By: Ana Muñoz
February 26, 2017
Between the 22 and 26 of February, Madrid is the place to be for those who love contemporary art. There are at least five different art fairs taking place simultaneously, plus many other art-related events that make this one of the most exciting weeks of the year. The only downside of it is that it is virtually impossible to see everything, and so this year we have chosen to visit Art Madrid, the second biggest art fair in the Spanish capital.
In its 12th edition, Art Madrid maintains its multidisciplinary character and puts the emphasis on the quality of the artworks exhibited, as well as on the international appeal of the 43 galleries selected. These are mainly Spanish, but there is also a good number of them that come from all over the world, including Portugal, China, Latvia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Italy or Lebano.
This year the focus is also on the individual work of emerging and mid-career Spanish and Latin American artists. Next to the General Program, the ONE PROJECT Program -curated by Carlos Delgado Mayordomo- presents eight solo-show projects that reflect on the concepts of territory, displacement and identity.
In addition to this, the relationship between art and technology shapes the fair’s Parallel Program of activities, which includes talks, round tables, workshops and other actions. We attended the last event of the series, the presentation of “FILE_GENESIS”, a multimedia project by artist and founder of Harddiskmuseum Solimán López that revolves around the meaning of the image in the digital era, showing how necessary it is to generate a conversation about the ways in which technology affects the art world.
However, painting and sculpture, from the mid-twentieth century to the present, still predominated at Art Madrid this year. Here are some of the highlights from this edition.
Espacio Olvera (Sevilla)
The booth of this Sevillian gallery was one of the first to catch my attention. Selected as a ONE PROJECT, Espacio Olvera showed the work of Mariajosé Gallardo, a fascinating combination of symbolism and a very realistic depiction of plants and animals, painted over golden surfaces that give shape to very powerful artworks. It’s a pity the small space of the booth did not provide enough room for visitors to really appreciate the works.
Galería BAT Alberto Cornejo (Madrid)
Galería BAT presented a really interesting mix of artists working in different media, including bright paintings on an unusual support like methacrylate by Pablo Lambertos. I was particularly drawn to José Ramón Lozano’s oversized celebrity portraits and Byeonghee Bae’s curious series of wooden sculptures entitled Citizens above of building. A few works from the series El Jardín de Fukuoka by Rubén Martín de Lucas -who we recently interviewed– were also present at the gallery’s booth, but he was also one of the best represented artists at the fair thanks to having been selected for the ONE PROJECT program, which allowed him to show the latest developments of his investigation regarding borders and the behaviors of the human population.
3 Punts (Barcelona)
Another gallery with a wide selection of artists was 3 Punts. In this case I particularly liked the intersections between the diverse approaches to sculpture of artists Alejandro Monge, who cracks the perfectly innocent appearance of regular objects to criticize different aspects of society; Gerard Mas, whose wooden figures seem to have a life of their own; and Samuel Salcedo, especially his hyper-realistic, sinister little humans made of resin.
Marc Calzada (Barcelona)
Also from Barcelona, Marc Calzada brought something different to Art Madrid: the work of modern Spanish masters like Antoni Tàpies, Antonio Saura, Miquel Barceló, or Joan Miró. The gallery’s selection of works encapsulated some of the best exponents of Spanish art from the twentieth-century, and included rare items such as a doodle by Miró on a torn piece of cardboad.
Galeria Kreisler (Madrid)
The work of Madrid-based multidisciplinary artist Okuda San Miguel, shown by Galeria Kreisler, stood out as one of the most visually compelling in this edition of Art Madrid. Combining elements of Urban Art and Pop Surrealism, San Miguel has created a very personal, rainbow-colored universe using a huge range of techniques, including mural painting (check out how he transformed a 100-year-old church into a skate park). One of his most interesting works at the fair was ‘Mom’s Bird’ (2016), made of wool on canvas.
Yiri Arts (Taiwan)
The booth of Yiri Arts, a gallery from Taipei, was one of my favourites this year. It featured pieces by four artists, two Spanish (Mónica Subidé and Núria Farré) and two Taiwanese (Chen Yun and Wang Guan-Jhen). Their figurative paintings and small-scale sculptures were among the subtlest and most captivating in the whole fair, and they left me hoping to see more from this gallery in the next edition of Art Madrid.
Art Madrid ’17, Galería de Cristal, CentroCentro Cibeles, 22 – 26 February, 2017.
February 16, 2017
“Cámara de las Maravillas”, the first solo show in Europe by American artist and father of Pop Surrealism Mark Ryden (1963, Medford, Oregon), has brought thousands of people to the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) in Málaga, Spain, since it opened last December. It is no wonder that it has attracted so much attention, as it puts together 55 works covering 20 years of creation by the artist, including iconic pieces such Incarnation (2009) –the inspiration behind Lady Gaga’s 2010 meat dress-, most of which are kept in private collections.
