bear tells the painful story of his past – his move to New York city and the loss of his mother. Caught in an ambiguous space resembling a psychoanalyst’s office, one senses that the teddy bear is a stand in for the artist, or someone close to the artist, who recounts his own memories in this abstracted form. Olivares takes the highly personal and in a deft sleight of hand transforms it into something universal: the symbol of everyone’s lost childhood, a love-worn toy, faces and questions the way in which memories live on in often acutely painful forms.
At the centre of Juan Antonio Olivares’ works is empathy for the human condition. Whatever shape his art takes this principle is its driving force: training the viewer to see past the different circumstances and stories that clothe each individual life, and enter a space of mutual communication where common vulnerabilities are exposed.