Marcelo Pombo

Blanton Museum of Art, Austin

Through February 22, 2009
by Dan Boehl

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      Marcelo Pombo
      Ornaments in the Landscape, and the Museum as a Hotel Room, 2009
      Installation View
      Blanton Museum of Art
      Photo Rick Hall
      All works courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery

      View Gallery

      Marcelo Pombo’s art focuses on that most classical of concerns: the nature of beauty. For his installation at the Blanton Museum Workspace gallery, Ornaments in the Landscape, and the Museum as a Hotel Room, Pombo creates six new paintings and transforms the exhibition space into a conglomeration of beautiful paradoxes. The paintings are beautiful, yet shallow. The space is beautiful, yet impersonal. To talk about this exhibition as it relates to beauty is to talk about two things at once: the paintings themselves and the transformation of the gallery into a “hotel room.”

      The paintings are beautiful in the Merriam-Webster sense of beauty: a quality that brings pleasure to the senses. Made by applying a thick obsessive layer of acrylic dots to each surface, the intricate and colorful paintings Pombo builds are nearly sculptural in composition. The dots sprawl and swirl across the wood surface in satisfying colors and patterns. Though his acrylic pointillism is complex, frenetic, candy-slick and instantly appealing, Pombo’s focus on visual pleasure reduces image and art history into a series of easily recognizable forms. 

      A whisper of a past art historical age rises from each painting. In La pinacoteca de los pobres [Art Gallery of the Poor] (2007-2008), framed Impressionist paintings appear to hang salon style in the air, hovering like ghosts over a concrete and plywood house. The paintings-within-the-painting are recognizable as Impressionist simply because Pombo employs the expressive touches and brushstrokes associated with that movement. They operate like knockoff cologne: stripped of their authenticity, they recall the effluvium of beauty, rather than beauty’s essence.

      Pombo adorns all the paintings in the gallery with similarly recognizable art historical forms. Dali and Ernst show up in Segundo concilio de Nicea [Second Council of Nicea] (2007-2008). Twombly and Pollock are present in Pincelada flotante y habitada [Inhabited and Floating Paint Stroke] (2007-2008). Each composition speaks of a different era. Stripped of its historical context, each era comes across like the recent celebrity Louis Vuitton ads, rife with nostalgia and the implication that luxury is synonymous with culture. The patterns in Pombo’s paintings add up to something larger than themselves because we’ve seen them before in blockbuster exhibitions and on desk calendars. They are what we know to be beautiful.

      As for the gallery, Pombo effectively transformed the space to capture the transitory and static aesthetic of a nice hotel. He fashioned the gallery to be at once welcoming and aloof, warm and professional by draping the entrances with thick brown fabric, painting the walls a warm yet sterile green, darkening the lights, and appointing the gallery with plush uncomfortable looking furniture. By setting up the gallery as a hotel room, Pombo reduces the museum into a showcase for luxury goods. It’s the place to get a taste of the opulence we as individuals cannot afford for ourselves.

      In Ornaments in the Landscape, and the Museum as a Hotel Room, Pombo reduces beauty to artifice, and artifice to pleasure. And it is a simple, reassuring pleasure. Everything looks good, is comfortable, and we don’t have to think too hard. But Pombo doesn’t want us to think, he wants us to be moved. Well wrought and safe, nothing is really at stake, though our hearts flutter so.

      Dan Boehl lives in Austin, Texas where he is working on a post-petroleum children's novel.

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