Recovering Beauty: The 1990s in Buenos Aires

The Blanton Museum of Art

Through May 22
by Alexis Salas

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      Marcelo Pombo
      Navidad en San Francisco Solano (Christmas in San Francisco in Solano)
      1991
      Cardboard, nylon, and synthetic enamel on wood
      31 1/2 x 47 1/4 inches
      Collection of Mauro Herlizka, Buenos Aires
      Courtesy of the artist

      View Gallery

      Omar Schiliro
      Sin Título (Untitled)

      View Slideshow

      Ursula Dávila-Villa’s first solo curatorial project at the Blanton Museum of Art, Recovering Beauty: The 1990s in Buenos Aires, is one of sparse staging and thoughtful curatorial choices. Organized into discrete vignettes, spaces of clean white facilitate an exhibition experienced through visual ideas manifested in the artworks, paired with discrete bits of historical and social context. Such cool reserve allows the art to act playfully.

      The show begins with colorful and graphic works. Formal and abstract yet not abstemious, they are celebrations of urban lived experiences (Fabio Kacero’s “furniture-canvases” incorporate symbols that he made to represent people that he admired in the language of street signage) and the senses (Graciela Hasper’s playful reinterpretation of Hans Arp-ish colors and shapes). They also use abstraction in such a way that makes them somewhat cryptic, simultaneously evoking the sensual and suggesting a reformulated notion of aesthetics.

      Showcasing work nicknamed “arte light,” the exhibition explores how these artists “recover” beauty by unabashedly investing in the visually seductive object. Marcelo Pombo’s Navidad en San Francisco Solano [Christmas in San Francisco in Solano] (1991) is an amalgamation of cardboard boxes over which he has painted white dots. It reflects both his desire “to decorate” in the most literal of senses, as well as a historical moment of the onslaught of neoliberal globalization; as foreign products began overwhelming the local market, international and local goods came to be looked upon with an anthropological eye. Omar Schiliro’s untitled plastic and glass sculptures which illuminate, all tendrils and exquisite faceting-- be it plastic or crystal-- paired with bare neon bulbs and plastic bowls, make looking a conscious act. They need a viewer just as much as electricity to bring them to life.

      The pleasure of the act of looking is a theme which, in the Argentine context, could be understood as a subversive reaction, both to the end of oppressive governmental regimes with rigid notions of what kind of art was worthwhile as well as to the spread of AIDS. AIDS hit particularly hard in the community of artists upon which the exhibition focuses—which, rather than those of the entire city of Buenos Aires, as the title might suggest, is limited to those of the Rojas Gallery, one (very small) space in (the University of) Buenos Aires. In the context of such loss and sorrow, a joyful return to the aesthetic, the “light,” and thus the “gay,” during a time of ostracization, is embraced by the artists throughout the exhibition. The strategies are as varying as graphic depiction of sex acts in a pastel-colored Keith Haring-esque style such as Beto de Volder’s Orgía [Orgy] paintings to Feliciano Centurión’s hand-embroidered textiles with phrases such as Me adapto a mi enfermedad, (I Adapt to My Illness) and La muerte es parte intermitente de mis días (Death Is an Intermittent Part of My Days) which he produced in his last bedridden months of life.

      Yet even in evoking such charged themes, the works, indeed the show, project a certain ease. In the case of the exhibition, it is a studied ease; the show as well as the symposium and catalogue, which includes the first translations of the artists’ texts, that accompanied it are the product of four years of planning and many communications with the artists. Allowing the viewer to become as involved as she pleases with the visual or historical elements of the work, Recovering Beauty gracefully eschews questions of how to deal with the contemporary (which can be difficult to historicize) and the Latin American (which can be difficult to contextualize). It manages to engage both, and in doing so, engages large and diverse audiences. 

      Alexis Salas is a PhD student in art history at The University of Texas at Austin based in Berlin.

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