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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Color in Space and Time

To my dear readership:

A few words on Carlos Cruz-Diez's exhibit, 'El color en el espacio y en el tiempo,' shown at the MALBA, Buenos Aires, 2011

Carlos Cruz-Diez makes art you have to enter. He makes sculpture-paintings you must move around to see fully; with the slightest shift, the barest breath, the surface changes, and  sometimes it even slides right into the opposite of itself. 

I discovered Cruz Diez last weekend at the MALBA Museum’s tenth anniversary celebration. The MALBA, one of BA’s largest and most-respected museums, mirrors both the architecture and content of the Whitney in New York: high ceilings and a blocky, triangular exterior, and highly experimental exhibitions of modern art inside. Buenos Aires and New York remind me of each other as well, so that similarity could be reinforcing my comparison. In any case, how good it felt to be in that fine museum, which felt to me so reminiscent of those contemporary galleries in New York and Boston that I’ve been missing.

The MALBA presented an excellent series entitled ‘Art in Latin America: 1990-2010,’ which I admired for the incredible, exhaustive portrait created by this curator—but there were crowds, how could there not have been, on a glorious BA weekend….and I couldn’t really breathe in there, let alone stand and look. So I’m taking Sam there when she comes—on a weekday, and meanwhile, I let Cruz-Diez’s quieter show upstairs pull me under.

Cruz-Diez’s exhibit presented some of his earliest drawings and watercolors, which echo the tiny points and blocky, emotive patches of color employed by the later European Impressionists. Yet the ‘painting-sculptures’ that quickly followed those drawings are made of slats of painted wood glued to canvases. They show how fast this artist shifted from both literal expression and the limits of a two-dimensional surface. The sculptures, at first reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s paintings of white lines and squares of color, morph within two years into luminous, shapeshifting surfaces that engage without employing anything literal.

From a few slats of wood on a canvas, Cruz-Diez moved into a process which involved laying, centimeters apart, dozens or hundreds of paper-thin slats horizontally. By varying the colors of the geometrical shapes on the canvas, as well as the colors on the slats themselves, Cruz-Diez made the works—the ‘sculpture-paintings’—different depending on where the viewer is positioned. He made it necessary that the viewer move in and out of the canvas to see the 'whole'. The effect is a work that shifts and shimmers as you pass it, drawing you in to inspect and then asking that you step back and take in the whole. These pieces are made to take time.

Self-defined as a ‘kinetic’ artist, Cruz-Diez finally moves beyond the canvas altogether; at the end of his MALBA exhibition, viewers are invited to slip gauzy hair-nets over their shoes and enter an all-white room: white floors, white ceilings, and white walls. Except that nothing is really white; the gallery is cordoned off by half-walls, and each ‘half-room’ exudes a color. Light is the medium here, light and white walls. An all-pink room envelops you, the pink, boxed bulb in the center of the room radiating more the heat of the pink than the light of it. A similar blue room induces melancholy, and a green room invigorates. At least, these were my impressions; each colored room absorbed me, completely shifting, albeit momentarily, how I felt. It was an amazing end to a truly powerful exhibit, one where I entered so many rooms, shifted between so many dimensions and so many times of day. It was a Rothko-like immersion, that all-absorbing color, except in this case the light was literal.

Cruz-Diez was born in Caracas in 1923. He’s divided his time between Mexico and France since 1960, and has exhibited extensively on both those continents.  I encourage you to see his works up close if you’re ever given the chance, and I’ll leave you, my dear readership, with this excerpt from Mari Carmen Ramirez’s essay, “The Issue At Stake is Color,” as printed in MALBA’s write-up, ‘Carlos Cruz-Diez: El color en el espacio y en el tiempo.’

Cruz-Diez immerses us in unprecedented situations—what he calls ‘événements,’ or events—in which color happens, becoming several things at once; an unsuspected dimension of space; an unrestrained, real-time experience; and an essential means for reconditioning and stimulating our senses.

Portrait of the artist (daylife.com)

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