The Norton Museum of Art is hosting mixed-media artist Nora Maité Nieves’ (b 1980) first major US solo museum exhibition, “Clouds in the Expanded Field.” The exhibition, which opened in December, features the artist’s first exploration of video in Eyes of the Sea, a stop-motion animation that transforms the symbols, materials, patterns and textures present in her painting and sculptural practice. Concurrent with Nieves’ artist-in-residence at the Norton, the exhibition gives her the opportunity to further focus on her artistic practice and engage with the Norton community through lectures, workshops, teen programming and more. Busy though she is, she agreed to give Antiques and The Arts Weekly a glimpse into her richly textured, abstracted visual motifs of architectural elements achieved through painting, sculpture and now video.
Congratulations on your first solo show, up until July 7, 2024, and your selection as the Norton’s Mary Lucille Dauray artist-in-residence. Please tell us a bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I left the island to move to Chicago to do my masters at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008 in the department of fiber and material studies. I graduated in 2010 and moved to New York City in 2015 where I have been living and working in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, since.
In addition to the video work, how many works are in the show, and how many have been produced
specifically for the Norton?
There are 14 artworks in the show, plus the video. I made eight new works (seven in the gallery and one installed on the first floor of the museum).
You were born in Puerto Rico. How does your work reflect the cultural influences of south Florida?
I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and grew up there. Puerto Rico and south Florida share similar weather, landscape and influences in architecture. When I visit south Florida, I can feel familiar with parts of it; even though Florida doesn’t have the mountains and strong tropical/rainforest landscape that characterize Puerto Rico, it can feel similar in parts of the coastline and its Modernist architecture. We also share the imminent threat of the storms and hurricane season every year.
How did you come to your oeuvre, the placement of textured and tactile surfaces on brightly colored canvases?
Since the beginning of my artistic practice, I have always had an interest in the idea of painting as an object. Instead of a painting to become an illusionistic window with a world, I was more interested in the materiality of painting, the skin of painting. That is how I got interested in the formal aspects of texture and tactile surfaces.
I like to mimic textures I encounter in my everyday life and from memories of places I’ve lived in and experienced. I made everything in my work out of painting materials, including the pieces that look like ceramic tiles. I think I have created my own painting language, or at least I try.
Can you give us a description of one of the central works in the exhibition, “Eyes of Sea”? How does it relate to your personal history in Puerto Rico?
I was invited by Arden Sherman, the Norton’s Glenn W. and Cornelia T. Bailey senior curator of contemporary art, to submit a video piece to the Midnight Moment project by Times Square Arts in New York City, where each night for a month at midnight, a video artwork is shown. This invitation was an exciting challenge for me since video is something new for me. I am glad I did it! Knowing that the video would occupy most of the screens at Times Square when it plays, I wanted to change the temperature of Times Square and bring Puerto Rico’s warm presence. I started with my paintings’ breezeblocks and imagined looking through them at the sea. That’s my fantasy in the video — they become eyes that transform into fish, and then like people who start dancing on colonial tile floor, which is common in Puerto Rico. Things have special meanings for me that the viewer doesn’t necessarily have to know. Those motifs become special for each person in this vibrant tale.
At the Norton, we decided to mimic the Time Square installation by creating an installation with multiple screens of the video at the museum.
How did you and the Norton come up with the title “Clouds in the Expanded Field”?
For my first solo exhibition at a major museum like Norton, I wanted a title that reflected the works in the show, but also my interest in painting in the expanded field. My paintings are in the in-between of painting and sculpture. I believe the title “Clouds in the Expanded Field” refers to my painting language and interest but also to the vast landscape of clouds and nature.
What is your goal in exploring themes of identity and belonging? What do you hope visitors to the Norton will take away from the show?
I believe in a sense of identity and belonging is a universal feeling that we all carry and search for. I grew up moving a lot from place to place in Puerto Rico and that created a lack of sense of ownership to place. I have found that sense of ownership through my art. My paintings are like a collage of memories and places I experience in my everyday life, fragments that come together creating the compositions in my work. I hope the visitors can take away connections to parts of the paintings and make them think of the places that they belong to or have visited in their life. I hope that when they are in front of the clouds painting titled “Nubes en el Paisaje Expandido” they can feel immersed in the clouds patterns that also become like waves of the sea.
How has the process gone in terms of working with the curator and staff?
The process working with the museum staff has been one of the best experiences about the exhibition. From the beginning working with Arden Sherman and Tiera Ndlovu, curatorial research associate, with the conceptualization of the exhibition and the invitation to be a Mary Lucille Dauray artist-in-residence. The museum staff has been incredibly welcoming and very supportive. The show wouldn’t look so good if it wasn’t for the amazing preparators and registrar team that the museum has. I am very honored and grateful to the Norton.
While this is your first solo exhibition in a major US museum, you have many credits in other solo and group shows. Can you tell us about a couple of the most memorable for you?
This past year has been very busy; recently, I was included in a major exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, “Entre Horizontes: Art and Activism Between Chicago and Puerto Rico,” curated by Carla Acevedo-Yates, Marilyn and Larry Fields curator, with Iris Colburn, curatorial associate, currently on view through May 5. I also received the UBS prize for Emerging Artists Edition VII in Puerto Rico, with the acquisition of the painting “Eclipse Lunar,” 2019, for the permanent collection of the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico.
You’re decamping from Brooklyn where you live and work to spend the rest of the winter and spring in West Palm Beach. Have you been given an orientation to the best food and entertainment spots?
The Norton Museum of Art is located close to great restaurants and places to visit. Since I arrived in West Palm Beach, I have been very busy with finishing the paintings for the show and the exhibition installation, so have remained very close to the museum for my ventures. I can recommend the great Cuban restaurant Don Ramon, Grato, Table 26, Lynora’s and City Dinner, all on Dixie Highway. I also recommend the Norton’s restaurant and their beautiful sculptural garden at the museum. It is lovely and inspiring to spend an afternoon there.
Editor’s Note: Nora Maité Nieves is the February Time Square Arts Midnight Moment artist. See more here: www.arts.timessquarenyc.org/times-square-arts/projects/midnight-moment/eyes-of-the-sea/index.aspx