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Kuitca on Kuitca

In today's Spotlight cover story, I wrote about the current Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition, "Everything: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980-2008," a comprehensive retrospective of work by Argentinian painter Guillermo Kuitca.

In addition to being visually arresting, Kutica's work has some pretty diverse and complex influences and philosophical implications. I tried to pack as many of those, as straightforwardly as possible, into today's story, but, of course, such a wide-ranging exhibition as "Everything" loses much in translation to newsprint. For anyone interested in delving into the exhibition's background, read after the jump for the extended transcripts of my interviews with Kuitca himself, as well as Albright-Knox Chief Curator Douglas Dreishpoon and Albright-Knox Director Louis Grachos.


First, I'll print below my interview with Kuitca from Friday, Feb. 12:

Gullermo Kuitca: I was telling Doug that when I was a small kid, I don’t know if it was either ’66 or ’67, there was, in Buenos Aires, there was a show at the Museum of Fine Arts, it was called “Highlights of the Albright-Knox Collection.” For me, it was probably the first time that I saw, Picasso, Matisse, Ernst. I was wondering how that show happened, and it seems like Mr. Knox was playing polo and eventually, one thing leads to the other and at some point, it was really masterpieces and I had a catalog and I was also asking whether this catalog was here just to take a look. 

Colin Dabkowski: It’s interesting that you thought when you were six or seven that these artists were all Argentinian.

That’s what I thought. I think that that was probably a little bit earlier experience. Probably I was really maybe 4 or 5 years old and didn’t know how the world was divided in time and space. I knew there was someone with the name of Picasso but I didn’t know whether he was in Argentina. 

Yesterday, Douglas Dreishpon and I talked about how there is a very dream-like quality to a lot of your work that seems one of the things that run through your work. They seem like dreams. I wonder if dreams, your own dreams, play any role in what you paint. If you ever have painted consciously from dreams.

No, no. No. It’s an incredible source of imagination, but still the access we have with our dreams is, it’s not a straight line, so it’s very difficult to grasp something from a dream and put it on an image. Even for surrealists, it was difficult and it was not so evident either… So, eventually, I don’t think dreams translated in art at all. So whether it’s a source or not, I don’t know, maybe it’s a source. But it’s just that it’s not evident when you see the art. 

From reading over the catalog and talking to Doug, it seemed like probably one of the most fascinating parts of your career was at the beginning when you stopped painting and came to a realization that you just had to stop for one reason or another. Can you just talk a little bit about what led you to that decision in general terms?

Well I think several things collided at that moment. One of them could have been the idea that I wasn’t interested in the art that I was seeing around and at some point I was fascinated by the theater. That was one thing. But the other thing was that I feel that all the things that I was doing were simply not, not genuine enough, not good enough, not real enough and I wasn’t finding a connection with that. So I thought I would maybe stop doing that.

Also there were no answers to what was going around historically. That was probably the time where Argentina was going through the very tragic period and it’s not that my art, I never think that my art was given any direct or straight connection with political historical process around, but still I feel that my art was really not reaching anything near my expectation. I had been a painter since I was a little kid, so I think basically what led me to stop painting was frustration. Which, what else? What else would make you do that?

In retrospect, I think that was a moment in art, I’d say that late ‘70s, the beginning of the ‘80s, it was this incredibly important eruption of painting in the art world. And obviously I didn’t even know that art was dead, because I was too young to consider that. So I experienced the death of painting in a sort of a personal experience, not as a market/gallery/art world situation. It happened at a time when there was an eruption, as the art world declared that painting was not dead. It was dying for me.

I’m very interested in the concept of how something that seems exhausted, you discover that it’s inexhaustible. I read that you did that sort of through applying aspects of the theater to painting, in a way, and that’s maybe too specific.

No, but it could be said.

I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about how you rediscovered painting and discovered that it was, in fact, limitless.

[Laughs]

Or at least that there was more to explore. Let’s not say limitless.

I wish I had that experience. I didn’t have that experience yet. Well, one thing was to try to establish some working routines in a very restricted way, like painting with very, very small brushstrokes and even the tiniest possible moving of the arm, of the hand, of not using canvas. I mean, things that artists have done forever, but again I think this was sort of happening in the solitude of the studio.

All artists, we’re wandering around our studios at some point, saying, “What’s next?” Sometimes, I think it’s funny: the cliché of the white canvas is the moment of the artist facing himself or herself. It’s actually the studio is a blank canvas, not the canvas. It’s the moment when you’re wandering around your own space and say, “What’s next? What do I want to do?” I think, somehow, I started to paint by grasping things that are around my studio, like doors or little parts of furniture and doing small inscriptions in those works.

