International Herald Tribune
When visitors to the Venice Biennale arrive next week at the Argentine Pavilion to see paintings by Guillermo Kuitca, the Buenos Aires artist known for canvases based on maps, architectural blueprints and seating plans, they may wonder whether they are in the right place. "I can hardly recognize myself," Kuitca, 46, said on a recent afternoon at Sperone Westwater, his New York gallery, as he conceded that he found his four new epic-scale works very strange.
The paintings, roughly 6 feet by 12 feet and meant to be seen in sequence, survey the fluctuating topography and history of abstraction over the last 100 years, since Picasso and Braque broke space into faceted planes with their development of Analytic Cubism. The first canvas, a dark, dense Cubist grid of folding space in all-over Pollock-esque proportions, yields to the second, almost a mirage of shifting volumes with hints of Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase," Lucio Fontana's cut canvases and Wifredo Lam's modernistic jungle bearing in on the central Cubist drama.
In the third work, a diptych, the thicket of convex and concave space on the right spills into an airy panel on the left and seems to stare in the face of a blood-red patch with painted slashes. "I like this sort of encounter of the Cubist beast with the Fontana," said Kuitca, who gave the last canvas over to painted representations of Fontana's cuts, loosely forming a crown of thorns on a mottled, light ground.
Each titled "Desenlace," meaning disentangling, the works seem to depict a disentangling of Cubism and different conceptualizations of space. They also suggest the artist disentangling himself from those histories and influences.
"It is an exploration of the baggage he has as an Argentine painter, but it is the same baggage that many artists could carry from other countries," said Inés Katzenstein, the Buenos Aires curator of the Argentine Pavilion exhibition in Venice. "What I do believe is specifically Argentine is the way he mixes different traditions and periods with total liberty. In a peripheral country, because of the distance we have with those central references, we also have the freedom to play with them."
Katzenstein noted that the paintings would be hung on free-standing panels covered in black leather in a space with its own historical baggage: a room heavily ornamented with Baroque wall paintings of purgatory in the Ateneo Veneto, a 17th-century building.
If Kuitca is plumbing the collective unconscious of contemporary artists, he is also considering the experience of modern painting itself in these hermetic works.
"At some point I said to myself, 'This is my "One Hundred Years of Solitude," ' " Kuitca said, laughing as he referred to the Gabriel García Márquez novel. "Solitude is a situation that exists per se for an artist, but also for the viewer. In front of a painting we are alone. Movies are a shared experience, but painting is not. Maybe that solitude really started when Picasso did the 'Demoiselles' 100 years ago."
None of this was on Kuitca's mind, however, when he began "Desenlace." His only idea in approaching the first of the larger-than-usual blank canvases was to paint while walking next to it, an echo of the early influence of the avant-garde dancer Pina Bausch. Kuitca said that he realized during a 1980 performance of hers that "walking is enough."
In the process of pacing back and forth, making short diagonal strokes, Kuitca saw that a Cubist grid was beginning to present itself. Intuitively, as the spatial illusions formed, he added more complex movements. He never referred specifically to any works by Picasso, Braque or Latin American Cubists, nor had he ever made a Cubist work in his education as a painter.
Born in 1961, Kuitca can't remember not painting. His early talent was encouraged by his parents, and at 9 he began private training with Ahuva Szlimowicz, a Surrealist artist. He had his first gallery show at 13 and sold several pieces. The typical path for a serious artist coming of age in Buenos Aires would be to move to New York or Paris, but Kuitca chose to stay in his homeland while sending his work abroad for exhibitions.
In 1986 he stopped showing his work in Buenos Aires for 17 years.
"I wanted to play with the idea of exile," said Kuitca, who represented his country in the 1989 São Paulo Bienal, had a solo show in 1991 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that toured in the United States, and has exhibited extensively in galleries in the Americas and Europe. "For many years I explored how to be present and absent in my own place at the same time."
This sense of presence and absence has been a strong quality in his work, starting in 1982 with his understated paintings of his bed. "It was my home, my territory, and I understood the dramatic impact of an empty bed was much more intense than representing a person," he said.
His work expanded as if through a zooming camera lens: the bed set in a scene, the scene in an apartment, the apartment in a city, the city on a map. From there he depicted connections across time and geography, in paintings with weathered, ghostly surfaces based on genealogical charts or institutional blueprints of cemeteries, hospitals, stadiums, libraries, prisons.
There was a moment in 1996, while he was buying a ticket at Covent Garden in London, that he realized the posted seating plan was drawn from the perspective of a performer onstage, looking out at the audience. "I realized I could do a 180-degree turn and shift all the weight from the stage to the audience," Kuitca said. "There are really many more dramatic things that could happen amidst this number of people getting together than anything that could happen on the stage."
A selection of his theater-related works will be shown in September in the Metropolitan Opera's gallery in New York.
More recently Kuitca has done very realistic paintings of baggage-claim carousels — but removed from the context of airports, leaving them floating in a Samuel Beckett-like limbo. "I like the idea of the unclaimed luggage revolving on this sleepless machine," he said, although to include luggage would be too literal for him.
"Guillermo's work is about how we map and navigate physical and psychological terrains and those social spaces where people's lives intersect, and the public and private get mixed," said Olga Viso, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington. She initiated the first United States retrospective of Kuitca's work, which opens there in June 2009 and then travels to the Miami Art Museum, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
"There is this sense of dislocation that for him is a universal subject and the nature of contemporary life," Viso said. "When you travel you have this sort of intimate connection with people you don't know. You share something with them, and your bags are all intermingled."
Since 1994 Kuitca has been compiling a suite of works titled "Diarios" ("Diaries"), filled with doodles, lists, color proofs, e-mail addresses and other traces of daily life in his studio. All 38 round canvases in the series will be shown together for the first time in Venice as part of the international exhibition "Think With the Senses — Feel With the Mind. Art in the Present Tense," organized by the Robert Storr, the 2007 Biennale director.
The works' distinctive shape is derived from their pragmatic origin. Frustrated that objects kept falling between the planks of a circular wooden table in his studio, Kuitca stapled a discarded painting over its top. He found himself scrawling on this surface while on the phone or lost in thought. "It swallowed all the vague things that were around, and at some point I started to feel that that material was as rich as what I was trying to use officially for my work," he said.
The covers last sometimes for three months, sometimes for over a year, each forming a record of a certain increment of time.
"I like to think that I do my journeys, my diaries, over my failures," Kuitca said. "I can recuperate those works that had been hopeless."
Is there a connection between his two projects in Venice: the "Diarios" series and the four "Desenlace" paintings?
"I really wanted to make a break in my work," said Kuitca, the son of a psychoanalyst. "Eventually I would be very happy to amend my own version of what I've done in the past because of the experience of doing these new works."
Fuente: International Herald Tribune