|The Art of the Seating Chart
The New York Sun, 18 September 2007, p. 13
18 September 2007
"Opera imposes great demands on audiences," the Argentine artist Guillermo Kuitca said during a recent phone conversation from his home in Buenos Aires. "One experiences an almost childlike expectation, even anxiety and a sense of danger. One can also be transformed. I wanted to convey these emotions, to show that there is as much drama even stage fright in the audience of an opera house as onstage."
The fruits of Mr. Kuitca's exploration will be on view in the exhibition "Stage Fright" at Gallery Met at the Metropolitan Opera House, which opens September 19 and runs through November 1. The show includes small works on paper, large collages, drawings, and a series of new works called "The Flying Dutchman," which were created from his designs for the production of the Wagner opera at the Teatro Colon in 2003.
"I went to Covent Garden to buy tickets for Der Rosenkavalier,'and I asked for the seating plan. It was arranged from the point of view of the singers on the stage a total shift from anything I'd ever seen. It was like taking a 180-degree turn. I thought, wow, I could work with this idea."
Mr. Kuitca's epiphany led him on a 12-year journey to every beloved opera house in the world, with lengthy stops at La Scala, Opera Bastille, Teatro Colon, and, of course, the Metropolitan Opera House. Immersing himself completely in the theaters, he began producing a remarkably resonant series of architectural collages and drawings.
"Guillermo sees things very differently," the gallery's director, Dodie Kazanjian, said. "I asked him to do seating plans for this exhibit, and he decided on the number 32. He chose 32 because no month has that many days. He's saying, 'What would happen if they did?' Taking that as a jumping off point, he then distorts and abstracts the plans, transforming them until they resemble diagrams or maps of spatial and temporal relationships."
Mr. Kuitca's works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Museum, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, and many other museums, but Ms. Kazanjian was first struck by his work at Documenta IX in 1992, where he exhibited a bed installation, which is now in the Tate. "He painted maps directly onto the bed mattresses," she said, "combining the ideas of sleep, sickness, and death with those of movement, dreams, and life. The bed created a feeling of isolation a theme in his opera plans as well. It's a profoundly haunting work."
In the new show, Ms. Kazanjian said, "Every one of his works retains the view from the stage, looking out to the void of a theater, drawing attention to the relationship between stage and audience."
Mr. Kuitca, 47, has been examining the relationship between the arts in his works for some time. A child prodigy, he held his first oneman show in Buenos Aires at the age of 13. On a trip to Europe in his 20s, he met the choreographer Pina Bausch and returned home inspired to direct and design several experimental theater productions. Themes and imagery, particularly maps that ranged from family trees to floor plans of prisons, libraries, stadiums, and theaters, began to emerge in his paintings and can still be found in his works today.
Mr. Kuitca enjoys transporting viewers from interiors to exteriors, shaking up perspectives and pushing them beyond the confines of their expectations.
The artist began the works in the "Stage Fright" series with seating plans downloaded from the Internet. Using them as underlying grids, he drew with a special kind of ink that melts into photo paper, which created a kind of paste that distorted the image. And rather like Rorschach tests, one can see almost anything in them. The Metropolitan Opera's plan in black and white looks like a medical X-ray, while that of Deutsche Oper Berlin, with its cascading squares of blues, pinks, yellows, and purples, could be a brightly colored fan, a headless body, or a disintegrating pyramid.
"The plans make me think of so many things," he said. "Like how they represent social structure, because the less expensive tickets are way up high. I think about how intermission is such a limbo. You are just there, in the theater, with nothing to do but waitisolated, suspended. I think about the many lonely souls, fans going from one opera house to another. They're also about collective experience. Transported to other worlds in so many languages, yet possibly understanding only one. Opera is as much about the house where it is performed as the music. Some see my collage elements operating like musical notation, as a spatial analogue of received sound. That was not my intention. Perhaps the music got inside me without my knowing it."
- Valerie Gladstone