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Delcy Morelos: Transcending Tradition

December 14th, 2023 | Review by: Zoe Scourtes

Earth and gallery often fails to merge, but some artists find a way to blend the two. Colombian artist Delcy Morelos (b. 1967) has been working with practices encompassing painting, installation, and sculpture throughout her career. Through her practice, Morelos has found ways to transport organic materials into exhibitions, emerging as a land artist as she works directly with the landscape. Over the past three decades, she has cultivated work that blends natural and unnatural, often speaking to a paradoxical site-specificity of her Colombian roots and the physical gallery space. 

The process continues in tandem with her newest installation Delcy Morelos: El abrazo, currently at the Dia Chelsea art gallery in New York City. The two rooms of Morelos’ exhibit — named Cielo terrenal or earthly heaven and El abrazo or the embrace — offer two multi-sensory installations that aim to reinvent the viewer’s experience within the traditional gallery space. 

Traditional art galleries often fail to bring the outside environment in. Beyond the conventional form of materials that have been sourced from the natural environment, like the faint smell of a wooden frame or the aroma of physical materials like metal or steel, the sensations of the natural world fail to blend with the structures created to house art: the gallery.

The gallery acts as a structure of value and influence, one representative of an “art” that claims to have some prominence because of its location, housed away from the natural world, and deemed an attraction. Thus, the gallery creates a barrier from the natural environment, assigning value to the man-made structures and creations that exist within. 

Yet, sometimes, the relationship between the gallery and the natural environment emerges not as a barrier, but as a blend — a generous hybridity capable of blending the natural and unnatural. Delcy Morelos nurtures this blend. She balances the cold ambiance of the New York City gallery space with her warm and nurturing Colombian culture, placing the naturalness of her ancestral environment into the space. 


Entering the first room of her exhibition, Cielo Terrenal, a gentle savor of cinnamon emits from the installation made from soil, cinnamon, clove, binder, water and wood. Lines of soil create paths within the room as mounds form structures that look like outlines of ancient ruins, ones that touch on the Andean and Amazonian cultures Morelos’ work explores. The dimly-lit, subterrestrial feeling of the room lowers the energy of the exhibit as voices linger. The viewer emerges as an absorbent, tracing oneself in the patterns of soil, and reconnecting with the Earth. There is no question of sales or commodity — the only proximity relevant is that to the Earth. 


El abrazo, the second room, features a colossal figure, one formed from garden soil, clay, coir, and hay. The structure stands intimately within the room, leaving little space along the walls and almost hugging the ceiling, suggesting a relationship between space and structure that asserts site-specificity. The structure reignites the gentle energy put to rest in the first room, supporting voices and conversation as hands stroke the hay structure and light pours into the room. Windows welcome the lights of the sky and the noise of the city, caressing the natural world within the gallery as it stands unprotected. The figure rests innately in the gallery space, as if the condition of the street enhances the experience within, juxtaposing natural and unnatural so directly.

Morelos’ exhibit transcends the limitations of the gallery, bridging the natural environment and gallery space rather than establishing a barrier. The materials she uses maintain their raw essence, not formed and manipulated into the unnatural. The naturalness of her material remains, reworked into the context of the Dia Chelsea gallery. She does not cultivate a new essence but rather, she speaks to an ancestral one.

Unlike the neighboring galleries, Morelos’ work cannot be sold or replicated, only experienced in-person — a piece of land art paradoxically site-specific to the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. Morelos’ work was not created for sale, but for experience. With the proximity of the exhibition to other traditional art galleries, Morelos challenges the system of value and influence imprinted in the art world. 

The hybridity of unnatural and natural in Morelos’ exhibit speaks to a new form of gallery; one that doesn’t cultivate the unreal, but rather speaks to the essence of our relationship with the Earth. She absorbs the viewer in her cultural history, of a history that relates to the Earth but also to an intimacy for the viewer with their own relationship to the natural environment. The Earth lives in the interior of the gallery just as it exists outside, allowing Morelos to create a space not of the unreal but overwhelmingly beautiful natural world.

Delcy Morelos: El abrazo is on view at the Dia Chelsea from October 5, 2023 to July 2024. To learn more about the exhibition, visit the gallery website here.  


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