As if dreams of buildings, rooms, floor plans, and landscape had landed within his abstract works, Guillermo Kuitca’s often mysterious images take viewers into a world entirely different from our own. At LA’s Hauser & Wirth, Kuitca’s works collapse, repeat, and spatially shift the spaces they represent, weaving a visual language that is both surreal and yet recognizable, evoking both past and future and an impossible present. The exhibition offers viewers a robust variety of the Argentinian artist’s work, including lustrous mixed media on paper images that represent performance spaces such as the Hollywood Bowl, Staples Center, and the Sydney Opera House, among others.
In this series of untitled works that reference the names of each venue in parentheses, the artist uses seating charts as his starting point, as he distorts and collapses physical spaces, creating a kind of visual origami of the venues, distorting and constricting seats, presenting explosive shapeless colors or compressed images that resemble an actual crushed and crumpled seating chart. Their vivid colors remind one of pinned butterflies or kaleidoscopic prisms; they seem to writhe, to reshape the familiar into ancient but vivid ruins or the portal to a new dimension. Working with and greatly altering his charted locations, Kuitca acknowledges the existence of these ordered depictions while effectively deconstructing them. He may have begun with a traditional, coded seating chart to inspire these works, but he has ended by turning that starting point inside out. In his image of the Staples Center, the right portion of work starts to blur and trail off, seat numbers obscured, colors streaking, as if the arena had become a meteor. Kuitca’s image of Covent Garden is crumbling in the top section of the piece, as if the stadium was being crushed by the hand of a giant. The Hollywood Bowl appears to be melting from within, surrounded by what could be a crust of ice or the press of an avalanche.
Kuitca’s oil on canvas works in his series The Family Idiot offer a completely different approach. Framed in wood, some of these works are diptychs and triptychs positioned on tables; other works are hung traditionally on walls. The palette is primarily grey, silver, black, and variations of red; there are both figurative and abstract elements in the works which have an eerie, almost disconnected appearance that’s delicate and ephemeral. One of the key elements of these works is the fact that his cubist geometric structure distorts and reimagines the recognizable, placing known elements such as a chair or a figure into an empty-stage of setting. If all the world is a stage for Kuitca, here it is a mostly deserted one, inhabited by a sole recognizable image, and located outside of conventional time and space. There are props that exist within this world: beds that suggest a home or at least a place where one can rest one’s head; chairs that stand empty as if in patient, silent judgement. The mirrored walls in The Family Idiot triptych resemble the disorienting sense one gets when entering a carnival house of mirrors. Regardless of the objects depicted — or left out — there is a strange intimacy in the works considering that the images are so open to interpretation: we may not understand what we are seeing, but we are invited to appreciate this highly personal glimpse into the unknowable.
That intimacy is even more intense when experiencing Retablo, an installation work that is simply dazzling, like something created by an alien intelligence depicting multiple geometric objects that we cannot quite comprehend. The installation’s setting is perfect: in an upstairs, unfinished space in the gallery that reminds the viewer of having entered a private attic workspace, or the repository of a secret. This large-scale oil work on wooden panel is placed within a wooden box and is lit from within; the glow is unearthly, and a hush seems to emanate from it and throughout the otherwise-empty gallery space. The green, red, grey, and dark brown colors themselves feel dimensional; again, the sensation in viewing the work is of seeing something strange and sacred, unknowable. A dark brown road in the middle of the painting appears to lead directly inside the unknown series of cubist shapes, as if the viewer were driving or being pulled into another dimension. A personal favorite, the work is both stunning and haunting – the viewer has no idea where he or she is traveling, only that the journey is compelling and perhaps compulsive.
With Missing Pages, Kuitca gives the viewer a linked series of 18 canvases which shape a grid. These small oil paintings reveal both figurative and abstract geometric elements, laid out as if in a strangely graceful series of puzzle pieces. What one is to put together from that puzzle is anyone’s guess, and likely up to each viewer. One image resembles a sunset, another a figurative moon in partial eclipse; there is an upside-down outline of a house; a vividly realized silvery fish; a vivid sky-blue bed against a silvery-grey mirrored wall; there are what appears to accordion-like stacks of paper, distorted cubes, opened documents, the rudiments gone awry. One image appears to be that of a microphone, with a spotlight turned into a dark void. Gallery notes indicate that this series takes its form “from the layout of a printer’s proof” and the “disrupted pagination” process that occurs when producing it. For this viewer, even equipped with that information, the images continued to represent an unfolding puzzle of sorts, one that is only partially representational, and one in which the elements do not quite correctly line up; in fact, they are prevented from doing so.
The several images that contain that stand-out bright but pale blue, or a deep red, pop out almost violently in contrast to the artist’s primary use of greys, blacks, and dark greens. Some of the canvases resemble models for or smaller versions of Retablo, such as the image of a small road vanishing into a distant perspective, as well as cubes and cube-like shapes in shades of gold and brown and grey. Other images, such as the blue-covered bed, echo those in The Family Idiot series. Taken as a whole, one observes a pattern but cannot explain its origin.
As with each of the bodies of work in this exhibition, the paintings here both alter and reflect their subjects; their meaning is illusory yet almost discernable. It is an interesting dichotomy: we look and attempt to understand, we feel as if we can grasp what Kuitca infers, and yet true meaning drifts just out of reach. We are delighted but disoriented, confounded yet enthralled. And that is how it should be.
Genie Davis is Los Angeles Art Critic at Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Davis is a multi-published novelist, journalist, and produced screen and television writer based in Los Angeles. Publisher and writer of www.diversionsLA.com, she also writes for a wide range of magazines and newspapers.