The 2012 painting The Parlor – Allegory of Magic, Quintessence, and Divine Mystery opens the show, anticipating many of the elements that the visitor is going to encounter throughout the exhibition: a strange assortment of semi-human characters, a theatrical space populated by a myriad of symbols, odd creatures that are often both ridiculous and disturbing, a whole lot of irony and an exquisite technique that dissolves the brushstrokes into a continuous and delicate surface. His meticulous and detailed work brings to mind that of old Venetian masters like Vittore Carpaccio and Giovanni Bellini. While grounded in contemporary pop culture, Ryden’s works are reminiscent of many previous artistic periods and styles, from French Neoclassicism to the Pre-Raphaelites and, of course, also Surrealism.
The earliest work in the exhibition is the painting Saint Barbie (1994), while the most recent, the sculpture Wood Meat Dress (2016), was created especially for the Málaga show. From the young girl worshiping a goddess-like Barbie doll to the eerie, sad-eyed sculpted lady, we are able to observe the evolution of the physiognomy of Ryden’s peculiar female characters through the years.
All the different series that the artist has exhibited in the past –The Meat Show (1998), Bunnies & Bees (2001), Blood (2003), The Tree Show (2007), The Snow Yak Show (2009), The Gay 90’s (2010), The Gay 90’s West (2014), and Dodecahedron (2015)— are represented here, plus the original artwork for the cover of Michael Jacksons’ album Dangerous and three beautiful porcelain figures made in the last five years. However, the works are neither grouped in series nor displayed in chronological order, and this makes the artist’s ultimate concerns and interests, such as Science and the destruction of Nature, even more evident throughout the exhibition.
The big exhibition space of the CAC has been articulated in a way that allows the visitor to see many of the pieces at the same time, encouraging many dialogues and correspondences not also between the works, but also between their magnificent frames. These have never been a secondary element for the artist, who designs many of them himself so they perfectly match and complete each of the paintings.
Adjectives like kitsch, naïve, creepy or sentimental are often used to define Ryden’s aesthetic, but these labels don’t do any justice to the complexity of his work. The best way to approach this cabinet of curiosities is with the eyes of a child, leaving preconceived ideas at home and letting your imagination run free.
“Cámara de las Maravillas” is a real treat, well worth a trip to Málaga. Those who already love the work of Mark Ryden will be delighted to see together such a careful selection of old as well as new pieces, while those unfamiliar with the artist have here a wonderful opportunity to dive into his enigmatic universe, which is very much alive and still evolving.
Mark Ryden’s “Cámara de las Maravillas”, curated by Fernando Francés, is on view at CAC Málaga until March 5, 2017.
November 16, 2016
In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art hosted a major exhibition of performance art, which included live performances taking place daily in the rooms of the museum. I am talking about The Artist is Present, a retrospective of the work of the self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art”, Marina Abramović, which attracted thousands of visitors (700.000 according to The New Yorker).
The presence of performance in leading institutions such as the MoMA has definitely contributed to its acceptance into the mainstream during the last few decades. However, some people still question why performing in front of an audience can be considered art, and not drama/theatre. Abramović herself gave her opinion on this matter in an interview while promoting her MoMA show, stating that “To be a performance artist, you have to hate theatre. Theatre is fake: there is a black box, you pay for a ticket, and you sit in the dark and see somebody playing somebody else’s life. The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real. It’s a very different concept. It’s about true reality.”
I am sure many actors –and perhaps some artists as well- would have many counterarguments to Abramović’s words, but her assertiveness shows that the performance vs. acting debate is still alive. The lines separating performance art and drama are certainly blurry, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a world where everything seems to be more and more interconnected. So instead of focusing on trying to define what performance is against other disciplines, I think it is much more interesting to examine here why its irruption in the world of visual arts has been so important for the development of contemporary culture.
The beginnings of performance art can be dated back at least to the early twentieth century, and particularly to the Dada movement. Dadaists defied conventional definitions of art by mixing poetry, music and visual arts in unconventional performances that took place in alternative spaces such as the famous Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich.
Between the 1940s and the early 1960s, a series of artistic actions (often derived from “action painting”), interactive installations, and performative events organised by artists such as Yves Klein and groups like Gutai, anticipated some of the characteristics of what was to be labelled “Performance Art” from the 1960s onward.
