Rolando Peña in his Black Gold Exhibition.
Photo: Rayma Suprani

Rolando Peña

In the Barsa Encyclopedia Britannica book of the year 1968, the art critic Stazis Gostautas wrote: “Rolando Peña (Venezuelan Artist), Founder and Director of the “Foundation for the Totality” (Group of Latin American art, based in NYC). A pioneer in Multimedia-Psychedelics, Happenings, Performance shows in Latin America.”

Since 1963 as a conceptual artist, he began his artistic activity in media as diverse as performance, happenings, photomatons and body actions, installations, printmaking, film and video, multimedia and experimenting with image technologies. 

He collaborated with prominent play writers, intellectuals and curators such as Andy Warhol, José Ignacio Cabrujas, Allen Ginsberg, and Pierre Restany among others. In 1965, Peña staged with play writer Jose Ignacio Cabrujas in Venezuela the first multimedia shows in Latin America: “Testimony and Homage to Henry Miller” and in 1966, he performed in New York, “The Illumination of the Buddha” with Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary (first psychedelic show). In 1967, Peña acted in several Warhol’s films performed by “The Foundation for the Totality”, group founded and directed by Peña. 

Since the 80s to the present, Peña has been creating a monumental work with his concept of Crude Oil, which has become an icon of contemporary art. His work, associated with conceptualism, has turned towards a critique of consumer society and especially on oil exploitation. He has lived in New York, Paris and Caracas, cities where he has shown his work in several solo and group exhibitions, performance experiences, installations, and art in public places. With a consistent body of work throughout the junction of art, technology, and science, in joint research with astrophysicist Claudio Mendoza.

Peña has participated in multiple group shows, with installations and shows which disrupt the traditional concept of the exhibition space. Among others; he represented Venezuela with “Oil Spill” at the 47th Venice Biennale in 1997, and then at the London Biennial in 2002, “Il Barrile de Dio”, Pinacoteca Amadeo Modigliani, Italy; “New Territories Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America”, at the Museum of Art and Design, in NYC; “POP”, Odalys Gallery Collective, in Madrid; “Variation Paris-Media Art Fair” at the Digital Art Exhibition in Paris.

Some of Peña’s solo exhibitions include: “I am Oil” at Maison de L’Amerique Latine, in Paris; “The Standard Model of Matter: Tribute to Twentieth Century” (interactive multimedia installation) at the Sofía Imber Contemporary Art Museum, in Caracas; “Dark Energie: Tribute to Albert Einstein” at Centro Cultural of the Corp Group Foundation Cultural Center, in Caracas; “Black Gold” at the Arts Center, Maracaibo; “Mene Digital 1987-2015” at Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB) commemorating the 75th Anniversary of CVA (Venezuela American Center), in Caracas.

Among his relevant art in public places installations-sculptures are: “The Oil Tower” at Art on the Beach, New York City, 1980; “Mene Devotional Object” at Center for InterAmerican Relations, New York, 1982; “The Spiral” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Caracas. 1985; “Mene Suspendu” at Chapelle de la Salpetriere, Paris. 1987; “Totem” at Caracas Subway System, 1988; “Tri-Totem” at Olympic Park, Seoul, Korea, 1988; “International Sculpture 90” at National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1990; “The Barrel of God” - Mural, Universidad Católica Andrés Bello de Venezuela, 2008; “Mene Square” at Subway Plaza Caracas, 2009. Always challenging three-dimensional proposals, due to his conceptual boldness.

Peña is a conceptual artist of the Americas. In 1982, receives CAPS, a fellowship of N.Y.C. The Guggenheim Foundation honored him with a scholarship for his project “Make Green Oil” 2009 The AICA (International Association of Art Critics). Appointed Master of Contemporary Art in Venezuela, 2010 and AVAP (Association of Artists of Venezuela), honored him the Armando Reveron Award, 2012. Coinciding with the discovery of the Higgs Boson, he created a monumental mural for the Metropolitan University in Caracas 2012, “The Higgs Barrel.” He receives a special tribute in the 3rd International Art Biennial of Merida, 2014. The Venezuela Architects Association gives him the recognition of “Master of Multimedia Art 2014”. In 2016 Peña is awarded the “Andres Bello” high distinction from the Andres Bello Catholic University in Venezuela, for his lifetime achievements in the arts in Venezuela and the Americas.

Active in Latin America, Europe, and the United States from the 1950s through the present. Peña holds a diverse body of work that ranges from traditional media of drawing, prints, and sculpture, to process-oriented, or social-based “action” art, through video, film and performance suggested how art may exercise a conscientious reflection process when it takes up social and political subjects. Peña is especially famous for works incorporating crude oil as his theme, a matter of profound meaning, direct impact to and ultimately inseparable to contemporary society.

Peña’s legacy in art derives from how he addresses social, political, and pertinent concerns. By glaring the edges between his artistic practice and everyday existence, as one of most intense conceptual artist emerged from Latin America, Peña merges the studio, the lab, the environment and the street, as an essential space to create one of contemporary art unique icons, the gold barrel. A symbol of the contradictions of our society between consumption and environmental balance, between technology and basic human needs. His 2016 "Black Gold" exhibition at MOCA North Miami is an enduring project merging art, science, and technology.