Visual Tango

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Two Artists Dissect Argentina

In the end, both artists’ work seeks to protect the truth of their passions. Segura shows how political maneuverings can put art at risk; Vega pays tribute to the legendary natural beauty of Latin America while also showing its less idyllic side. Technically, the exhibit begins outside with Segura’s “Incendio en el museo” (Fire in the museum, 2010), in which the vinyl flames and smoke that jut out the museum are intended to remind onlookers that priceless objects could vanish quickly and without warning, even in an institutional setting. The show moves indoors to the 98-year-old building’s second floor, where Segura offers a look into the final preparations for an art show in “Antes de una exposici?n” (Before an exposition, 2010). Using a video projected on the wall of an empty — and difficult to access — room, he shows how art goes from storage to a museum display. More often, however, Segura — who intimately understands the inner workings of a museum — works on a smaller scale, as seen in pieces such as “Valihita de ex director de museo” (Briefcase of a former museum director, 2003). A museum volunteer at the age of 14 and director of the municipal art museum in his hometown of Tandil, Argentina, at 23, Segura left the latter position after two years with the briefcase of the former director in tow. It was then that Segura began his career as an artist and alighted on the theme that still inspires him: the frailty of museums and their defenselessness against political maneuvering. On the outside, the briefcase is an ordinary briefcase, but inside it is the museum’s floor plan. Made from cardboard coated in metallic gray paint, it represents Segura’s utopian dreams of a portable culture. But for the exhibit’s curator, Alma Ruiz, the most intriguing piece is Segura’s “Mesa de trabajo y reflexion (Autorretrato).” It is a photograph of a wooden table in the shape of the artist’s profile, referring to the unification and interdependence of his workspace and his mind. “It’s very profound in its meaning,” Ruiz said. “The table is so important to Cristian because that’s where all his work happens. He has to draw, he has to write before he can produce anything, and so the table is his main tool.” Vega, on the other hand, is inspired by the concept of Latin America as a paradise, a notion set forth by a 17th-century Spanish-colonial historian named Antonio de León Pinelo, who placed the Garden of Eden in South America. That interest is evident in “Shanty Nucleus after Derrida 2,” which Vega created for the exhibition. The collection of photographs depicting the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, many of them slums and each segmented by yellow color blocks, alludes to the theories of French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), the founder of deconstruction, as a way of criticizing texts and political institutions in the hopes of preventing violence. “Maybe what Sergio is trying to show is the idiosyncratic ways that cities have grown,” Ruiz explained. “Most cities in the world have a more disorderly, chaotic growth nowadays…. Some of the photographs show this chaos,” she pointed out. “Sometimes the way the photos are taken are deceiving because they show a different construction or they show something that appears to be but it isn’t,” she added. “It looks like houses are connected when they’re not.” Vega’s other contribution to the exhibition is “Across the Corpus Callosum,” the centerpiece of which is a stuffed parrot perched behind a microphone. That’s his nod to the bird’s ability to mimic human speech — the only animal able to do so, according to biblical accounts. The multicolored panels dotted with paint that encompass a 120 inch-by-347 inch wall behind the parrot are an homage to the bird’s plumage, which covers every color gamma. Interestingly, there’s an appropriate overlap here with Segura’s work. Ruiz notes that “the parrot’s anthropomorphic qualities and its mimicry skills have been discussed by scientists, philosophers and writers. This time it is Vega, a visual artist, who invites the parrot to speak in the museum, the very institution that Segura has held under a microscope.” Argentina in Focus: Visualizing the Concept — Cristian Segura/Sergio Vega through Nov. 21 Art Museum of the Americas 201 18th St., NW For more information, please call (202) 458-6016 or visit www.museum.oas.org. For more information on “Argentina at the Smithsonian 2010,” please visit www.latino.si.edu. SIDEBAR Solitary Crowds Emilia Gutiérrez (1928-2003) painted and drew not because she wanted fame or fortune but to paint and draw. It was a form of expression for the Argentine artist, a way of communicating her true self even as she sought solitude. But her talent and skill transcended her desire for seclusion. The reasons why are clear in “Emilia Gutiérrez: Drawings and Paintings,” an exhibition of her work on display at the Art Museum of the Americas. The show is in partnership with the Smithsonian Latino Center’s “Argentina at the Smithsonian 2010” to celebrate the country’s bicentennial (see main story). Despite being part of a celebration, Gutiérrez’s oil paintings from the 1960s and ’70s are dark and her subjects sad, a reflection of life as the artist knew it, said Adriana Ospina, the museum’s education coordinator. Gloomy colors — dark greens, reds, tans and blues — punctuate the ghostly pallor of her forlorn subjects. Even her depictions of children don’t escape the melancholy mood. In “Ninos con juguete,” children who should be playing lightheartedly have dark circles around their eyes, making them look like old men and women. The experience is similar with “Recuerdo de Tucumán,” in which a little girl with long hair stands forlornly, marbles at her feet, looking as though she longs for another, perhaps happier time in Tucumán. The solemnity of the artwork reflects Gutiérrez’s own childhood, according to Ospina, who noted that when Gutiérrez was born, “her mother had depression and she always had the absence of a mother.” As an adult, Gutiérrez’s life did not improve. “She got married but divorced and stayed pretty much alone during her life, and she had these depressive personalities,” Ospina said, referring to the artist’s mental illness. In the 1980s, she was treated at an institution for hallucinations and hearing voices. Perhaps a manifestation of those voices is “Cita con el Ángel,” in which a woman looks on as a bald man smokes a pipe with a cup of coffee or tea before him. A hat on a coat rack in the background suggests he is a visitor and the woman’s slightly expectant look gives the impression that she hopes his visit isn’t fruitless. After her treatment, Gutiérrez stopped painting but continued to produce art in the form of ink-on-paper drawings. According to the museum, the sketches that she began to divert her attention from the grief of being unable to paint soon became an impressive body of work in their own right. Her signature theme remained sadness and isolation, even when her subjects are in a room full of people. In “En el Bar,” five people sit at a bar without interacting. Same for “Mujeres en el Café,” in which seven women, some sitting alone, some with people, all sit unsmiling, obviously together yet very much apart. Ospina hopes Gutiérrez makes exhibition-goers stop to reflect on their own lives and fortunes. “We all don’t have the same kind of life; childhood is not the same for everybody. That’s something that you can get from the pieces,” she said. “The whole show is autobiographical in the sense that you manage to see that the life of this person is lonely.” — Stephanie Kanowitz Emilia Gutiérrez: Drawings and Paintings through Nov. 14 Art Museum of the Americas 201 18th St., NW For more information, please call (202) 458-6016 or visit www.museum.oas.org.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on June 24, 2014