Arqueologias de destrucción: An exhibit at Haverford College

What is art? What is not art? What exactly is destructive art? Why did you make this? Did you make this or did you destroy this? These are the kinds of questions that will come to mind on viewing the latest exhibition at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. “Arqueologias de destrucción: 1958-2014” was curated by Jennifer Burris Staton and runs from March 20-May 1, 2015. The works highlight the artwork, or rather the destruction of artwork, of six Latin American visual arts: Eduardo Abaroa, Kenneth Kemble, Marcos Kurtyes, Ana Mendieta, Marta Minujín and Raphael Montañez Ortiz. The gallery is a small black box and the exhibition includes sculpture, video, slides, prints, rubber stamps and sound.

Marta Minujín, view of La Destrucción [The Destruction], Impasse Ronsin, Paris, 1963. Courtesy Marta Minujín

Marta Minujín, view of La Destrucción [The Destruction], Impasse Ronsin, Paris, 1963. Courtesy Marta Minujín

These pieces are abstract in some cases, yet hold deep socio-cultural meanings. Aesthetic beauty is not the main goal. Overall the artists seek to destroy their art, deconstruct the concept of it, or document the destruction of actual art, culture or people. This is quite different from earlier art in Latin America, in which artists wanted to represent a person or an event, inspiring the viewer with technique and beauty, either in the abstract or realistic sense. Some would probably dismiss much of the art in this exhibit, particularly if they are not fond of 20th century “modern”  art. Although these pieces are not a balm for weary eyes, the artists mean to communicate some powerful and disturbing messages and in that they are highly successful. And there is a certain organic beauty, such as in this still from a video by Ana Mendieta:

 © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York. Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Gunpowder Silueta Series), 1981. Still from super-8mm black and white, silent film transferred to DVD.

© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York. Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Gunpowder Silueta Series), 1981. Still from super-8mm black and white, silent film transferred to DVD.

Most interesting to me were the hocker stamps, made on rubber erasers, by Marcos Kurtyez and the video and photos of the destruction of the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico by Eduardo Abaroa.  Marcos Kurtyez, a former graphic designer, made rubber stamps from erasers and they included “hocker” images which are found in archeological sites, and skulls. Kurtyez was born in Poland but lived in Mexico City for nearly 30 years. These images on the stamps seem to recall indigenous/ pre-Colombian ones. According to information in the exhibit, Kurtyez used the stamps’ images on letters for a year to galleries and museums. He called these “letter bombs”. He sent a letter a day for a year to the director of a museum in Mexico City that rejected his work! The idea of “bombs’ fits into the overall theme of “destruction” but at the same time the stamps are a creation and is the “linking together of individuals by post” according to the audio podcast.

The exhibition guidebook says this about Eduardo Abaroa’s work: “His project thus presents itself as a rational response to the state’s cyncial attempts to harness the symbolic power of indigenous communities while simultaneously destroying the rights, livelihood, and national environment of their direct descendents.” (p. 92)

The sound exhibit by Kenneth Kemble, “Arte destructivo”, is probably the least served by the space. Small speakers are placed in the wall close to the floor. I had to ask the guide where the sound was and where the exhibit was because the sound is quite faint. There are two chairs in front of the small speakers and the listener is supposed to sit in a chair to hear it. It might have been preferable to have the sound come from a larger speaker and fill the room, but then that “performance” would affect the other pieces in the exhibition, changing them. There are other video installations by Ana Mendieta, Marcos Kurtycz, Marta Minujín and Raphael Montañez Ortiz. I like that the exhibit grouped these artists together, but perhaps something is lost by having so much projection in a small space. On the other hand one can circle the gallery and contrast the different videos in the same time period–seeing as much or as little as one wishes.

Marcos Kurtycz, Artefacto Kurtycz, 1982. Photograph by Adolfo Patiño. Facultad de Artes Plásticas U.V., Xalapa, Veracruz. Courtesy of Private Collection

Marcos Kurtycz, Artefacto Kurtycz, 1982. Photograph by Adolfo Patiño. Facultad de Artes Plásticas U.V., Xalapa, Veracruz. Courtesy of Private Collection

The gallery provides guidebooks, articles and an audio recording in English and Spanish (which can be borrowed from the front desk) that explain the exhibition.

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