'Walking Through His Mind': Objects of an Artist's Past at Fiterman Art Center

Artist Pablo Helguera recreated the living room of his youth in Mexico City, one of four installations in his show, "A Journal of the Year of the Pharmacy" at Fiterman Art Center. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Nov. 29, 2021

Look in the windows of the Shirley Fiterman Art Center and you’ll likely be puzzled by what you see. Toilets in one room, an old-fashioned parlor setting in another, a cryptic, minimalist installation in yet another. But there is much autobiographical meaning behind Pablo Helguera’s large-scale exhibition, “A Journal of the Year of the Pharmacy,” on view (by appointment) until Jan. 22. Drawing from the memorabilia and diaries of his past, the 50-year-old Brooklyn-based artist and Mexico City native has turned the center’s spaces into chambers of his memory.

The show’s four major installations provide a sense that “we’re walking through his mind with him,” said Lisa Panzera, the center’s director. “We’re kind of on this journey with him as he reflects on his past, both distant and recent.”  

Upon entering the gallery, located on the ground floor of Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Fiterman Hall, 81 Barclay St., one sees bathroom fixtures meant to recall the garage in Mexico City that his father refitted as a showroom for the family’s bathroom and kitchen supply business. Next comes a re-creation of the living room in the artist’s childhood home, where his sisters, one a pianist, the other a cellist, played classical music. On view by way of video, accompanied by the artist’s spoken reflections, is a journey through an Evanston, Ill., neighborhood where his family moved from Mexico.

For nearly 30 years, Helguera, who now teaches at the New School, worked in the education departments of New York City museums, and one large room features voluminous notes from that period—notebooks, yellow pads and journals—“that documented every conversation, every reflection I had as an art technician throughout those years,” Helguera has said of that section of the show, titled “The Art Technician’s Syndrome. Little else is on display in this large room, meant by the artist to give a feeling of the museums where he worked. “This very white box, modernist display is very much intended to evoke that space,” Panzera said.  

The exhibits title is a reference to Daniel Defoe’s fictional narrative, “A Journal of the Plague Year,” and was inspired in part by the pandemic of 2020, when Helguera created the show. A long wall of dark, surrealistic scratch drawings represent the nightmares we were undergoing during that summer, not just because of the pandemic but also…the political climate that we were undergoing in the U.S.,” the artist says in a Fiterman Art Center video.

There are no wall labels to explain the work. A handout and 48-minute monologue by the artist, accessible via QR code, are your guides. 

The show is open to the public by appointment on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1-5 p.m. To make an appointment, email ShirleyFitermanArtCenter@bmcc.cuny.edu.