The Cameron Art Museum is hosting its first bilingual exhibit this month when it features the paintings, collages and sculptures by renowned Cuban-American artist José Bernal.
The exhibit, “Obra de Arte,” which translates to “work of art,” gives visitors several rooms of Bernal’s (1925-2010) vibrant work, which ranges from landscape paintings to abstract sculptures. A biography of the artist is presented in both English and Spanish.
“We opened this during Hispanic Heritage Month, so we’re excited about that,” said Holly Tripman Fitzgerald, one of the museum’s exhibitions coordinators. “It’s a growing community and we want to reach out to them and be inclusive.”
Fitzgerald, who spent two years planning the exhibit with her colleagues, said Bernal’s family helped them acquire his work.
“The family has done an incredible job cataloging his work. It wasn’t intentional, but it turned into a retrospective, so we wanted to make sure we chose works from the whole breadth of his career,” she said.
The collection includes work Bernal created in Cuba between 1925-1962 and later in the United States.
“It’s tough to have a favorite because he uses so many different mediums,” Fitzgerald said. I have a favorite landscape, which is ‘Cuban Seascape.’ It’s one of his original works from Cuba, which is great to have. I also love ‘It’s Read.’ When you first look at it, you think it’s a graphic image, but when you get closer, you see that it’s an actual painting that he did. That was one of the first works he did after he came to America.”
The exhibit also features “Wooded Area in Lincoln Park,” a landscape oil painting depicting trees in Lincoln Park on a sunny day, and “Riot,” a politically charged, paint-and-collage piece created in 1963 that includes newspaper clippings about Cuban news.
Lucrecia Bernal-Schneider, Bernal’s daughter, remembers him creating art at their home in Chicago.
“He always had a studio at home to work in. He really liked his privacy when he was working,” she said.
While Bernal did not have many public shows of his work during his lifetime, he displayed it proudly in his home.
“The family has always been surrounded by his work,” Bernal-Schneider said.
Bernal’s creations were not limited to visual art. The artist also composed his own piano music.
“I remember as a child, he would play the piano and my mother would sing,” Bernal-Schneider said.
When he wasn’t working on his own music, Bernal played songs by American composer George Gershwin, or tunes from “The Sound of Music.”
Although Bernal-Schneider said she didn’t inherit her parents’ talent for music, she inherited her father’s passion for visual art.
After obtaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Mundelein College, Bernal-Schneider taught art in public schools and opened Bernal Gallery in Chicago.
Bernal-Schneider also helped her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1993, with the process of donating 300 pieces of his two-dimensional work to the National Parkinson’s Foundation in Miami.
“He donated landscapes, portraits, abstractions, and collages. The only things excluded were the assemblages, and the reason for that was that would have been very expensive to have shipped,” Bernal-Schneider said.