By Jimena Ferreiro
The texts around art exhibitions usually resort to a certain repertoire of approved words which, after being used for some time, are discarded once they have saturated their meaning and their expressive capacity. I could list many of them (some would even prompt a sarcastic laugh) and create a story of the intellectual fashions that vertebrate the consideration about art in our time, which we eagerly embrace in order to leave them with a hint of ingratitude. Perhaps these paragraphs do not escape the symptom of eagerness either.
Contemporary art is erected on the fantasy of a new doing, heir to the avant-garde’s vocation for novelty. But at present, art responds somewhat less to the dynamic of radical transcendence that marked the isms of the 20th Century–that heroic period of modern art’s total revolt— and somewhat more to the form of the cover version. The current scene is somewhat more atomized and uncertain, more plural and even grandiloquent. However, more than taking note on the spectacular nature of the art that is produced today –an aspect that I dare doubt in face of the characteristics of our local production—, I think about a more subtle feature that becomes essential in order to understand how it works. I am speaking about how contemporary work marks the different temporalities until they are transformed into their own matter. Perhaps this is their substance, their consequence and, at the same time, their future. If the work is made of time –and it is in time—, then the stories that shape tradition act in a different way in it, directly or in a deferred fashion, and also with unequal effects. Something similar is the term acople, which in Spanish makes reference to adhering, joining or assembling, as well as to the sound distortion that generates noise and an echo type sound.
I have always had a special interest in history, local scenes and genealogical stories. I like thinking of the history of art as a great transtemporal conversation of works, in which they look for each other, join (se acoplan), take distance, deny each other or show indifference. And despite some disruptions which may arise along the way, the images are still there, as the sirens’ song, in a relentless sound of acoustic feedback (acople) under the effect of musical gravity.
Exhibitions turn the works they host into a cover version of themselves, as they are never the same when they are in the proximity of their temporary mates. That is the reason why this show proposes to dramatize some ideas-strength that organize the local art narrative through a matching system, as random as inscribed in the personal canon of the artists involved. These are experiments of vicinity, amplification, duplication, opposition, rivalry and admiration. Between proximity and distance, between love and hate, these works constitute a serialized narrative story that somewhat deconstructs the conventions on how to think of their mutual implications, and at the same time they underline the link that many of them have with their predecessors. In other words, I am speaking of tradition as a flow of affectivity that connects artists, works and historical moments thus shaping a new poetic scene.
Cristina Schiavi made her own cover version of a painting by Emilio Pettoruti, one of the main artists of the modern avant-garde in the first decades of the 20th century in Argentina. But Schiavi is slightly more mischievous when she has to consider herself as part of that tradition: “I have always felt like a figurative artist.” Through her work, she manipulates the objects produced by the heteronormativity, creating a certain effect of amazement, with the purpose of making the geometric modernism sex-genetic marks evident, a modernism that constructed values of virility and purity around painting, while rendering the work of female artists and other secondary groups invisible.
But there is also another key to think about the modernisms that are connected to experimental culture and the inflow of renovation that the avant-garde brought together with eccentric and mystic visions which illuminated the production of artists such as Xul Solar, whom Alfredo Londaibere deeply admired. In both of them, the spiritual search took a ciphered nature in their works, it took shape to then flee in a stream of consciousness until it became an invocation. “Art may be a bridge between earth and spirit” said Xul Solar. With a similar purpose, Londaibere produced a long series of paintings with almost illegible words which express affirmations, revelations and prayers in a patchwork between word and image through a lettrism linked to the experimentation of constructivist avant-garde.
Artist and essayist Yente wrote about Juan Del Prete –an artist who was a pioneer of abstraction in our country and her life mate– on countless occasions. Possibly the most comprehensive text about his work was recently published by Ivan Rosado. In Anotaciones para una semblanza de Juan del Prete (Annotations for a profile of Juan del Prete), Yente takes note on the omissions “voluntary or not”, specially referred to the history of the avant-garde movement. Among these omissions, the significance of both their work slipped away for the local art history, which a few decades later would not go unnoticed for artists such as Jorge Gumier Maier, Marcelo Pombo or more recently Paola Vega.
Gumier’s painting places tension on the relationship with the concrete movement of the forties and the modernist utopia of an art of simple forms integrated into daily life: “My connection with abstraction comes about, especially, through the appropriation that interior design made of modernist esthetics.”. His paintings, undulating, sexy and domestic, recover ornamental motifs present in this architecture, transforming the insides of his work, which at some moment could have been refined, into kitschy and affected, remaining the loving debtor of those lowly shapes. Gumier also had the desire of making an exhibition of Yente and Del Prete –an idea that even hovered over the reopening of the Rojas gallery under his administration–, and that was postponed indefinitely. His admiration lied in the irreverence they positioned themselves in so as as to produce their work. Yente believed something similar: “Del Prete has not championed an exclusivist trend,” moderating the art movement with a very singular enthusiasm.
Alfredo Hlito was an essential artist in the inventionist avant-garde of the forties and fifties, and in the sixties, in the context of his stay in México, he started an extensive series of Effigies in which he deepened a more personal and enigmatic experience. “The lineal search leads to a shape that closes (…) They are lines forming structures. Never loose lines.”. What underlied was the figurative nature of his new paintings, and the unsettling silence of his work’s new protagonists.
