|Guillermo Kuitca at Gallery Met
Art in America, p. 167
1 April 2008
The centerpiece of Guillermo Kuitcas Stage Fright, the first one-person show in the Metropolitan Operas ground floor exhibition space, was a 32-part series of small works on paper (2007) reproducing seating plans from opera houses around the world. For each, Kuitca brightly colored the chart using Photoshop; subjected the paper printout to folding, flexing, steam and water; and then washed the fractured image with ink or watercolor. The results are widly divergent, with the plans twisting, fragmenting and dissolving. The compressed chart of Pariss Palais Garnier looks as if in recoil from some percussive force, while the emulsion flaking off the plan of La Monnaie in Brussels makes the place seem like a disintegrating ruin. The stretched and wrinkled surfaces of two charts from the Bayreuth Festspielhaus have the skinned appearance of an "écorché"; the Opéra Bastille seems to throb and pulsate. The Opernhaus Zurich is lucid and crisp, but the printed surface has peeled away in the center, like a snakes skin being sloughed off. The New York City Opera, brightly colored and distended, ascends like a blimp.
The series continues Kuitcas longstanding exploration of the ways in which maps, plans and blueprints (for hospitals, libraries, prison) situate individuals in relation to an ordered whole. In interviews, he has emphasized his interest in the capacity of cartographic and architectural diagrams to change our orientation to the social spaces we inhabit. The seating charts, in particular, shift our attention away from the drama on the stage to the drama in the space of the audience-what performers see when they look out upon the crowd. They also point to how a human presence can be evoked through its absence, with the empty grids of seats conjuring the individuals who will occupy them.
Such an evocation of life in the trappings of empty institutional spaces also accompanies the frequent appearance of the image of an airport baggage carousel in Kuitcas recent work. In this show, the carousel could be seen in a 15-part suite of photo-based ink-on-paper works titled "The Flying Dutchman". Echoing Kuitcas set design for a 2003 production of Wagners opera at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, the cold and shadow-filled pictures, each washed in a different sooty and grayed-out color, feature the baggage carousel isolated on a spare set, as if the piece of equipment were a symbol of absent souls or embodied the anticipation of their arrival. In the Teatro Colón staging, the carousel carried the operas phantom captain on and off the stage in his relentless migration. Kuitcas gloomy images convey a similar desolation.
- Jonathan Gilmore