Teresita Fernandez

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Through June 19
by Benjamin Lima

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      Teresita Fernández
      Epic 2
      2009
      Graphite, drawing
      149.5 x 354.5 x 1 inches
      Courtesy of the artist

      View Gallery

      Teresita Fernández’ work is concerned with ideas of landscape and of nature. However, the adroitness with which it captures multiple meanings of these terms, through unexpected combinations of the literal and the illusionistic, of the tangible and the ethereal, gives it an absorbing complexity. In her most recent work, Fernández has been pursuing the intertwined histories of landscape drawing and of graphite as a material; some of this can be seen in the present exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The show will serve as a compact introduction to the artist’s recent interests for many viewers. Other local visitors, though, will already be at least partially familiar with the range of her work; 2009 alone saw the unveiling of site-specific works at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington and the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, as well as a survey exhibition at the Blanton.

      Each of the three compact galleries at the Modern is devoted to a single site-determined installation. In the leftmost gallery, Ink Sky 2 (2011) is based on a horizontally extended frame lowered from the ceiling; in the center gallery, Nocturnal (Japan) (2011) is a three-part panel mounted on the wall; and in the right-hand gallery, two works (Epic and Sfumato [November 11], both 2009) are merged into a single drawing that wraps around parts of all four walls. In Ink Sky 2, gumball-sized chunks of galena (lead ore) hang from the ends of rhodium-plated chains on the underside of the black, reflective frame suspended from the gallery ceiling. Approached from the front, the piece is something like a chandelier. In photographs, it can be made to resemble a meteor shower. From directly underneath, the suspended chains and rocks are reflected in the mirrored, black surface above, accentuating the sense of meteor-like, vertical speed.

      Nocturnal (Japan) is a massively heavy, six-by-twelve-foot panel divided horizontally and vertically into nine sections. Each of the three vertical levels uses a different form of graphite to varying optical effects. The topmost level has overlapping shapes pouring and seeping into each other in a Frankenthaler-esque fashion; the middle level has shiny, almost liquid-seeming streams of graphite striated horizontally, as though combed or compressed; and the lowest level is rough and chunky like concrete aggregate.

      Epic and Sfumato (November 11), here combined into one work, have an expansive, rainstorm-like form that is generated by the carefully dispersed repetition of a single, modular element. This element is a vertical streak of smudged graphite about six inches long, directly on the wall, capped by a popcorn-sized, hail-like chunk of graphite that sits toward the upper end of each streak, protruding outward from the wall’s surface. Viewed up close, the separate stretches collapse into a single mass darkening overhead; from a middle distance, each separate element is visible; and from the far edge of the room, the separate elements resolve once again into a meandering, elegantly linear cloud composition.

      Fernández’s work could be measured against a canon of modern and contemporary artists who pursue a phenomenological analysis of the experience of natural environments. Like James Turrell and Tadao Ando (architect of the Fort Worth Modern), Fernandez created a site-specific commission for the collection of Soichiro Fukutake’s Benesse House on idyllic Naoshima Island in Japan, where the artworks are installed as part of the Arcadian surrounding environment. To speak somewhat more specifically of Fernández’s work, it explores the limits of perception through the use of both a deep black surface that threatens to absorb all incidental light into itself, and a polished, mirrored surface that threatens to disperse all such light back outwards into the environment. Both of these treatments tend to frustrate a viewer’s attempt to apprehend the object’s color and texture within a concretely defined shape; precedents for this could be found in Ad Reinhardt, Donald Judd and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

      What the artist calls her “rationally orchestrated but absurdly romantic and contradictory sensibility” helps account for the fascinating qualities of the work. She has said, “I think the cool, designed, methodical pretense of my work is almost like a foil for a deeper, more moving experience that is never spelled out.” In this exhibition, the rational and methodical use of materials such as graphite and rhodium is immediately apparent, whereas the forms’ emotional resonances emerge more slowly, after repeated viewing. Ultimately, the possibility of repeated experience of the permanent installations in Arlington and Austin will allow viewers to test how the interplay between these two aspects of her work will hold up over the long term.

      Benjamin Lima is assistant professor of art history at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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