The Japanese group Gutai was one of the first to take exhibitions and artistic actions outside the traditional spaces of the museum and the gallery. They organised many outdoor events, like the 1956 Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition (Ashiya, Japan), where visitors were invited to take part in the artworks. The idea of opening up art to the participation of the public was also at the heart of Allan Kaprow’s happenings, in which art became a collective experience.
This new role of the public -who is no longer contemplative and passive as in traditional art exhibitions- that comes with performance art, disrupts the conventional relationship between the viewers and the artworks, and generates new dynamics between the viewers and the artists. Because, as the title of Abramović’s exhibition points out, one of the most important characteristics of performance is that the artist is present. In performance art, the body of the artist is the medium, and it becomes an incredibly powerful tool to express different narratives and ideas.
In opposition to an inert painting or sculpture, the presence of the very alive body of the artist means that art stops being a safe experience for the viewer, given the unpredictability of the situation. With performance, art invaded the “real world”, the here and now. Some artists have put the public in particularly difficult positions by putting themselves in danger in front of an audience. Abramović, Joseph Beuys, and Chris Burden are some of the most prominent examples. The latter is known for his 1971 piece Shoot, in which he was shot in the arm by a friend in front of a small audience.
In the 1970s, performance was already a quite established artistic practice, with Fluxus –an international, heterogeneous conglomeration of artists, designers, composers, dancers and other professionals that shaped a highly experimental artistic community- as one of its most important representatives.
Why was performance such a success at the time? One of the main reasons was the rise, particularly in the United States, of a series of social and political movements that demanded civil and social rights, equality, and justice. In such a politicised environment, many artists used performance as a means to address the concerns behind different social groups and communities. For instance, some of the most well-known performances from this period are linked to the rise of feminism and the Feminist art movement. This is the case of Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975), which culminated with the artist extracting a paper scroll from her vagina while reading from it.
These are just a few of the many artists and actions that contributed to the early developments of performance as an art form. It would be impossible to cite them all here, but the changes they introduced during the second half of the twentieth century -the organisation of artistic actions outside traditional spaces, the increasingly active role of the publics, and, most importantly, the use of the artist’s body as a medium- are essential in order to understand our current artistic context.
October 28, 2016
I catch up with Rubén –who now works as a solo artist— after a particularly busy summer to talk about one of his most recent projects, Stupid Borders, which deals with the absurd human need to possess the land.
When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?
It was a visceral decision.
At 16, before I started studying engineering, I used to paint graffiti in the outskirts of Madrid. During my studies I continued painting murals, developing the artistic side of it, and when I was finishing my degree I projected myself into the future, and two things happened. If I thought of myself as an engineer, my guts clenched and I could see a heavy darkness. If I thought of myself as an artist, I could perceive light and I felt free of any tension. So after university I backpacked in India for four months, and when I came back I realised that uncertainty was going to be constantly in my life. That uncertainty, not knowing what I’ll do or where I’ll be tomorrow, has won me over.
How were your beginnings in Boa Mistura?
Simply wonderful, like everything we have done together until now when, due to my personal circumstances, I have decided to step aside to see my children grow up. The beginnings were full of innocence and fun. Then came years of learning and growing, and the project developed like the forging of iron, through fire and hard work, full of difficult and wonderful moments, and always with a dash of good humour.
How was working in such a multidisciplinary team?
Before a studio or a company, Boa Mistura was a group of good friends, and that has enabled its powerful growth. We worked very close together and learned a lot from each other. Except for girlfriends and underwear, we shared everything with each other. There is something very beautiful in sharing an idea, shaping it together, and feeling as if it was yours even if came from somebody else. A dissolution of individual ego takes place in favour of the group and the common good, and that is precious.
How has this collective, urban experience affected your individual work?
The collective experience made me grow both as a person and as an artist.
What I love about urban art is its capacity to reach a really wide audience, to go beyond the limits that museums, galleries and the conventional art circuits impose. It’s necessary to forget the idea of art as lifeless objects contained in museums and to start thinking about it as a process, like that vital attitude so necessary for everyone in every aspect of life.
In your statement you mention that your work revolves around the concept of “associated behavior”. What does this concept entail?
Landscape and what I call “associated behavior” –that behavior and bonds that connect you to a certain place— are at the centre of my work. In Seaside Holidays I focus on holiday landscapes in the Mediterranean coast and on the collective and mimetic behavior that leads people to massively go to those places. In Stupid Borders I study frontiers, the concept of limit and our attitudes towards an Earth that transcends us in age but that we strangely feel the need to possess.
How did you come up with your project Stupid Borders?
