SITE Santa Fe presents Bel Canto: Contemporary Artists Explore Opera, an exhibition that examines themes of race, gender and class within the stories, traditions, architecture, and music of opera. The exhibition features the work of Vasco Araújo, Suzanne Bocanegra, Candida Höfer, William Kentridge, Guillermo Kuitca, Yinka Shonibare CBE, Matthias Schaller, and Bill Viola.
Among the works included are a film that provides a post-colonial take on Verdi; large-scale photographs of iconic opera houses that explore the architecture and order of social space; multiple installations that investigate the stories, music, sets and costumes of opera; drawings and collages that abstract opera design; and an installation of a fictional diva’s dressing room that examines gender roles. The first large-scale exhibition of its kind, Bel Canto will engage opera aficionados and novices alike, offering unexpected glimpses behind the scenes and deep into the cultures and histories that have influenced this iconic art form over the years.
Curated by Irene Hofmann.
Guillermo Kuitca (b. Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1961)
Guillermo Kuitca finds inspiration in the fields of architecture, theater, and cartography. Drawing is key to his artistic investigation, taking the form of linear grids, gestural strokes, and notations that imbue his collages, paintings, and sculptures with a sense of dislocation and poetry. In his words, "I always have the idea that my work does not start out from the blank canvas, but goes towards the blank canvas."
For nearly two decades, Kuitca has been particularly drawn to the subject of the opera. Inspired by Richard Wagner's' 1876 four-opera epic Der Ring des Nibelungen, commonly known as the "Ring cycle," Kuitca created The Ring, 2002, a five-panel painting over 20 feet wide. The panels show original album covers Kuitca designed for his favorite recordingis of the opera cycle, complete with the names of the performers, conductor, and orchestra. His visual narrative moves chronologically through the panels from left to right, beginning with a cubistic Das Rheingold and ending with Götterdämmerung rendered as a digital distortion.
In recent years, Kuitca has focused on increasingly complex paper collage works based on the seating charts of famous opera houses around the world. The viewer's attention shifts 180 degrees as the weight of the drama is transferred from the space of the performers to that of the audience. The large-scale collages in Kuitca's series Acoustic Mass (Covent Garden), 2005, explore the space and sound conditions of London's renowned Royal Opera House through the use of color, shape, and composition. While each varies in color and construction, they all share the same frenetic movement and visual frequency, overturning any notion of static space, imagery, or atmosphere.
With his series 32 Seating Plans, 2007, Kuitca introduces an elaborate, surrealist-inspired hybrid process composed of painting, printmaking, and digital photography. Using digital sources and tools, he manipulates opera and theater seating charts, which are then printed out and immersed in water. As the specially chosen inks begin to bleed, the opera house renderings are transmuted into fluid semi-abstractions. Most recently, Kuitca brought this unique technique to two new works created specifically for Bel Canto— Santa Fe Opera I and Santa Fe Opera II, both 2019— which pay tribute to the renowned Santa Fe Opera.