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Date Minted: April 3, 2020

Artist Description: 2020 (MMXX) is a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar, the 2020th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 20th year of the 3rd millennium, the 20th year of the 21st century, and the 1st year of the 2020s decade.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

A marriage of pastels and minimalism, 2020 is a simplistic, moody, and oh-my-good-God highly-effective work of art. It’s, in my estimation, artist El Santero at the peak of their powers, completely in command of their technical style, completely fearless in terms of composition, and completely realistic in this depiction of pure pain. I will not lie to you: 2020 is a deeply disturbing and painful image. It’s a representation of an angst or grief or anxiety or existential panic that I know too well, that you know too well, and that El Santero clearly knows too well. To give it any more detailed introduction is to do it a disservice. It’s a work that is best meant to grip you. To be looked at for as long as possible, until you have no other choice —internal directive too strong— but to look away, flinching. 

I’m reminded of another piece in MOCA’s permanent collection, Portrait 1535445063 by the great Quasimondo, and not just for the similar color palette but for the emotions that scream off each image. But where Quasimondo’s creation is both generatively-composed and intensely forlorn, El Santero’s 2020 is primal and raw and indelibly hand-made. A white, ghostly face cries out, shrieking, sobbing, hellish in their panic. Its two hands frame its face. A thick matte of hair above its head could, yes, be hair, or it could be smoke rising, the epicenter of a burning body. Behind the figure, a cracked wall like you’d find in an unfinished basement. And the whole thing painted in the most muted of color palettes. A sickly, pallid white. A turgid beige. The grey of smog. The face, if we stare at it for a moment more than we might be comfortable doing, is without detail. Its eyes are empty white sockets. Ditto its two upturned nostrils. Ditto its gaping mouth. Every unique identifier of a human being has been washed away. Every unique identifier of an environment has been erased too. El Santero has left us with the basest bones of an emotion to dwell on. And dwell on it we do. In truth, 2020 doesn’t need to be specifically characterizable. It needs only have that scream. That empty face screaming that horrible scream. A scream we can practically hear. A scream that, if we lived through the hell that was 2020 ourselves, we may have screamed ourselves. If not externally, then time after time within ourselves. After each stray cough in a grocery store. After each foray into a plague-ridden world. 

I think it’s apt that a piece named after the worst year in recent history would be washed out and devoid of detail. Indeed, for many of us trapped inside —whether because of our own fears, out of concern for a loved one, out of respect for government mandate— so much of that year blended into itself, became rote and without unique identification, just one long endless colorless scream. Of course, even a dull imprisoned life has its significant moments, its little merriments, its joys snatched from the jaws of horror. But El Santero shirks these moments. The artist focuses on the larger picture, the thing you see when you closed your eyes, the thing that nighttime and all its dark preponderant thought brought it. The sheer terror. The not-knowing. The day-after-day-after-day monotonous management of existential anxiety, the prison sentence without known end date. I can speak only for myself when I say that so much of that time is a blur to me now, though God only knows how vivid it was at the time. 

By washing out the colors and removing all detail, El Santero has created a kind of proto-person, someone devoid of race or gender or ethnicity, someone just barely even recognizably human. It can be a proto-person, sure, or it can be a representation of something that is universally human; perhaps this image itself is an emotion. Perhaps this image itself is an action, the scream. Perhaps what we’re seeing is a literal embodiment of the year 2020, as if the entire thing can be distilled into its essence by removing all color, removing all personality, and simply tilting the head back as it lets out a shriek. 

I don’t think it actually much matters what specifically El Santero was trying to capture in 2020, especially because, in capturing so powerfully whatever emotion is on display here, the artist has captured something that extends well beyond the year signified in its title. 2020, the year, may be the genesis of the piece, the genesis of the title, and the genesis of the inspiration, but it was only a single expression of the universal human suffering. It was only a single example of human pain, and though it was felt by so many people all at once and all in the same way, it remains a perpetuity, this constant scream emanating upwards from some body somewhere at any given time. There is no one face suffering wears; it wears them all. And in that same vein, 2020 doesn’t display any one soul. We all have a place, a brushstroke, a piece of chipped veneer, in El Santero’s masterpiece. A dubious honor, and I wish I had better news. 

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