Souto earns international, national recognition for his work

Francisco Souto (second from left) receives the Lorenzo il Magnifico Award for works on paper at the XIIth edition of the Florence Biennale in Italy.
Francisco Souto (second from left) receives the Lorenzo il Magnifico Award for works on paper at the XIIth edition of the Florence Biennale in Italy.

School of Art, Art History & Design Professor and Director Francisco Souto has received both international and national attention for his work recently with two important recognitions.

In October, he was presented the Lorenzo il Magnifico Award for works on paper at the XIIth edition of the Florence Biennale in October. In November, he learned he was one of 60 artists selected for the “State of the Art 2020” exhibition at the Momentary and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“It’s kind of hard to believe. Obviously you put all this time in making the work; you believe in the work. And you know in your heart that you’re doing very important things,” Souto said. “But when that passion gets recognized externally, then you know this is something you have to follow. I’m working and working, and now more people are paying attention to it. I think that is very rewarding.”

Souto was one of 480 artists from 76 countries and four continents represented at the Florence Biennale, a major contemporary art exhibition in Florence, Italy, which is regarded as an outstanding showcase of the international contemporary art production.

Every two years the Florence Biennale enlivens the Medicean city with a program of events, including conferences, displays, performances, workshops and lectures. All this with a view to offer artists and their audience the opportunity to engage with art and culture and learn more about the theme of each edition of the biennial.

“It is a big deal and quite the honor,” Souto said. “The participation to the biennale is by invitation only. I received a personal e-mail from the director of the Florence Biennale inviting me to participate. When you show your work internationally, it calls the attention of the experts in the field, and that is very stimulating.”

Souto showed four works at the Biennale, including “Little Bird (Pajarito),” which came from his exhibition titled “Dicotomias” (Dichotomies). He spent a week at the Biennale with support from the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.

“One of the five international jurors said it was refreshing to see a body of work that required so much attention from the viewer,” he said. “As you pay attention to the piece, the content engulfed you. I was appreciative of that comment. As you know, a lot of contemporary art is pretty loud. I’m not making a judgment call here, but my work is not. Even though the content is pretty strong, the delivery is soft spoken. For me it was really important to compete at that level and get recognized for it, ultimately that’s the power of the work.”

The work was exhibited in the Spadolini Pavilion at the Fortezza da Basso, a Renaissance masterpiece of military architecture, that has been the main center for exhibitions in Florence since 1967.

“You walk into the gallery and you feel overwhelmed” Souto said. “It’s like a football stadium full of art. There are some really loud pieces, and there are some quiet pieces. They are big and small. There are performances, installations and video pieces—every single art medium is represented. It was a great experience.”

He was surprised to receive the award.

“At the award ceremony, nobody knew who was getting the awards,” Souto said. “The awards were announced by category. The award I received was for works on paper. I was surprised and humbled to be recognized among some many international artists.”

The work selected for the “State of the Art 2020” exhibition is “Long Food Line,” a panoramic graphite drawing of about 100 people standing in line for a food handout, which is owned by Marc and Kathy LeBaron of Lincoln.

“That piece is eight feet long, so the presence is a good one,” Souto said.

The piece was originally part of “Memory in Peril,” a compilation of works he started in 2015 in response to the current reality affecting his native land of Venezuela. The drawings are visual testimonies of the social, economical and political deterioration that is eroding Venezuela.

“That was when the people in Venezuela were making lines to get food,” he said. “Now, there’s no food, so there are no lines to make. But they used to have to make lines for hours. And at the end at the entrance, there would be a guard safeguarding the entrance. What’s impactful about that piece is there are 100 people patiently waiting in line, but there is only one guard. That power structure was really important for me to replicate. That’s a very meaningful piece, so I’m glad that’s the one they chose.”

Lauren Haynes, curator of visual arts at the Momentary and curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges, is leading “State of the Art 2020,” along with Alejo Benedetti, assistant curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges, and Allison Glenn, associate curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges. The team visited studios across the country, resulting in the selection of a diverse group of 60 artists, from varied backgrounds and at different points in their career.

More than 100 artworks will be featured in “State of the Art 2020” with most of the work being created in the last three years.

“I think what’s very exciting to me is that these curators have been traveling the country for 10 months. I don’t know how many studios they visited, but anything between 800 to 1,000, so they’re looking at and talking to a lot of artists,” Souto said. “When your work gets narrowed down to only 60 nationwide, it says a lot about the way they’re seeing things, the way I’m making things, or the combination of both. It’s a vote of confidence because they are experts in the field, so to me, it’s very, very important. It’s humbling, and it’s a big honor.”

The exhibition will be on view at the Momentary and Crystal Bridges from Feb. 22-May 24, 2020, and then will travel for the next two years in different venues.

“The amount of people that will see the show, they’re thinking is between 200,000-300,000 people,” Souto said. “To me, that is amazing. Obviously, you work hard. You know you might be doing the right thing, but this is like a seal of approval. That’s what is exciting about this show. I’m in the mix.”

Everything about the process is confidential, so Souto doesn’t even know how his name even came up for consideration.

“So he came, and said he wants to look at the work first. If the work is provocative enough, then we’ll have a conversation,” he said. “So then he came in and he looked at the work and said, ‘Okay, let’s talk about it.’ So right then, I thought something might happen from this.”

But it was months later before he was confirmed for the exhibition.

Souto began his career in printmaking and then switched to drawing after an injury. His work in both mediums is intricate and detail-oriented.

“My first response to that is that when I’m looking at art, that’s what I respond to,” Souto said. “I’m dealing with such a very emotional subject matter so I want people to really get into the work slowly. How can I engage the viewer with a beautiful object? Once you’re in, you have no choice but to listen. There’s also something to be said when an object is well crafted—you cannot deny the intrinsic power of it. When you see a beautiful and well-made bowl or a well-made wooden box, there is something intrinsic about that care. I want to engage the viewer in that level of conversation.”