The connection between figuration and abstraction is one of the constants in Guillermo Kuitca’s work –a profound admirer of Hlito’s work, whom he visited, being very young, in his big house in the neighborhood of Constitución–. But also awarding, in his paintings, the same relevance to elements such as chairs of beds (which were a part of some of his most notable series) as well as to thearchitectural spaces that contain them. The blueprints and maps that Kuitca paints are always presented to us as spaces to inhabit. “The architectural plant offered me, in some way, to discover a space and the map allowed me to see that plant in context. It was at the time in which I was struggling to stop painting the human figure and I found thearchitectural plant and the map, which allowed me to cover that imperceptible area between abstraction and figuration, something that occurs in very few things.”. However, these shapes look for an inverse effect, because more than finding ourselves, we can lose ourselves in them: what is it like, then, to inhabit a crown of thorns?
During the last years, and after participating in the last Kuitca Scholarship, the work of Luciana Lamothe found in sculpture a way to intertwine the problems that always appeared in her practice. Between the formal severity of constructivism and situationist actionism, the artist built a work logic linked to the accident and the violence against the material. Also an admirer of modern architecture, she makes pieces with pipes that she joins using hinges and similar elements –the same materials she uses in her functional sculptures and installations– designed from constructive structures that turn against themselves.
Gabriel Chaile combines ancestral and modern traditions, something that may have acted as a substrate in Hlito’s painting during his Mexican stage, in which the presence of the pre-Columbian work is integrated to daily experience. “I would have liked to be a preacher or an archeologist,” confesses the artist and, although he clearly wasn’t, we could suspect that through art he acts as a visual anthropologist generating theories that seek to understand the behavior of objects based on their shape. In his work there is magic, and also the faith in the matter’s ability to transform, substance of miracles itself.
The nineties was a decade of strong debates around the artistic object and its purpose. The recovery of a certain notion of what is beautiful, or more precisely pretty, was challenged under a binomial system that opposed light art and committed art. In this sense, Fernanda Laguna’s work adds one more paradox as its operates as a great centrifuge force that expands beauty to the world through multiple tools, where poetry, writing, plastic and applied arts are mixed, as well as teaching, la dissenting militancy and a way of being in the world as singular as efficient, able to dose ideological criticism, political practice, friendship, networks and selfless consumption. Laguna creates forms of communication in which artistic language is: “a language to speak outside de system of art.”. That same poetic force is shared with Federico Manuel Peralta Ramos, poet, showman, minstrel, performer. An exceptional figure in the Buenos Aires artistic scene, as extravagant as essential, whose work dematerialized until it became a simple look on the immediate experience, about life itself. And while Peralta Ramos’s work dematerialized searching for the intensity of the vital experience, Pablo Suarez’s rematerialized with a similar purpose. Outside was the genocide, inside was the bed, the plant, the sheets and joy. “Pleasure for painting,” said Suárez, through which he discovered the poetry of immediacy, eroticism and the texture of what’s popular.
Banal beauty was ciphered, waiting to be rediscovered by Marcelo Pombo’s generation. “The square meter” is the famous phrase that Pombo cast in the context of a panel discussion at the Fundación Patricios in 1994, in which he participated together with León Ferrari and Luis Felipe Noé, moderated by Jorge López Anaya. Federico Baeza reconstructed the scene in his book: “Pombo cast the first stone. With the same serenity he said he didn’t feel challenged by that grand stage of national and international struggles; the only thing that really mattered to him was what happened in his surroundings, in a one-meter radius.”. The phrase was constituted as a rejection of the conceptualist abstraction of the statement, the bureaucracy of contemporary art’s catchphrases, and an exaltation of the micro political future.
In his works, Mauro Guzmán summons dissenting multitudes, the excess of trash esthetics and queer androgyny. “Just as contemporary baroque,” says Beatriz Vignoli, Guzmán leans over the abyss of pop culture deploying a production process in which pollution, amateurism, imbalance, obsession, trance and the amalgamation of these drives are fused in their mise-en-scene, in which the artist’s body is protagonist, together with other collaborators who end up entangled in his cinematic fictions. As a “deconstructivist orgy in mud,” Mauro Guzmán rereads the homo-eroticism of the classical sculpture, transforming it into a monstrous version: “Avant-garde is eaten all the time by the classical; the thing is how you uphold a point of tension with what’s going to happen anyway,” he stresses.
Rephrasing Alejandra Aguado in the text Mariana Ferrari dedicated to her for her last great solo exhibition, we note that the artist was recognized in the last years for a series of rather more figurative paintings that dismantle the local pictorial tradition -the iconography of work, the mountainous landscape, the earthy atmosphere of Lino Enea Spilimbergo’s paintings, who was her teacher at Tucumán National University, where Mariana also studied- in order to take them to the field of gestural or “aerobic” abstraction, as Claudio Iglesias called it. Mariana Ferrari likes the term painting because besides naming the object it identifies the action, and this dynamic force is key to understand her work, which is always at the blurred line between annihilation and vitalism, disintegration and reunification. A very personal way of thinking about painting in connection to territory and tradition (and the contained violence in its genesis), which embodies a work as a “heroic and bestial” impact zone, as Aguado states it.
Her work moves between the vital and the inert, as the states in Silvia Gurfein’s paintings –artist, writer, teacher and inevitable referent of the contemporary scene– which oscillate between the phantom of shape, her past life and her definitive vanishing, until becoming color, stain, mist, vibration, suggestion. Her work is found in this battle, between mystery and clairvoyance, in a constant exercise to endow matter, time and again, with the enigma of art.
Buenos Aires, September 2019