Carlos Garaicoa was born in 1967 in Havana, Cuba. The artist studied thermodynamics before his mandatory military service, during which he worked as a draughtsman. Garaicoa then attended the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana from 1989 to 1994. Since the early 1990s, Garaicoa has employed photography, performance, drawing, sculpture, installation, text, and video to comment on architecture’s reflection of and effect on the political, economic, and cultural reality of cities. Although he references other international metropolises, much of his work critiques the architectural policies enacted in Havana following the 1959 revolution, which halted new projects and neglected older buildings in desperate need of preservation. In early works like 39 (1991) and Homage to the Six (1992), Garaicoa photographed his interventions into the urban environment, capturing the changes and subsequent human reactions. The photograph Untitled (Decapitated Angel) (1993) reveals a headless statue of an angel at the foot of what was once a grand banister but now sits abandoned within a dirt-coated hallway; the fall of this utopia is clearly attributed by bold letters stating “FIDEL” at the center of the photograph. Garaicoa later exhibited photographs of dilapidated buildings juxtaposed with his own drawings of the sites. In the drawn component of About Those Untiring Atlantes that Sustain Our Present Day by Day (1994–95), the artist replaces the photographed wooden supports struggling to hold up a Havana residence with a trio of muscular Atlantes performing the same function. As an artist in resident at Art in General in New York, Garaicoa created the series When a Desire Resembles Nothing, which offered up a comparison of Havana and New York City.
In the mid-90s, Garaicoa began to incorporate additional mediums and installation techniques into his investigation of the urban landscape. He pessimistically interrogated the theme of a garden as a respite from urban life in the photographic series Cuban Garden (1996–2000) and in the multimedia installations Japanese Garden (1997) and Garden (1998). Garaicoa also created large complexes of architectural models between 1998 and 2002 using varied materials such as crystal home decor, Japanese lanterns, and lit candles. At Documenta 11 in 2002, Garaicoa presented a series of architectural models with corresponding black-and-white photographs; the optimism and potential implied by the bright, clean maquettes cruelly contrasted with the photographs revealing the actual dilapidated state of the sites themselves. In his recent work, Garaicoa has created diptychs juxtaposing a black-and-white photograph of a building with another in which that building has been extracted; in the latter, the artist implies the structure’s ghostly presence with a rendering of the building in string and pins.
Solo exhibitions of Garaicoa’s work have been mounted at Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam in Havana (1994, 1998, and 2003), Art in General in New York (1996), Bronx Museum of the Arts (2000), Museo de Artes Visuales Alejandro Otero (2001), Maison Européene de la Photographie in Paris (2002), Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams (2005), Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (2005), and Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia (2007). His work has also been included in major exhibitions like the Havana Bienal (1991,1994, 1997, 2000, and 2009), Johannesburg Biennale (1995), São Paulo Bienal (1998 and 2004), Documenta 11 (2002), Venice Biennale (2005 and 2009), and Shapes of Space at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2007). Garaicoa lives and works in Havana.