It emerged from an invitation by AP Gallery to create a project ad hoc for their space. This gallery has a line of work linked to the landscape and an exceptional location near the mountains of Ayllón (Segovia, Spain). It was just the right time for me to begin developing actions on the landscape and to do more conceptual work. In my notebook I drew a line across a lake. I imagined a lane rope dividing that lake in two, crossing it from side to side. Under that I wrote Stupid Borders. That’s where the project was born.
What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
The beginning, when there’s just an idea. There’s a special magic when a project is just a sketch in a notebook. At that point I feel a great intellectual pleasure because I imagine all its possibilities and the thousands of shapes that it could adopt. That moment really captivates me. Then there’s a phase of refining it, when you filter and polish, and then comes production to make it real. This last phase is interesting because there are still surprises and problems to overcome, and it counts on one’s previous experience, which is very enriching. Once the piece (or project) is finished, it loses interest to me, as if that idea was already dead. Although it’s precisely then when the idea is passed onto –or revives in— another person.
In Stupid Borders, the documentation that you produce while you work is also exhibited and becomes essential in order to understand your project. Do you think that the educational element is often left aside in contemporary art?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for others. The only thing I can say is that for me that educational element is essential. My work is very conceptually and philosophically charged, and it’s important that the public can get to know that part. My aim is to make us reflect on our behavior and on our way of inhabiting the Earth.
How do you choose the spaces where you create your Minimal Republics?
My Minimal Republics are set in places where normally no one would live or establish a micro-state. The first three are located in the middle of a rye field, in a fallow land, and the last one floating in a reservoir. Absurd places for absurd nations.
I believe you want Stupid Borders to become a life-long project. Was this decision motivated by the problematic situation of borders nowadays?
Indeed. We perceive borders as real entities. We fight for them. We stop those who want to use their freedom of movement. We believe that a piece of land can be ours… we even believe that the Earth belongs to us, when we’ve been here for barely an instant.
The day we come to realise that we belong to the Earth, and not the other way around, we will start behaving differently. It is essential to understand this. I think that’s where Stupid Borders plays an important role as a means for critical reflection. That’s why I have decided to continue creating Minimal Republics until the time comes when either borders or I cease to exist.
Which other plans do you have in mind for the future?
I have a notebook full of ideas, some of which will never see the light. There’s a project entitled Overcrowded where I talk about overpopulation as the main problem we face as a species. Another one, Descanso Visual (Visual Rest), where silence is considered an alternative to our hyper stimulated and noisy society. And also Topographies, which explores how moulds or models –words, preconceptions, physical laws, and other representations of reality— confuse us and lead us away from reality itself.
But my true plans for the future include becoming more of a hippy, seeing my children grow up next to my wife, getting away from the city to live closer to the earth, building a house with my own hands, growing my own tomatoes, writing a book, traveling, learning to surf, becoming more humble each day and enjoying each moment, because the future and the past are not easy to live in.
Stupid Borders opens October 28 at Palacio Quintanar in Segovia (Spain).
October 14, 2016
This not-at-all-comprehensive list includes some of the most exciting representatives of the contemporary Spanish art scene. Despite belonging to a generation of highly qualified Spaniards that do not have many chances of succeeding in their home country, these young creators have already caught the eye of critics, curators and the public. Scroll down to discover their work.
The work of Mercedes Pimiento (Sevilla, 1990) revolves around architectural structures and materials, particularly those that go to waste. She puts the emphasis on the ruins of the capitalist “monuments” of the 21st century by creating her own anti-monuments, small in scale and often made of fragile materials such as soap. In a country full of unnecessary and abandoned megalithic buildings -the result of decades of property speculation- Pimiento’s work make us think about the precariousness of our current sociopolitical system.
Miguel Laino (Huelva, 1980) studied fashion at Central St Martins in London and worked with renowned designers such as Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. However, after seeing a Georg Baselitz retrospective in 2008, he decided to commit himself to being a painter. He usually reinterprets images from online and print media that he finds compelling, in a process that involves the subconscious more than the conceptual. His piece “Didier” was chosen by Chantal Joffe as the winner of the recent Painted Faces Showdown in Saatchi Art and exhibited at The Griffin Gallery, London.
Guillermo Mora (Alcalá de Henares, 1980) is currently a resident at ISCP, New York. He often uses paint as his artistic medium, but in original and unconventional ways. Some of his most characteristic works consist on layering great amounts of acrylic and vinyl paint that he later folds and piles up to form sculptural blocks. His recent work looks at the forgotten histories of painting and specifically at ideas about acts of concealment, overlapping and disappearance. The motto “add, subtract, multiply and divide” guides his artistic process.
