Alberto Rey: Cuban-American Artist

“Alberto Rey: Cuban-American Artist”
SAGES First Seminar – Thinking about the Symbolic World
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH
Fall 2007

Course description:

Sages Seminar

Lynette M.F. Bosch
Art History and Art

“Alberto Rey: Cuban-American Artist”

SAGES First Seminar – Thinking about the Symbolic World


In his paintings, small-scale sculptures, videos and installations, Alberto Rey has created a symbolic world that records his experience and memory.  As an artist, Rey is heir to American Modernism and participates in the Postmodernism of the turn of the 20th century. As an artist with a global sensibility, Rey feels equally comfortable being inspired by European, African, Caribbean and Latin American art.  A consummate craftsman in diverse media, Rey easily moves across centuries to encompass creative sources that include Mexican ex-voto images and the traditions of landscape and wildlife representations that characterize American nineteenth and twentieth century painting.

Rey was born in Agramonte, Cuba and grew up in Barnesboro, Pa., where his family settled after briefly living in Mexico City and Miami.  Today, Rey is a Distinguished Professor of Painting at SUNY, Fredonia, where he lives with his wife (Janeil), daughter (Graciela) and son (Diego).  As a Cuban-born artist, Rey belongs to a generation of Cuban-Americans who were displaced in childhood by the political events that attended the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Thus, Rey belongs to a group of hyphenated Americans, whose lives are defined by their bicultural identity. As an adult, Rey returned twice to Cuba to see the country he left at the age of three, too young to have left with memories of the place of his birth.

The subjects and themes Rey explores in his work allow the spectator a view into his personal concerns expressed in images of Cuban and American landscapes, Cuban foods, Madonnas, rafts, fish, found objects, vignettes of Cuban life, as well as portraits and recreations of the places and people who have defined his identity and his life. Rey’s life encompasses many roles and many identities and the exploration of these identities is part of his artistic concerns with time, memory, emotion, experience and the exploration of exile and its traumatic aftermath.

By using Rey’s life and work as the base, this course will explore issues of identity, exile, population displacement, political utopias (or not), class, gender, social expectations, Modernism and Postmodernism as the participants unravel and decode Rey’s specific artistic vocabulary, imagery and intentions.  Assigned readings will provide background for discussing Rey’s work within its social context.

Because writing about art requires a broad knowledge of periods and movements, readings are assigned towards providing familiarity with Modernism and Postmodernism. American and Latin American art provide inspiration for Rey’s work, thus course discussions and lectures will focus on artists and movements Rey has studied.  Rey’s concerns with craft and technique have led him to experiment with Renaissance and Baroque painterly traditions and imagery, which will also be discussed in this course.

To enlarge the scope of this class, an exhibition of Rey’s work is being planned at Case at The Greenhouse Gallery (co-sponsored by the Institute of Contemporary Art).  On November 2, a symposium on Rey will bring the artist to campus along with art historians who are involved in a book project on Rey.

Writing about art requires a combination of clear, expository prose blended with sensitivity to the aesthetic and cultural issues present in the work and in the artist’s intention.  A variety of theoretical and pragmatic approaches come to play in the interpretation of an artist’s oeuvre.   As different approaches are called for when writing about art, the writing assignments in this course are geared to introduce students to different ways in which art is described in words.  Thus, seminar participants will be given the opportunity to write a range of texts from critical reviews, to exhibition essays interpreting Rey’s work, exhibition labels and wall text and descriptions and discussions of individual works.


The SAGES experience

This course is meant to be a seminar intended to stress individual participation and discussion.  Ideally, the discussion should be a group conversation on a subject of interest to all as exploring the world of Alberto Rey should be a collective enterprise.  The development of analytical thinking and the appropriate language and vocabulary that best expresses different critical approaches to Rey’s work is crucial for writing about the chosen subjects each participant will develop in discussion, presentation and written texts.  Class participation is required to coordinate all aspects of assigned reading, personal interpretations and writing for the course.

More than three unexcused absences will mean a deduction of 5% from the total used to calculate your grade.  5 unexcused absences will mean a 10% cut.

The goals of the course include:
1) Textual analysis and discussion
2) The identification, development, assessment and critique of arguments found in the assigned readings
3) The development of a cohesive argument for the individual interpretation of Rey’s work
4) Developing the vocabulary and style of writing and discussion appropriate for the contextual placement of Rey’s work
5) Developing a writing style, with the assistance of the writing instructor and faculty member that responds to the specific needs of the subject, while responding to the basic elements of Standard English

Writing goals

(for all SAGES First seminars)

Extra writing assistance is available to everyone. See:
To meet the Writing Crew members, you can visit their blog:
To make an appointment with one of the Peer Writers:

Objectives specific to this course

You will learn about:
* Alberto Rey as an artist representative of contemporary American art
* Theories of Modernism and Postmodernism
* The history of Cuba and the United States and their respective politics
* The definition and formation of cultural identity
* Issues of memory, experience and trauma associated with exile

You will be expected to do research, working with web sources as well as with resources in traditional libraries.  The course will help you develop your research skills.

For Alberto Rey, the first website to consult is, where the artist has posted information and images of his paintings.

The course is offered under the SAGES rubric “Thinking about the Symbolic World.”  However, we will be dealing with social and political world of Alberto Rey and the natural world to a great degree as we move into Rey’s recent paintings of landscapes and wildlife.