Brooklyn-based Teresita Fernandez is a conceptual artist known for her prominent, large-scale public sculptures and her unconventional use of mixed-media materials. Her immersive installations evoke striking landscapes, inspired by natural wonders of meteor showers, aurora borealis, fire, clouds, and the night sky to explore history, culture, and current events.
Fernandez was born in Miami, Florida to Cuban exiles. She received her B.F.A. from Florida International University, Miami in 1990. In 1992, she received her M.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University, School of the Arts. In 1997, she was awarded an artist’s residency in Japan with Arcus Project. She has said that Japanese culture was the greatest inspiration for her art. Her present, ongoing relationship with Japan still has significant impact on her work.
A little over twenty years after receiving her M.F.A. Fernandez gave the keynote address to the 2013 graduating class of her alma mater. It was entitled “On Amnesia, Broken Pottery, and the Inside of a Form.” This address has been called one of the greatest commencement speeches of all time.
Fernandez is interested in landscape, art about landscape, and our perception of landscape. She references traditional art techniques from Baroque ceiling painting, landscape painting, works of land artists such as Robert Smithson, and the works of Minimalist artists such as Donald Judd. She uses man-made aluminum, acrylic, plastic, and glass beads and transforms them into forms that suggest the natural world of waterfalls and sand dunes. She will use gold, graphite, and other minerals that have complicated histories tied to colonialism and its effects.
Her most august work to date is the public art project “Fata Morgana” 2015 in New York’s Madison Square Park. It is a 500’ long aerial sculpture, that consists of six mirrored canopies suspended above the park’s lawn and elevated over pedestrians. Its perforation creates shadows that simulate foliage, and the reflected mirrors give beautiful, shimmering effects.
In 2017, Fernandez’s landscaped-themed installation “Fire (America)” was exhibited at New York’s Lehmann Maupin Gallery. It consisted of an 8-foot- high, 16-foot- wide glazed ceramic panel. In it “Fire (America) 5” depicted a nocturnal image of fire: a series of burned, laser-cut landscapes on paper. “Charred Landscape (America)” consisted of an horizon line which ran around the perimeter of the entire gallery and was composed of charred lumps of charcoal applied directly to the walls.
Her “Fire (United States of the Americas)” is a massive wall installation of more than 80 charcoal parts with shadow-like striations forming a map of the United States and its territories. Fernandez intended to explore the concept of place and raise questions about identity and being an American.
Among the fascinating aspects of this installation was Fernandez’s use of natural materials: clay, fire, charcoal, and paper. From a distance the huge glazed ceramic panel looked like a landscape painting. It was only when you looked closely at the ‘painting’ that a viewer could see that “Fire (America)” was made from thousands of glazed ceramic pieces. There was nothing to indicate the cause of the fire although the landscape could suggest that of the American West. The fire could also be a reference to the slash-and-burn technique used routinely centuries ago by Native Americans for farming and which essentially shaped their environment and designed the American landscape.
Her 2018 “Island Universe” at The Ford Foundation was inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s “Dymaxion Map” that peeled the globe like an orange. Her work is a wall-sized mosaic, composed of chunks of charcoal, which renders the seven continents as a horizontal daisy-chain of land masses. In this way she sought to undo cultural biases based on north and south in her representation of the world.
Fernandez has received many honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2003 and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2005. From 2011-2014, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the United States Commission of Fine Arts. She was the first Latina to serve on this commission. In 2013, she received the Aspen Award for Art from the Aspen Art Museum. Her work is now being celebrated in her first comprehensive survey exhibition at the Perez Art Museum Miami. It will travel to the Phoenix Art Museum and then to the New Orleans Museum of Art.
She has had more than 30 solo exhibitions worldwide including galleries, universities, and museums. Some of these include the Kyoto University of Art & Design, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Miami Art Museum, Miami’s Perez Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Centro de Arte Contemporaneo de Malaga.