El Museo del Barrio is pleased to present Reynier Leyva Novo: Methuselah. Conceived by the Cuban-born and Houston based artist Reynier Leyva Novo, the digital artwork virtually reproduces the 6000-mile transnational migratory journey of a single monarch butterfly, tracking its travel from southern Canada across the United States to Mexico. Embodied through the life of a virtual avatar, the epic journey is hosted and reproduced in real time on a specially designed, open-access, dedicated website. Commissioned by El Museo del Barrio with the support of VIA Art Fund, the in-person mixed-reality presentation at El Museo debuts in conjunction with the upcoming Fall exhibition, Juan Francisco Elso: Por América.
Methuselah debuted to the public on September 22, 2022, coinciding with the Fall equinox and the start of the monarch’s migration. Viewers can follow the virtual avatar 24 hours a day via a website, observing as the specimen makes its way south across changing terrain, weather patterns, and other variable physical conditions.
Working with butterfly experts, taxidermists, animators, computer modelers, and software designers for over a year, artist Novo translated the monarch butterfly from an analog specimen into a digital animation. Accessible online, the virtual avatar can be observed 24 hours a day during a one-year cycle as it flutters, flies, feeds, and rests with the ease and delicacy of a real insect. At any given time, the software program determines the butterfly’s movements in space, drawing upon numerous data points related to monarch migration patterns. No single observed motion is the same. This presentation offers viewers a privileged and unprecedented look at a day in the life of a single monarch butterfly, a phenomenon that until recently was impossible to observe or track.
The title of the work, Methuselah, refers to the fourth generation of monarchs in each annual cycle. Weighing less than one gram each, and living only two-to-six weeks, monarch butterflies take four generations of offspring to complete their annual migration. Born furthest North, the Methuselah generation lives longer than the other travelers born further south. With this extended life span, it is able to complete the epic transcontinental migration each year, allowing for its species’ survival.
In tracing the monarch’s flight across the Americas, Methuselah addresses larger contemporary issues related to migration, climate change, and the necessity of transnational cooperation, as expressed in the life of a singular specimen. Calling attention to the false security of borders, the artwork offers a critical metaphor for twenty-first-century existence, made all the more poignant by the monarch’s recent categorization as an endangered species.
ABOUT REYNIER LEYVA NOVO
Reynier Leyva Novo (b. 1983, Havana, Cuba, and based in Houston, Texas) is one of Cuba’s leading conceptual artists. Novo’s practice challenges ideology and symbols of power, challenging notions of an individual’s ability to affect change. His multidisciplinary practice includes mining historical data and official documents, the content of which he transforms into formally minimalist and conceptually charged sculptures and multimedia installations. Novo’s artwork has been presented at the Liverpool Biennial (2010), Venice Biennale (2011, 2017), Havana Biennial (2015, 2019), Shanghai Biennale (2018), Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (2019), Aichi Triennial (2019), among others. His art is collected by international museums and arts institutions such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Bronx Museum of Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; Museo de Bellas Artes de Habana; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, among others.
Reynier Leyva Novo: Methuselah is commissioned by El Museo del Barrio through the generous support of VIA Art Fund. The project is presented in relation to El Museo del Barrio’s Fall 2022 exhibitions are possible thanks to major support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Tony Bechara; Ella Fontanals-Cisneros; Celso Gonzalez-Falla; Elizabeth Redleaf; Craig Robins; Steven and Judy Shank, and John Thomson. Commissions are made possible by VIA Art Fund and the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation. Supported in part with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council.