miércoles, 24 de junio de 2009

Artificial Paradise, Union Gallery, New York 2009


Contemporary art incurs in the sin of extremism. On the one hand, a certain artistic production seems intent on committing itself body and soul to the dictates of the market. Thus, following the season's fashions, successful formulas and contents are recycled. Art -- its reception and consumption -- are codified according to parameters increasingly disconnected from daily life. This results in the alienation of the public from the artistic undertaking, which is constrained to more or less exclusive circles. On the other hand, we find a production of a different sort, afflicted -- I would suggest -- with transcendence. This production seems more interested in explaining itself than in growing from contact with the public. It flows from the central legacy of conceptual art, the statement, -- that private manifesto of sorts through which an artist tries to explain himself and his art to us. Quite a task! The accident, the organic and natural evolution of things are strangled at their origin. A certain notable artist has even proclaimed the "danger" of intuition in the creative act -- a curious oxymoron.

These two extremes have something in common: the production which they engender bears the mark of the instruction manual. An a priori discourse dictates what is adequate. It lays the basis for an art of verbiage, for a teleprompter which is decorative in the best of cases, that is, "appropriate for the occasion." Be it in the services of the traditional art market, constituted by galleries and merchants, or the parallel market formed by the network of institutions, with their prizes and contests, a significant volume of today's art seeks to please collectors and curators who are, in essence, the principal referees of the game of art. Criticism, which should respond critically to these situations, is far from fulfilling its task. It has opted to justify these idioms sustained by a -- frequently tautological -- superficial sociological analysis.

Let's take two distant examples: on the one hand, in mid-1990s Cuba, Janet Batet proclaimed that cynicism had taken over Cuban art and used all sorts of rhetorical resources to justify it (the irruption of the art market with the dollarization of the economy and the State's withdrawal of support for artists). It was thus endowed with a doubtful legitimacy derived from the economic and social crisis produced by the collapse of the pro-Soviet socialist model. More recently Jan Verwoert, the German critic living in Berlin, has gained notoriety with a series of conferences whose title is simultaneously a brilliant marketing strategy and a jest: "Why are conceptual artists painting again? Because they think it's a good idea." The critic recycles the myth which ascribes the monopoly of "the concept" in the history of art to this current, while justifying, with a harebrained quip, the use of a rightfully prestigious term in the commercialization of artists who are not conceptual. This follows the growing vulgarization of aesthetic debates filtered by public relations and social communication.

In this complex and -- why not say it -- confusing context, it is refreshing to discern a new generation of artists which reacts creatively. This is the case of Germán Tagle, with whom we had the opportunity to work while preparing the Fifth Biennial of the Museo del Barrio / S Files 007 with curator E. Carmen Ramos. Supported by very personal explorations, Tagle has managed to amass a vibrant and sincere oeuvre in a short period of time. He does not seek support in an artist's statement or in an a priori notion of what should be. Every painting or drawing he presents is, in itself, an arrival, a discernment of what can be done with the qualities of the materials he employs. It could be said that a journey through his painting is, as it should be, the journey of a learning process. In his early paintings, collected in the exhibit "Pasajero en transito / in Transit Passenger," his fascination was the stain -- its infinite evocative possibilities-- which didn't restrain him from occasionally recurring to the figure. Subsequently, it was the backdrops of a printed fabric, and the diverse ways in which a form or a color could relate to them. More recently, the plastic qualities of resins, which Tagle manipulates with a controlled freedom, have procured him notably fresh and felicitous discoveries.

During the vanguardist period, the debate revolved around the local and the universal -- today one would say "the global." Many intellectuals arrived at the consensus that in order to insert themselves in the universal, art had to first be local. Similarly, good art passes from being primarily relevant to the individual who produces it, to being relevant to the society that receives it. This is the step that is produced by the verisimilitude in Tagle's paintings. So that if we perceive the evolution of his work as the achievement of many learning processes, it is because that is what it is precisely about; a real thirst for learning the ways in which the material -- be it oil, acrylic, resin, canvas, paper -- transforms itself plastically into something else, into metaphor. And in the course of this process, the artist himself is transformed.

An appraisal of the works allows one to see that they don't respond to a master plan, but that the painter conceives each piece and even each centimeter of canvas or paper as an exploration. Thus, a particular energy latent in the discovery emerges naturally out of the achieved scenes. Because that is what the pieces, in effect, are: achieved, and not planned paintings; points arrived at accidentally and intuitively. In one of the brief texts that the artist has written, he advocates an "open, acute vision, that observes everything as if for the first time .." It is the restoration of amazement, expressed by the poetical facet of every form. From there -- his attachment to nature indebted to the traveling artist -- springs forth the candidness and force of his paintings.

Elvis Fuentes, Curator El Museo Del Barrio, New York, april 10, 2009.

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