Fisher Museum puts see sea, sky and land on view

Enrique Martínez Celaya’s work ranges in medium, with prominent pieces in sculpture and oil and wax painting. His pieces are featured in museums, galleries and collections across the country. (Photo courtesy of L.A. Louver)

At the USC Fisher Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, you’ll be able to experience all of the elements at once — not physically, but visually.

Titled “SEA SKY LAND: towards a map of everything,” the exhibition features approximately 30 large format paintings and sculptures created by Enrique Martínez Celaya between 2005 and 2020. 

According to the exhibition’s official press release, the exhibition is the first time “the arc” of Martínez Celaya’s practice will be showcased in a museum in Southern California since 2001. 

Selma Holo, the executive director emerita of USC Museums, was originally connected to Martínez Celaya through a friend and colleague. After visiting his studio, she knew she wanted to showcase his work at the Fisher Museum. Holo also knew that with her retirement planned in a few years, she wanted this show to be her legacy.

Visually, the work captures one’s attention. With pieces that stand 20 or 30 feet tall, it is extremely easy to visit the museum and become lost in the grandiosity of the atmosphere. All of the works presented at the Fisher Museum are connected to one of three motifs — sea, sky and land.

Martínez Celaya’s careful use of color and poignant messages stand out as one walks through the gallery, moving through the elements. Each section of the exhibit was made to pair with the others, and although one may find a favorite painting, each one was made to be capable of transfixing its audience in a unique way. 

Holo said she was drawn to Martínez Celaya specifically because she “wanted to do something that was really emblematic of USC.” To her, that meant honoring the extreme interest in interdisciplinary work at the University, embodied by the scientist-artist-professor background of Martínez Celaya.

“When you are an artist, who is also interrogating the world from the position of science, poetry, literature, and just all the emotions that fill us up as human beings, you [are] somebody who I think can touch you in a very special way,” Holo said.

Nathalia Morales-Evanks, USC Museums director of communications and marketing, said that promoting Martínez Celaya has been “easy” because he is being featured all throughout the city right now, such as at The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif., and the UTA Artist Space.

Martínez Celaya’s work will also be on view in a concurrent exhibit in Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library. The exhibit draws on his recent residency at the Robinson Jeffers Tor House in Carmel, Calif., after being named the foundation’s inaugural fellow, and will present his work next to the 20th century poet’s historical material.

Holo said she also wanted to feature Martínez Celaya’s work as a representation of USC — a “great mosaic made up of so many different people with different backgrounds.” Martínez Celaya, who is Cubano, left Cuba at a young age and was educated in Spain and Puerto Rico before moving to various places in the United States. Many of Martínez Celaya’s pieces involve the idea of searching for a home or sense of belonging. In Holo’s essay in the catalog for this show, she calls his work a representation of “exilic imagination.” 

“Give yourself a treat … Let the work work on you. You’ll find yourself touched in ways that somehow the modern world doesn’t let us be … Artists give us permission to look at the world freshly,” Holo said. 

“Enrique Martínez Celaya, SEA SKY LAND: towards a map of everything” will be shown at the Fisher Museum until April 9. Admissions and programs are free and open to the public. 

“You could come every day, until April 9, and see something different,” Morales-Evanks said.