Pepón Osorio Review: The Artist’s Wounded Heart

The same may be said of the show’s latest piece, which is also its most immediately personal. Some five years ago, Osorio experienced a medical crisis — he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer — and the work called “Convalescence,” dated 2023 but still in progress, is his response to that.

Unlike the self-contained installations, it’s in the form of discrete sculptures and assemblages. One is a wooden food cart — a Puerto Rican street “kiosko” — stocked with curative paraphernalia (pill vials, prayer cards, garlic bulbs). Another is a cluster of glass vessels, including liquor bottles and laboratory vials, arranged in the shape of Puerto Rico. The third is a free-standing nude male figure, arms spread, innards revealed, skin pierced with needles, and I.V. bags filled with liquid, hung, like a life vest, around his neck.

There’s a commentarial dimension to this image, about the marketing, in part through mystification, of contemporary health care. But, as always with this artist, it’s the material and imaginative generosity of the work that makes it memorable.

Osorio has always said that the primary source of his art is his own life. That’s true here in the vulnerable “Convalescence” figure, conceived as a self-portrait. And it’s true in an older sculpture from which the show — organized by Margot Norton, chief curator, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and Bernardo Mosqueira, a curatorial fellow at the New Museum — takes its name.

That piece, “My Beating Heart (Mi corazón latiente),” from 2000, is in the form of a suspended six-foot-tall — Osorio’s height — paper piñata. Traditional piñatas are filled with treats and treasures that are released when the form is battered, slashed, destroyed. But no need to take a swing in this case. The gift is present, audible, in the air: the recorded sound, faint but steady, of the beat, the tidal rhythm, of the artist’s heart.

Pepón Osorio: My Beating Heart/Mi corazón latiente

Through Sept. 17, the New Museum, 235 Bowery, Lower Manhattan, newmuseum.org.

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