Almudena Lobera (Madrid, 1984) works in a variety of mediums and formats, including sculpture, performance and installation. Drawing is also essential to her work, which aims to show alternative models for the configuration of the visible, delving deeply into the notion that the image is not always visible or accessible in nature. The work pictured above, “The Proof”, was part of her exhibition A latent revelation, hosted by Galería Max Estrella (Madrid) earlier this year. She is currently based in Ghent, Belgium.
Through his collages, installations, and other ‘rarities’ –as he calls them— Julio Falagan (Valladolid, 1979) seeks to dignify the banal and the obsolete. His works lead us to think about social constructions and their fissures by putting dogmas into question. I find particularly interesting how he recycles old paintings found in street markets. He modifies them in different ways, often by cutting them into pieces to compose new works with their fragments, other times by leaving his own mark on them to add new layers of meaning.
Cristina Garrido (Madrid, 1986) investigates the value that is assigned to objects, and particularly to those objects classified as art. Through common and repetitive gestures, such as picking up, collecting, and archiving, she studies the circulation of artistic objects in the art market and examines curatorial practices. In her 2015 award-winning installation “#JWIITMTESDSA? (Just what is it that makes today´s exhibitions so different, so appealing?)”, for instance, she proposed a critical reflection on the success of contemporary art exhibitions.
Mythology, symbolism and art history are usually present in the work of Marina Vargas (Granada, 1980). She mainly uses traditional media such as painting, sculpture, and especially drawing, but she has managed to create a very distinct and personal language that has an enormous power over the viewer. In the past few years she has explored the idea of destroying and questioning the classical canon. An image that keeps appearing in her projects is that of the inverted pieta.
Watching the animations created by Blanca Gracia (Madrid, 1989) is almost an immersive experience. They lead the viewer into and exotic world populated with noble contemporary savages that provide an evasion from our current reality. These animations originate from Gracia’s incredibly imaginative drawings and paintings, where she merges wild anthropology theories, explorers from pseudo-fictitious worlds and lunatic expeditions, all with a flavour of our contemporary world.
Gonzalo Borondo (Valladolid, 1989), known simply as Borondo, is a street artist based in London whose large-size and very expressive murals cover the walls of buildings all over the world. However, some of his most characteristic work is made on glass, which he covers with white paint that is scraped and scratched from the inside of neglected windows to reveal haunting images. The human figure, and particularly the naked body, is at the centre of his artistic vision, which take its influence from the great Spanish master, Francisco de Goya.
Saelia Aparicio (Ávila, 1982) studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. Her recent work establishes analogies between corporeal and social mechanisms, delving into different ideas of the organic to create artificial microcosms that tell us something about our own reality. To achieve this, she uses a multiplicity of materials and processes, always with a poetic approach in mind. In one of her most recent projects, Epidermal Speleology, she explores the concept of ‘abjection’.
September 7, 2016
The Prado, the Reina Sofía, the Thyssen-Bornemisza. If you are travelling to Madrid, those are the museums you will most likely visit. They are, of course, a must-see. But the city is packed with interesting museums and galleries outside this so-called Golden Triangle of Art. There are hundreds of things to see, but today I am focusing on a small exhibition in one of my favourite spots, the ABC Museum of Drawing and Illustration.
The museum building, a former beer factory built in the nineteenth century, hosts the ABC Collection, which includes nearly 200,000 artworks that sum up a century of graphic art in Spain. One of their exhibition programmes, Connections, invites artists linked to the world of drawing to develop a project for the museum, taking as its starting point works from the ABC Collection and the Santander Collection.
The latest edition of Connections presents the work of Madrid-based artist Marina Vargas (Granada, 1980), who exhibits Fate Lines, a project inspired by a tarot session with a Cuban “Santera”. The artist reinterprets nine tarot figures in her very original and well-defined vocabulary, in which different referents –such as Baroque, Pop, Surrealism, and Symbolism— coexist.
The exhibition only occupies one small room at the museum, where Vargas’s giant tarot cards (they are more than 2 metres tall) are the main attraction, capturing the viewer’s eye with their intricate details. The works the artist has taken for inspiration are a pair of eighteenth-century ornamental ceramic vases made in the Royal Factory of Alcora (Valencian Community) and a 1930 cover of the Spanish magazine Blanco y Negro. Both the vases and the cover are linked to the designs in the Spanish playing cards, which are mixed with those in the Tarot de Marseille in Vargas’s works.
Marina Vargas studied Fine Art at the University of Granada, and her work has been shown, among other places, in New York, Mexico, La Habana and Milan. She uses different media to explore her many interests, which include religion, symbolism, and identity. I am particularly fascinated by her sculptural work around the idea of classical beauty, such as the pieces featured in her 2015 exhibition Nor Animal Neither Angel, at CAC Málaga.
