|A Curtain as Ambitious as Its Stage
The New York Times, AR20
4 October 2009
When the AT&T Performing Arts Center unveils its Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House in Dallas on Oct. 12, a new work designed by the artist Guillermo Kuitca will appear, quite literally, front and center. Mr. Kuitcas permanent stage curtain, a collaboration with the centers architects, Foster & Partners, presents a deconstructed image of the halls seating on a background of chocolate brown velour.
Mr. Kuitca, an Argentine artist, has previously designed the sets for two operas in Buenos Aires: a 2002 production of Federico Garcia Lorcas Casa de Bernarda Alba, performed in Teatro San Martin, and a 2003 production of Richard Wagners Flying Dutchman, at Teatro Colón. But this is his first collaboration with architects. The stage curtain which will appear in the opera houses Margaret McDermott Performance Hall is also his first, though he has been exploring images of theaters for years. (Evidence of his exploration can be seen in two concurrent shows: Guillermo Kuitca: Everything, Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980-2008, which opens on Friday at the Miami Art Museum, and Performance/Art, a group show at the Dallas Museum of Art, from Thursday through March 21.)
Best known for his metaphysical depictions of maps and architectural blueprints, Mr. Kuitca began to explore the visual and philosophical opportunities of seating plans one evening in 1994, when he was buying tickets to Strausss Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera House in London. A chart in the box office intended to help ticket holders locate their seats caught his eye, he said. Intrigued by the pared-down visual language of such charts and the idea of private individuals navigating public landscapes, Mr. Kuitca purchased The Complete Guide to London West End Theaters. He immediately left London and began work on a new series of paintings, Puro Teatro, which experimented with views of auditoriums as seen from their stages. Mozart-Da Ponte I (1995), one of the first paintings in the series, is blurry and romantic.
In 2001, when Mr. Kuitca began to work with collaged materials on paper, he continued to explore theater seating, this time in cutout fragments. For a 2007 work, 32 Seating Plans, first exhibited at the Gallery Met in the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan, Mr. Kuitca turned to the Internet, finding seating charts of famous opera houses around the world and manipulating them digitally in Photoshop by removing words and altering their colors. After printing the results on high-gloss photo paper, he immersed them in water or sprayed them with steam until the images bled and fell apart. The resulting effect can be seen in the fragmented image on the Dallas curtain, as well as in Sin Titulo, a 2006 painting.
After receiving the curtain commission in September 2008, Mr. Kuitca struggled to come up with a design. A self-described insomniac, he said during a June interview in Buenos Aires that he spent months of sleepless nights in an office adjacent to his bedroom initiating and then abandoning ideas for the curtain. One early rendering involved a system of fiber-optics that would enable the curtain to reflect the pretheater din of instruments tuning up through a succession of flickering lights. Another idea, an animated film, showed a virtual curtain lifting and floating away. But Mr. Kuitca, who is disarmingly soft-spoken, said he felt such visual tricks might suggest he was trying to upstage the actual performance.
Once Mr. Kuitca had finally settled on a design, creating the Dallas curtain took about five months, according to Jennifer Tankleff, a vice president at I. Weiss & Sons, a theater-rigging and stage-curtain company in Long Island City, in Queens. With a Photoshop image directing the exact placement and hue of the colors, the two velour panels, which started out white, were rolled through a 40-foot inkjet printer. Once the chocolate background and the red and gold details were sprayed on, the panels were laid out to dry. The satin gold appliqué, the final touch, was applied using a detail provided by Mr. Kuitca. We tried out many samples to come up with a good shine, Ms. Tankleff said.
Describing his earlier map works as instruments for getting lost rather than instruments for navigation, Mr. Kuitca said he connects his seating plans to a feeling of primal disorientation that occurs when place names have the ring of meaningless words and it feels unclear whether one has arrived too late or too early. Theyre about knowing where you are not, he said. They are rooms with no people.
- Dorothy Spears