As a meditation on the flexible nature of time and an ode to the objet trouvé readymades of French-born Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, Argentinian conceptual installation artist Adrián Villar Rojas’s current showing at Little Tokyo’s Geffen Contemporary at MOCA offers frozen cases of preserved organic and manmade materials, as well as layered, almost geological or landfill-like gallery floors infused with packed dirt, multicolored concrete, clay, old tennis shoes, and fruit peels. These modern and seemingly ancient items reveal Adrián Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance be an excavation of sorts, or even perhaps a burial.
Splitting his time between Rosario, Argentina and New York, this 37 year-old 2011 Venice Biennale exhibitor is known for producing monumental site-specific works in clay that resemble both dilapidated ruins and futuristic forms.
This MOCA exhibition is the final installment in a four-part global series, which included site-specific installations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cantor Roof Garden, Austria’s Kunsthaus Bregenz, and the National Observatory of Athens. Comprised of over 50 showings across Southern California running until January, this massive collaboration aims to highlight Latin American artists of past and present.
Long before his exhibitions ever open, Villar Rojas spends a great deal of time in each host city and gallery space, contemplating notions of structure and thematic energy. He often greatly alters gallery and museum layouts and interior design. In the case of this MOCA show, the artist called for the gallery walls to be painted an aquatic cobalt blue, giving the impression of complete oceanic submersion. This aforementioned artificial sea floor is littered with four-foot boulders as well as organic and human-made debris. Villar Rojas’s dimly lit exhibition environment is primarily lit by oversized, Damien Hirst-esque glass cases. Each one is kept at a frigid 10 degrees below zero and flaunts many awe-inspiring and grotesque oddities, including petrified tree roots, skeletons containing dried plants, and dead fish.
Locked in time, his arrangement of curiosities speak to our human interest in mysterious species and lost civilizations. Here, the artist raises age-old and yet timely questions about what items a hypothetical alien civilization find leftover from our society and what might they think about us.
Perhaps Villar Rojas is trying to build a time capsule or evidence of Earth’s many natural wonders and humanity’s existence like Voyager’s famed Golden Record. Containing 115 curated images, nature sounds, songs, and greetings from around the globe, NASA launched this gold-plated phonograph record into the lonely and vast depths of space in 1977, hoping for outsider contact.
Building this show around the local atmosphere, Villar Rojas was deeply inspired by movie making and production design. This collection is created with a sense of Hollywood magic in the moulding of the gallery like a set. Also, the film industry loves to release apocalyptic disaster films and here we see the artist’s take on this pervasive motif. Continuing with the performance theme, the reference to theater in the show’s title is a deliberate one and stems from the notion that no matter how many times an actor performs a play, it will never be exactly the same, just like the artist and his unique installations. This sense of individuality and singularity can also be applied to the flora, fauna, and customs of Earth that we risk losing in an apocalyptic event.
Another central aspect of this exhibition is the presence of everyday, mass-produced items. The way Villar Rojas arranges them in the show corresponds with this removed, almost extraterrestrial perspective lacking any sense of context or usage. His elevation of these common products to the status of art recalls the father of readymades, Marcel Duchamp. His 1913 creation “Bicycle Wheel,” was essentially a found bicycle wheel attached to a stool. Understandably, this sculpture caused quite a stir in its day due to its unconventional nature and usage of commonly found materials. Naturally, Villar Rojas honored his artistic ancestor in this show with his own take on the infamous readymade. He includes a decaying bicycle wheel in one of his many refrigerated cases here as if trying and failing to preserve this masterpiece for future generations. As Duchamp started the conversation about what exactly constitutes art, this visionary Argentinian artist aims to keep the discussion fresh and relevant to our daily lives.
With his inclusion in this conversation, Villar Rojas makes a memorable and momentous global statement, blending science fiction with art historical influences to force viewers to come to terms with humanity’s demise. One cannot turn a blind eye to the post-human world overrun with our trash, treasures, and treasures made from trash that the artist has assembled here. Equally modern, timeless and archaic, Adrián Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance presents a stage for contemplating geological time, artistic achievement, human accomplishment, as well our impermanence and malignant materialism.