b. 1978, Sancti Spíritus, Cuba
Wilfredo Prieto was born in Sancti Spíritus, Cuba, in 1978. He began his art training at the Escuela Profesional de Artes Plásticas in Trinidad, which he attended from 1992 to 1996. He later attended the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana from 1998 to 2002.
Prieto is an artist who uses a multidisciplinary approach, and who employs a strategically restricted range of materials in concert with a sharp sense of humor, making conscious and pointed use of comedy for satirical ends. Apolítico (Apolitical, 2001), the work that brought him to widespread critical attention, renders the flags of all the members of the United Nations entirely in shades of gray. This work, which has been exhibited in Dublin, Havana, Paris, and Siena, represents a kind of ironic welcoming committee; stripped of their original colors, the flags also lose much of their vital distinctiveness. The flags come to symbolize a kind of homogenous composite nation devoid of any identifiable political status or cultural voice.
For Grease, Soap and Banana (Grasa, Jabón y Plátano, 2006), which was originally presented at the Havana Biennial, Prieto placed a single splayed banana peel on top of a bar of soap, which was itself set atop a splotch of yellow grease. With just three elements, Prieto satirized what he regarded as art institutions’ habitual solemnity. And while the artist’s strategy is so pared-back that the viewer may question the existence of a more substantive meaning beneath the work’s laugh-out-loud facade, its deliberately broad humor only adds to its effectiveness as institutional critique. Prieto was educated in Cuba, and is thus intimately acquainted with both capitalist and communist cultures. His sarcasm takes aim not only at the studied formality of the capitalist art institution, but also at the overtly political stance of the typical communist equivalent.
Solo exhibitions of Prieto’s work have been presented at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, Spain (2005); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Vigo, Spain (2011); Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Mexico City (2012); and Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, and Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania (both 2014). He also took part in Artists’ Web Projects, Dia Art Foundation, New York (2007). His work has been featured in group exhibitions including That Was Then . . . This is Now, MoMA PS1, New York (2008); Los Impolíticos, Palazzo delle Arti, Naples (2009); Crisisss: América Latina, arte y confrontación 1919–2010, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City (2011); the Venice Biennale (2007 and 2011); the São Paulo Biennial (2010); and Havana Biennial (2001, 2003, 2006, and 2012). Prieto has been granted a number of awards and fellowships, including the UNESCO Prize for the Promotion of the Arts at the Havana Biennial (2000), Kadist Art Foundation Residency (2005), Guggenheim Fellowship (2006), Cartier Foundation Award (2008), and Grant for Plastic Arts, Fundación Botín, Santander, Spain (2013). He lives and works in Havana and Barcelona.