In the case of her tarot cards, everything starts with a digital drawing where Vargas combines different images. She then transfers this to a wood panel using graphite and proceeds to apply paint. However, she returns to drawing over and over during the process, as can be seen in a couple of cards which the artist has left unfinished.
That is precisely the most interesting aspect of Fate Lines: that it offers the viewer the opportunity to learn more about the artist’s process. Besides the aforementioned works, the exhibition also includes a video of the tarot session that inspired the series, the images and documents that Vargas used during her research, and a collage that developed in her studio walls while she worked on the pieces.
Georges Braque, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, and Leonora Carrington are some of the artists that were inspired by the Tarot de Marseille. For Marina Vargas it becomes the perfect medium to explore her interest in symbolism. But her own language is so powerful that it not only modifies, but completely transmutes the traditional images, while at the same time the signs of her destiny are assimilated into her own particular language.
Marina Vargas. Fate Lines. Museo ABC (Amaniel 29-31, Madrid). 17 Jun – 20 Nov 2016.
August 7, 2016
Bernardí Roig (Palma de Mallorca, 1965) is one of the most important exponents of the current Spanish art scene. I discovered his work in 2013, while visiting the Spanish National Sculpture Museum. Roig’s disturbing white men were placed among Renaissance and Baroque saints and virgins, surprising visitors with their unexpected presence. It was not the first time that the artist had shown his works among those in museums dedicated to other artistic periods. He has even exhibited them inside iconic religious buildings, such as the Cathedral of Burgos.
This enigmatic intrusion into one of my favourite museums was unforgettable. Therefore, I was very excited to encounter Roig’s works again this summer. In this case the location was Sala Alcalá 31, a very singular exhibition room in the heart of Madrid. This wide, vaulted space built in the 1930s, allows artists and curators to create very interesting and often bold displays. Its unconventional architectural structure, which resembles that of a church, has hosted memorable exhibitions. For instance, Brian Eno presented his 77 Million Paintings there in 2014.
In the case of Roig’s recent solo show, Mind Your Head [Cuidado con la cabeza], light was a crucial element. It created the perfect setting for the sculptures, installations, photographs, objects, videos, and drawings on show. All of them were made during the last two decades, and touched upon many aspects of Roig’s artistic vision.
The mysterious atmosphere of the rooms was striking. It was mainly due to the harsh lighting coming from the fluorescent tubes of some of the artworks. In addition, the building’s theatrical character and the overwhelming presence of white also contributed to create the impression of walking into a sinister alternative reality. Or a place taken from someone’s troubled imagination.
The first artwork that I encountered was ‘Fauno in love’. It introduced one of the main themes of the exhibition: the limits between human and animal. The idea of the metamorphosis is one of Roig’s recurrent themes, and he has explored it in many of his works. An example can be found in ‘Diana and Actaeon’, a twisted rendition of the classical myth featured in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
One of my favorite pieces was an installation inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s short story Der Italiener. A life-sized sculpture of a dead ox hanging from the ceiling was its main component. In Roig’s interpretation of this subject, which Rembrandt depicted centuries ago, the animal’s insides are transformed into artificial light. Nearby, a tv monitor showing a clip from an 1971 experimental film based on Bernhard’s work completed the display.
Besides the spectacular installations, which definitely make an impression, I was particularly drawn to the series ‘POETS‘. In these drawings, Roig portrays different figures from the Spanish artistic sphere. They all appear dressed in the same austere white robe, with the word “poet” written on it. Their faces, barely recognisable, are distorted by the artist’s strokes. Last year, Galería Max Estrella exhibited the photographs that preceded this series within the framework of the PHotoEspaña festival.
As curator Fernando Castro Flórez pointed out, the exhibition Mind Your Head acted as a warning: be careful when entering your own mind, as what you see may be difficult to recount. After such an intense and unique experience, I cannot wait to submerge myself again into the fascinating visions that constitute Roig’s obsessions.
A virtual tour of Bernardí Roig’s exhibition Mind Your Head is available here. You have been warned!
June 29, 2016
From magazine covers to digital advertising, illustration has endless applications that we consume on a daily basis. Thanks to such events as The London Illustration Fair, this form of art is only becoming more and more popular every year. In Spain, illustrated books are currently capturing the imagination of wider audiences, while the number of exhibitions dedicated to the work of illustrators has multiplied in the past few years. Below is just a small selection of the amazing talent spread throughout the country.
Simple but very powerful compositions and a subtle use of colour are the trademarks of Elena Odriozola’s work. Her beautiful illustrations for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Nórdica Libros, 2013) are one of her most interesting projects so far. She has recently received the 2015 Spanish National Illustration Award for the “capacity for renewal” and the “narrative potential” of her work.
