|Degrees of Exhilaration
The New York Sun, 10 November, 2005
10 November 2005
Guillermo Kuitca makes poignant abstractions out of maps, seating plans, architectural drawings, and other schematic representations. His images are in a sense palimpsests of human presence: His principal motif in recent years has been the auditoriums of world-renowned theaters and opera houses, in plan or elevation of the kind you see on a booking form or at the box office. Up until this present exhibition, these were rendered as large, almost monochrome canvases in which the printed element (the actual seating plan) seemed either about to sink into or be dusted off the surface. This gave Mr. Kuitca's impersonal, found plans a life of their own: In their vacant state, the theaters teetered between the memory of past performances and the expectation of future ones.
In his latest show at Sperone Westwater, the Argentine artist has moved into new terrain. Though he has kept the old motifs of auditoriums and maps, his theater pieces have a newfound deconstructive complexity and chromatic chirpiness. Some of us warmed to the old Kuitca for his washed-out, melancholy palette and mood of dissipation; a restraint bordering on nonchalance made him a painterly ally of Luc Tuymans. But these latest works are equally striking in emotional resonance, though it does take a moment to adjust to their light and energy level.
In the past, Mr. Kuitcas method of working his way around every beloved opera house in the world contained a small element of what you could call the Christo syndrome, when an artist grants himself a global concession to do his own thing. In his new way of working, repetitiveness has been replaced by complicatedness.
Instead of the found plan in its state of fusty decay, we have auditoriums caught in disarray, whether as a result of earthquakes or nuclear meltdowns. The plans are now rendered in collage, with paper denoting the seats and tiers expressively glued to a large page. In some works, like Acoustic Mass IV (Covent Garden) and Acoustic Mass VI (Old Vic) (both 2005), the collage element is densely clustered shreds of paper that almost read like the heavily scrubbed graphite of a Giocometti. In others, such as Acoustic Mass I (Covent Garden), the cutout element is more overt: Individual, irregularly sized fragments in orange, red, black, and steely gray-blue cascade implosively.
This, you might say, is an appropriately operatic interpretation: The deconstruction is taken literally to depict the world falling apart. But the image also invites a reading at another more linguistic level where the collage elements operate as a form of musical notation. In their vibrations and contortions, the lines and shapes operate as a spatial analogue of received sound. Mr. Kuitcas is a kind of emotional minimalism that encourages both responses. The deconstructed auditorium is as ambiguous as it is potent: It could equally be a metaphor of exhilaration or crisis. It could place the spectator center stage or completely out of the picture.
- David Cohen