The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2014

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JUNE 2014 Issue


On View
Sperone Westwater
April 24 – June 21, 2014
New York

In the narrow selection of Guillermo Kuitca’s new paintings on display at Sperone Westwater, the artist seems to have lost all desire for grounding points of reference. The gallery space has been converted into a labyrinthine garden of Kuitca’s design, a nameless land with neither signposts nor inhabitants. Guillermo Kuitca’s oeuvre arises from a confluence of disparate inspiration—traces of obsolete cartography and the choreography of Pina Bausch. But this series of new work breathes loneliness above all else.

Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” 2014. Oil on wood,
four-panel installation 1023/8 × 176 × 124 ̋. Courtesy sperone Westwater, New York.
Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” 2014. Oil on wood, four-panel installation 1023/8 × 176 × 124 ̋. Courtesy sperone Westwater, New York.

“Guillermo Kuitca, despair and isolation (desesperacion y aislamiento)” reads the only scribble painted on one small white rectangle in the artist’s otherwise fully composed canvas. Most of the paintings and collages included in This Way are without figures and the one muted grey silhouette in the entire show is a hauntingly solitary woman standing in the doorway of a milky-pink room. Chiefly devoid of titles or geographical orientation, the little bit of language that does interrupt the flow of paint is bleak. 

Though Kuitca rejects any reading of his art through the lens of his biography, this outcry of solitude is apt messaging for the child of a Russian-Argentine psychoanalyst. Kuitca had his first solo show in Buenos Aires at the ripe age of 13 in the midst of the country’s “dirty war,” which generated a mass exodus and left deep puncture wounds in the lives of those who stayed. At 16, the precocious Kuitca began exploring theater, and there remains a directive force in how his works generate movement through the gallery space.

The first act in the show is “Untitled”(2014), a four-panel oil on wood installation, which extends a blank-faced welcome to the visitor. Freestanding and anonymous, whitewashed wood panels in the center of the room provide an unexpected invitation of intimacy before giving way to a small lacuna of thickly layered paint, dropping the occupant into uncharted astral space. Upon entering, one is instantly immersed in 8 1/2 by 10 by 7 1/2 feet of paint under a roof of thin netting, alone in a pungent and slightly claustrophobic little room. The painting acts like a wrinkle in time, a small porthole into an immense forest, endless and utterly disorienting. 

On display on the second floor are Kuitca’s newest maps. Composed of pixelated veins and geography disturbed by collage, these are nebulous and confounding, pointing to the impregnable yet perpetually evolving nature of our nations’ borders. In Kuitca’s maps, roads are jagged and dislocated; the sinuous lineation could be read as geological fracture lines or fragmented pathways to nowhere. As in cities with faulty urban planning, motion in the artist’s cartography is perpetually disrupted and prone to deviation from course. 

Though his work can be lumped together content-wise with fellow Argentinian Jorge Macchi’s cartographic curiosity or stylistically with Lucio Fontana’s jagged spazialismo, Kuitca dismisses notions of embedded nationality within his work. In fact, the artist’s fascination with de-contextualization evokes Heidegger’s diagnosis of humanity’s existential modern condition of “homelessness”—preferring to generate placelessness over geographical belonging. Kuitca opts to map out spaces that are discursive and nomadic in meaning, dependent on their contextual placement. For example, his mattresses from 1992 with imprints of Kabul found fresh resonance in the U.S. following the 2001 invasion.

This collection of Kuitca’s paintings amplifies this disconnection from any context. The quality of urgency that was more apparent in his earlier work, such as in “Trauerspiel” (2001) (a flattened-out depiction of an empty baggage carousel entitled Tragedy in German), spoke directly to the constant instability and detachment that shapes contemporary life. Throughout this exhibition, we are without references, left to fend for ourselves.

In a revealing interview with Cita en las Diagonales,Kuitca admits to his fascination with leaving a work untitled, enjoying the magic of refusing an object its name, in disappointing the viewer’s eager expectations. In this case, by the time we reach the map-like “Untitled” (2014), on the second floor galleries, the novelty of this disillusionment has worn off. The show does not account for the possibility that a repeated sense of abandonment might eclipse our desire for more.

This Way is a selection from Kuitca’s latest testament to a global loss of geography, spatial and metaphysical. Kuitca’s work flips Borges’s dictum, “Our patrimony is the universe,” inside out, offering up a future that is universal and shapeless. With no context or particular politics of place, there is a loss of contrast in this exhibition. Universal mobility is dizzying, and Kuitca proffers no exit strategy.


Georgia Phillips-Amos


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2014

All Issues