Maria Herreros’s drawings are full of life and animation. She uses mainly graphite and watercolour to recreate, in her own style, the image of film stars and pop culture icons. She has just published her book Marilyn tenía once dedos en los pies (Marilyn Had Eleven Toes on Her Feet, Lunwerg, 2016), a carefully illustrated collection of Hollywood anecdotes and curiosities that constitutes a unique and fascinating trip through the history of cinema.
Pablo Amargo conceives his illustrations as a poetic clash between image and word. He looks for the unexpected and establishes a certain distance between his visual world and the writings that he illustrates, so the readers can establish their own connections between text and image. I love how he manages to play with visual paradoxes and double meanings through a very clear and direct style. You may have seen his work in The New York Times, The New Yorker, or The Boston Globe, with whom he regularly collaborates.
Fernando Vicente’s stunningly sophisticated images, particularly his portraits, are some of the most recognisable in Spanish illustration today, although his work first appeared in different magazines during the 1980s. He has reimagined the works of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, and Emily Brontë, among many others, and has also recently illustrated a book about the Spanish Civil War (La Guerra Civil contada a los jóvenes, Alfaguara, 2015).
What I find most interesting about Paula Bonet’s creations is that she is often her own model. Her lively self-portraits are emotionally charged and often illustrate strong human emotions through the use of expressive colours, dark lines, and dramatic gestures. She explores her interest in film in one of her latest projects, 813 (La Galera, 2015), an illustrated homage to François Truffaut.
Oscar Llorens’s work seems to be inspired by street art and technology. His most personal projects usually feature strange, half-animal half-machine creatures that are often suspended in the air. One of these, entitled Migraine, explores the pain and sensations felt by those who suffer from this disorder. Coca Cola, Mercedes, Cirque du Soleil, and Red Bull are among the companies that have chosen Llorens’s intricate designs for their advertising campaigns.
Cinta Arribas likes telling stories through her art. Her work is fresh and optimistic, but not in any way naïve. I particularly like her ability to simplify shapes and the eloquence of her characters’ poses and gestures. If you are feeling adventurous, check out her awesome map with all the European St James’ routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela, featured in the book A Map of the World. The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers (Gestalten, 2013).
What first caught my attention about Carla Fuentes‘s work were her wonderful portraits, in particular those from her recent personal project Los Sentados. Through her very distinctive palette and the spontaneity of her lines Fuentes captures the character not only of people, but also of places. One example of this is her Motels series, inspired by the work of American photographer Stephen Shore.
Minimalist, enigmatic, and very evocative. Jesus Cisneros’s illustrations take us into a different world, one populated by small characters that seem in complete harmony with their mysterious surroundings. Cisneros’s unique style comes from his exquisite technique and great sensitivity. In his creations, colour becomes particularly relevant through its scarce but significant presence.
Ricardo Cavolo’s work is full of detail, symbolism, and eyes, eyes everywhere! He takes inspiration from old school tattoos, art history icons such as Frida Kahlo, and myths from different cultures to create bold and colourful illustrations and murals. If you want to dive into his very personal style, I recommend his book 101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die (Nobrow Press, 2015). A real treat for music lovers!
I first heard about artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah last year, when her installation Silence was removed from the exhibition “Femina ou la Réappropriation des modèles” at the Pavillon Vendôme in Clichy, France, after receiving threats from a Muslim group about the possibility of a violent reaction to the piece. A similar incident surrounding California-based artist Mark Ryden and his painting Rosie’s Tea Party, currently on display at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, has brought Bouabdellah’s work back to my attention, enabling me to rediscover her often ambiguous point of view. As it turns out, the timing could not have been more perfect: her work is currently featured in three different exhibitions across Spain and will be the object of a solo show in the autumn as well.
Her controversial piece Silence can be seen until June 12 at MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León) as part of the group show “Lucy’s Iris”. Bouabdellah usually adapts her works to the different contexts and spaces where they are exhibited, and in this case the installation has been titled Silence Noir. Composed of nine prayer rugs and the same number of pairs of golden shoes, perhaps the colour black has been chosen because of its historical association with Spain and particularly with Castile, the region where this exhibition is taking place. In the Spanish context, I cannot help but associate it with the traditional black outfit –composed of a lace veil (the mantilla) and a high comb (the peineta), as well as the mandatory high heels— still worn today by some women during Holy Week (the week leading to Easter), bullfights and sometimes even weddings (a great example can be found in Francisco de Goya’s 1797 portrait of the Duchess of Alba).
