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The Celebration

The Celebration
signed and dated 'The Celebration" Maria Berrio 2012 (on the reverse of the lower center canvas)
watercolor, gold leaf, graphite, and Japanese rice paper collage on canvas, in six parts
overall: 72 x 108 in. (182.9 x 274.3 cm.)
Executed in 2011.
Praxis Art, New York
Private collection, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department


María Berrío’s The Celebration is a monumental example of the artist’s unparalleled studies of skill, detail, color, narrative, and form. At nine feet by six feet, this canvas of collaged handmade Japanese rice paper is a testament to the artist’s painstaking labor. It is like a beautiful mural, tapestry, or stained-glass window that subsumes the viewer into a fantastical world of movement and light, like the panoramic utopias of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes or Diego Rivera. Born in Colombia and based in New York, Berrío thinks globally and interweaves references to South American art and culture. She often focuses on women, and gives them a resounding voice and a timeless complexity. As critic and historian Jasmin Hernandez observes, “In María Berrío’s large collage-based canvases, the Colombian artist invites the viewer into her surrealist universe—a specially crafted universe ruled by nature, beautiful creatures, and female tribes” (J. Hernandez, We Are Here: Visionaries of Color Transforming the Art World, New York, 2021, p. 29). In 2021, Berrío was awarded the prestigious Joan Mitchell Fellowship, and her work is held in public collections globally like the Pérez Art Museum, Miami, the Yuz Museum, Shanghai, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her first survey show María Berrío: Esperando mientras la noche florece (Waiting for the Night to Bloom) was mounted at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach in 2021.

The Celebration lives up to its name with its kaleidoscopic array of colors and movements, which are meticulously created with handmade Japanese paper that Berrío sources from a trusted fabricator in Japan. Of her choice of medium, Berrío says, “By using this material, I feel the love of the families who have been making it for so many years…When I receive my paper, I treat it as a gift. It is something very valuable” (M. Berrío, quoted in H. Black, “María Berrío: ‘My Characters Are Part of a Full World Who Can’t Exist Without Others,’” Elephant Magazine, April 13, 2021). Evoking both the color and materiality of Matisse's vibrant cut-outs—such as Two Dancers (1937, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris)—Berrío continues the French artist's legacy of "drawing... directly with color" (H. Matisse, quoted by M. Anthonioz, "Painting with Scissors: Jazz and Verve," in O. Berggruen & M. Hollein, Henri Matisse. Drawing with Scissors: Masterpieces from the Late Years, Munich, 2014, p. 53).

Her work is thus an instance of care for materials, people, and cultures alike, which we can see in the optimism of The Celebration. A group of women, garbed in rainbow textiles reminiscent of Gustav Klimt or the life-size dance scenes of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, dance together without a care in the world as the moonlit dusk gathers around them.

Each frame of the larger narrative is a patchwork brought together by Berrío’s skillful hand, giving life to the swaying dresses and balletic movements of the women. Reds and blues lead the orchestra and score the fabulous late summer colors that swirl about in a wind of joyful hues. The folds and creases of the rice paper are reminiscent of skin, which recalls all it has touched and loved. The Celebration has a surreal presence in its heightened naturalism, like a painting by Henri Rousseau. Berrío engages this line between realism and something beyond reality as a means of escape, “There’s plenty of magical realism and the works are very big, so I hope people can relate physically to the environment and experience something different, before returning to the madness of the real world” (M. Berrío, quoted in H. Black, “María Berrío: ‘My Characters Are Part of a Full World Who Can’t Exist Without Others,’” Elephant Magazine, April 13, 2021).

The women of The Celebration invite us to join them in their revelry as they too forget the madness of the real world. Each of Berrío’s collages seek to empower the viewer and build communities, “I try to portray the idea that my characters are part of a full world, who can’t exist without others…When you look at the painting I want you to feel some kind of hope” (M. Berrío, quoted in H. Black, “María Berrío: ‘My Characters Are Part of a Full World Who Can’t Exist Without Others,’” Elephant Magazine, April 13, 2021). In The Celebration, each dancer is both autonomous and united like gleaming constellations. As with the interconnectedness of Berrío’s collaged pieces of paper, lovingly torn and reassembled, so too does her work evince our human interconnectedness in a time of separation ushered in by the pandemic. While her work offers an escape, it is not escapist. Instead, it shows us the world as it could be. Using her beloved scraps of paper as precious as paint, marble, or photographic emulsion, she envisions a world of gentleness and responsibility to each other.

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