maria eugenia casuso

Out of the Crate

In 1987, artist Maria Eugenia Casuso gathered her body of work and sentenced it to life in a storage unit. This year, it will be paroled at Art Palm Springs.

Kay Kudukis Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

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Artist Maria Eugenia Casuso and her nephew Alfredo Casuso, who will unveil his aunt's artwork at this week's Art Palm Springs.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY CASUSO FAMILY COLLECTION

Karyn Mannix, of karyn mannix contemporary, has been intrigued with Maria Eugenia Casuso’s artwork since she first heard Casuso’s story from David Perry when they were both working art fairs. “For years I’ve been trying to get a peek at it,” she exclaims. “I had seen images, but when I saw it, it was even better than it was in photographs. I always wanted to show it, especially in Palm Springs.”

This year, during this weekend’s Art Palm Springs, she will get that opportunity. Art Palm Springs will bring together a diverse group of 70 galleries, Feb. 13-17, hailing from Asia, Europe, North and South America with an emphasis on American Art, particularly 20th century paintings at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Perry is married to Casuso’s nephew and godson, Alfredo Casuso. “We were very close when I grew up in Caracas,” Alfredo recalls. They were so close that the family isn’t sure if his first word was “Mama” or “Meme,” his childhood nickname for her.

Transferred to Caracas in the early 1970s, Dobroy hired the best interior design firm he could find to design his office, and they sent their superstar. “And that was it,” Alfredo relates. They married April 14,1972 on her 31st birthday.

When Dobroy was promoted to marketing director of Europe, they moved to Paris, then to Brussels, Belgium and finally, in 1984, to Sao Paulo, Brazil where Dobroy opened his own recruiting firm, and Casuso began to paint. It wasn’t landscapes or still lifes, the woman with the big personality, who was always the life of the party, was painting big, bold, geometric designs in big bold colors.

When her parents moved to Venezuela, they left Casuso in Spain to finish her education at a boarding school run by nuns. When she got out, her grandparents encouraged her to go to school to be a secretary, but she was an artistic, outgoing, free spirit, a modern woman, and she wanted none of that – which is likely what led her conservative family to look upon her as a bit of a black sheep, “She left home early to live by herself, which at the time was quite scandalous,” Alfredo says. She bucked the conventional life of working women during that time, and enrolled to study interior design.

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Karyn Mannix classifies Casuso’s work as postmodernism, and “…that art movement between abstract expressionism, and not that it goes into pop art, but it’s geometric abstract.”

Casuso soon became a bit of a superstar in the interior design world, and was hired at the best design firm in Caracas. She spent 10 years traveling, designing, and living her life out loud. She had boyfriends during that time; one, an artist, was so smitten with her, he sculpted a bust of her likeness. But that, like all of the others, didn’t last. Then she met Andras Dobroy.

Dobroy was a dashing, former film actor. In the late 1950s, Walter Hugo Khouri cast him as his leading man opposite Brazilian film star, Odete Lara, in his soon-to-be Mar de Plata award-winning film Na Garganta do Diabo (In the Devil’s Throat).

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Maria Eugenia Casuso designed her apartment in Sao Paulo.

Lara and Dobroy were lovers when filming started, but, as set romances often do, Dobroy and Lara broke up, and Dobroy left acting for a more lucrative and stable career in marketing for Chrysler.

Her medium was acrylics with the occasional textile surprise. All of her work lives beyond the canvas but as Jacob Klintowitz, director of the Panamericana Escola del Arte e Design in São Paulo penned about it, “The shapes may dance in space, yet they are tied to an expert and sensuous thought.”

Mannix categorizes Casuso’s work as postmodernism, and “…that art movement between abstract expressionism, and not that it goes into pop art, but it’s geometric abstract.” Mannix continues, “They’re high-quality paintings, a museum expert should really come in and look at them.”

Casuso abruptly stopped painting in 1987, and locked everything she hadn’t hung or sold, into a storage unit. For the next 21 years she never looked at it, never spoke of it, and never told a soul why. When pancreatic cancer took her life in 2008, she took that secret with her.

Dobroy was so overcome with grief he couldn’t bear to part with anything. Not her clothes, not the apartment, and certainly not her artwork. It took him 11 years to finally let go and entrust it to the now grown man that called her Meme.

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On Dec. 4, 2019, after the storage unit’s contents were shipped from Sao Paulo and secured at Palm Springs Self Storage, Alfredo and Perry hosted “Out of the Crate.” In front of an invited audience of friends and art lovers, Casuso’s bounty of work was revealed.

The couple expected maybe 20 pieces, but as painting after painting was unwrapped, it was clear Casuso was not only incredibly talented, but also prolific. In the three years she was painting, she had created over 60 pieces of previously-unseen, large-scale art that had been waiting to be rescued for 32, very long years.

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Maria Eugenia Casuso designed the lobby of the Sao Paulo apartment building she lived in.

Art Palm Springs Opening Night Preview, VIP ticket holders only, 5-9 p.m. Feb. 13, Booth 509/511. Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros. General Admission, Feb. 14, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Feb. 15-16, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Feb. 17 Noon to 5 p.m. art-palmsprings.com/the-fair.

Reception, 3-4 p.m. Feb. 15 at karyn mannix contemporary booth with focus on Maria Eugenia Casuso work, karynmannixcontemporary.com.