Black lace is used as a sort of camouflage in the series of drawings and prints Afrita Hanem, where the artist reproduces stills from the 1949 Egyptian film of the same name. Filled with double entendres, this film perpetuates the stereotype of the femme fatale, omnipresent both in Eastern and Western traditions.
Born in Moscow in 1977, Bouabdellah grew up in Algiers and moved to France in 1993. Her work explores cultural dualities and identity issues, and although it can be linked to feminist theories, one of its most characteristic qualities is its ambivalence. As the artist herself states, she seeks “to push forward boundaries, to create interactions between them”. She claims to be a “«second sex», a free-thinker sex” who oscillates between a dominant and a submissive position, constantly alternating between claiming and defying pre-established codes and rules.
This leads to many of her works not having a direct, clear message. Such is the case of her collage series Nues Endroit/Nues Envers, where the artist cuts two of the most iconic female nudes in art history into oriental, decorative shapes and combines the resulting pieces to create two different images. These kaleidoscopic visions both appeal to the viewer’s curiosity and frustrate any attempt to reconstruct the female bodies, consequently reinforcing their power of attraction. Bouabdellah seems to be visually exploring the Orientalist veil through which many male artists have looked at the female body in order to create the perfect object of desire, whose appeal lies in its inaccessibility.
“Objets de désir” is precisely the title of Bouabdellah’s current solo show at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid), which includes the aforementioned collage series as well as a video, a sound installation and several drawings and photographs that investigate the distance between the individual who desires and the object of desire itself.
The show focuses particularly on how women have been, and still are, objectified in visual culture. Perhaps one of the most fascinating works present in the exhibition is Venus au miroir, an enigmatic photographic series where the canon of occidental female beauty confronts its own image, leaving us wondering which goddess is the object and which the reflection.
If you happen to be in Spain, don’t miss the chance to see some of Bouabdellah’s works! Objects de désir runs at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid) until 3 June 2016. Lucy’s Iris. Contemporary African Women Artists runs at MUSAC (León) until 12 June 2016. She also participates in the group show Wastelands, curated by Piedad Solans at Es Baluard in Mallorca (until 19 June 2016), and in late October the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno – CAAM (Las Palmas, Canary Islands) will also host a retrospective exhibition by the artist.
Usually exhibited in a corner, near a large painting by Francis Bacon, Andrew Wyeth’s My Young Friend (1970) is often overlooked by visitors at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. Looking a bit too sober among its neighbours, and being the only work by Wyeth in the collection, this austere portrait has always had a certain alien quality. This is perhaps due to the public’s lack of acquaintance with the work of the legendary American artist, a situation that the exhibition Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio, organised by the Thyssen-Bornemisza in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, seeks to end.
More than sixty works by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) and his son Jamie (1946), some never previously exhibited in public, shape this first retrospective of the Wyeths in Europe. It is, therefore, a unique opportunity to discover the multiple points of connection between the lives and work of two of the main representatives of twentieth-century American Realism.
The exhibition was conceived by curator Timothy J. Standring as an intimate artistic conversation around shared subjects and interests, such as friends, neighbours, animals, familiar settings in Pennsylvania and Maine, and the nude figure.
The strength of the display lies precisely in this decision of grouping the works thematically, juxtaposing both artists’ perspectives and thus allowing visitors to question the commonplace notion of Realism being an objective and detached image of reality. The continuous dialogue between father and son highlights not only their joint sensibilities, but also the originality of their individual visions. While Andrew’s images show his interest in everyday themes, Jamie’s gaze seeks the bizarre and the unexpected. They are both deeply engaged with their immediate surroundings, but retain their own personal points of view and approach the blank surface in radically different ways.
This becomes particularly evident when comparing Andrew’s solid, more naturalistic depictions of his neighbours-turned-models with Jamie’s expressive use of white to create his ghost-like portraits of celebrities such as Rudolf Nureyev and Andy Warhol. The latter is perhaps one of the most beautiful and poignant depictions of the late artist, a haunting image that stays with you long after you leave the museum.
This journey through the Wyeths’ lives, interests and places that inspired them is complemented by The Secret Sits (Wyeth Wonderland), a display of photographs by Joséphine Douet, who followed Andrew Wyeth’s steps in his native city of Chadds Ford (Pennsylvania, USA) and captured her own vision of the artist’s reality.
This comprehensive retrospective, which risks being overlooked like the portrait of Andrew Wyeth’s young friend, is not only a rare chance to see the works of these two artists in Europe, but also an unmissable event for those who regularly visit the Thyssen. By contextualising this delicate female portrait, the Spanish museum has successfully illuminated an obscure corner of its collection, enabling future visitors to evoke the whole universe that the Wyeths wanted to express through their art when they see the painting.