Guillermo Kuitca at Walker Art Center

A new exhibition of paintings and drawings by Guillermo Kuitca, the Argentinian artist, just opened at the Walker Art Center this weekend. I went in to view the exhibition and see the artist interviewed by Olga Viso and Douglas Dreishpoon, two of the curators for the show.

There were a couple of works that caught my attention as I wandered through the gallery before the discussion. In the first gallery there is a smaller canvas that has a large black polyhedra with lighter round ink impressions surrounding. The contrast between the ink impressions and the solid black creates a vivid sense of depth to the solid outline, almost as though the black outline suggests something beyond the canvas, a sense of depth. Upon reading the plaque I discovered that the solid black outline was inspired by a building plan and the round ink impressions come from a ball being bounced upon the canvas.

Planta con juego de pelotas

In the second gallery there is another ghostly piece, this time of a bed painted upon a dark black/blue background. Beds were a common leitmotif in many of Kuitca’s works but this one had the most immediate aesthetic reaction for me. It’s a similar visual effect to the first plan and ball painting; there is a sense of the background receding beyond the surface and the lighter colored bed floating above the canvas.

In the final gallery I was most impressed by the capstone piece, Everything, one of a series of paintings of maps made on mattresses. From afar the picture is an abstract collection of lines; when near the labels of the map appear and the viewer feels a connection to an actual place. In conversation Kuitca said that he often chose for his source material maps that he had no personal connection, with the consciousness in the back of his mind that these maps had a significance for someone that he might never meet but still existed elsewhere in the world.

Kuitca is an unimposing presence in person. He is middle aged with thinning hair that was shaved down almost to his skull, dressed in the de riguer style of the academic/artist of a suitcoat over a button down shirt. There were a couple of interesting themes that came up during the conversation: memory and forgetting, drawing processes, the corrosive power of water, and the canvas as a stage.

Dreishpoon opened by talking about a trove of 3000 drawings that Kuitca rediscovered during the process of creating the exhibition. Most of the drawings were made during 1978-79 before Kuitca moved to his first independent studio. He stored most of the drawings and forgot about them, to the point where he said, in later interviews, that he wasn’t a drawer. Even artists forget about the previous activity or compartmentalize aspects of previous work. At least Kuitca didn’t go so far as Barnett Newman and destroy his early work.

32 Seating Plans is a series work from the exhibition that is more interesting after hearing the method of production. Kuitca downloads the seating plans from opera theaters around the world, alters them in Photoshop, prints them on photo paper, and then puts the prints into shallow pans of water. In the water the inks release from the paper and float free, creating abstract patterns that still retain an indication of their source. The water has a corrosive effect upon the printing.

When discussing one of his early paintings, El Mar Dulce (1986), Kuitca talked about his internal efforts to escape the idea of painting. He didn’t believe that painting had much to say, but he was still a painter, so he had to reinterpret his own canvas as a stage, imagining a bed at the foot of the stage and the actions that preceded the picture, creating a sense of drama where none appeared visually.

It is always a pleasure to listen to artists or authors, creators of any kind, speak or talk about their own work. Beforehand the work is just another object, afterwards the passion and effort that goes into creating is revealed. I’m reminded of how I felt when I first saw Samuel Delany and Giyatri Spivak speaking at an academic conference. I was abashed to see the raw emotion and passion behind literary criticism, and from there any intellectual endeavor. Perhaps this is one reason why the academic conference or the special exhibition will not disappear.