And somehow that leads me to open… in this show, for instance, the work that gives a little bit of evidence of that is the small painting with the yellow background with a little bed. That bed was painting under that sort of mood, the mood of how can I paint again? So, the bed, somehow, was the pillar of how I started to paint. Then you’ll see beds throughout the show, all over the show that appears in theatrical spaces, in big spaces and obviously with maps. But that was a little bit of a consequence.

It seems like for me to start to paint again, was to find a pillar. That pillar was the bed, and then on the bed was a vehicle that I used throughout my work.

And that led you in countless other directions.

Exactly. And then the theater somehow was brought by that. But I think, to be very specific, the thing, the object, the moment, was that single bed.

A lot is written about the fact that you work from Buenos Aires and not in New York and that gives you a certain perspective from which to paint. I thought a really interesting quote from the interviews you did with Graciela Speranza was, you said something about “The misleading hope that it is possible to think of the world from a place outside the world.”

I think I said that with a little bit of humor.

Artists are often grasping after impossible things. Is that something that if it were possible somehow…

It would be ideal, of course. There’s always this dynamic relation between whether it’s your, your located, your perspective. Let’s say that if one would be able in sort of a wildest dream to find out a place that is outside the place, that probably would be probably the perfect place to create.

But do you at least feel that working where you do and not exhibiting there, as you say, gives a degree of removal.

Yes and no. Buenos Aires is a super-big city. It’s bigger than New York. It’s a super urban and hybrid, and there’s no sense of being outside of anything, so it doesn’t feel outside anything at all.

At least what you could say to that is you could be a little bit removed from the New York art world, but I don’t know if that’s enough. I don’t know if that could build a poetic… I don’t know how much you could do with that. It could be a statement, it could be pure information, but I don’t know if you could build your art out of saying, “I’m not in New York.” It’s not enough.

It’s a small fragment from what makes up your art, but certainly it has an influence.

It might have, but believe me I don’t know where that influence is or where ended that influence because I don’t think, as a statement, it’s strong anymore. It might have been stronger in the ‘80s. Today, artists are working everywhere, and I’m not sure what I would do if that would be all I have to say in my work.

Would you say too much of made of the fact that you work from Argentina? 

No, but in the context of the conversations that were taking place in Buenos Aires, it was more about my relationship with Buenos Aires, not with New York. Actually, that goes back to the place where I live. I think the fact that I live in a place and I don’t show in that place might create some sort of internal distance or some sort of divorce, which I think is interesting to explore. That I think is interesting. Not being in New York is not enough. Being in Buenos Aires, yes, you start to think, what’s going on there, how do you feel, how does it to feel to be there and not there? And maybe then you have something.

Your traveling, that was something that Louis Grachos, when he first met you, he said he was amazed at how much you were getting around the world. I don’t know if that bears on anything, but it had to affect your identity as somebody who is maybe not of a single place. 

Yeah, it does affect you. I don’t know how it affects the art. It really affects you in terms of sometimes you don’t really, you’re nowhere, or you don’t know where you are or you feel a little bit disconnected. That’s probably the main worst effect is that you feel disconnected with things. I’m not so sure if my art reflects to that.

I know that you could build a parallel between the maps painting and the traveling. But actually my maps don’t come from an experience of traveling. I’m not depicting places I’ve been. I’m not making roads that I’m taking. Many of the things that happen in my maps don’t really happen in my traveling. I think the interesting idea is to build a parallel in that just to say that there is no parallel.

Can you talk a little bit about how your map paintings and your architecture paintings are related, if at all?

Maybe I have to say that when talking about architecture I’m talking about architectural plans, not buildings or constructions. So this is still something connected to the map: the idea that there is this graphic element that refers to something that is there, but it is not the thing. So, obviously the name of the city refers to the city but it’s not the city. The same of a bunch of walls and doors might refer to something that eventually will be built or was built or exists, but it still is not the thing in itself. 

So I think there is this parallel also in the discussion [about] abstraction and figure versus abstraction, if there is a versus or not. We can’t say that a map is a figure, but certainly it’s not an abstraction. The same goes for some of the architectural graphic that I use. It’s really nowhere in terms of an abstraction or a figure. And I think it’s also, a certain depiction of space, being probably the architectural plans are more in scale, smaller than a map. But that’s the thing about painting in the show shows, the idea of having a camera that goes further and zooming out and seeing things from a close view and then that little thing in the context of an apartment, an apartment in the context of a city and that sort of thing.

Somehow, today, this is a little bit trivialized by Google Maps, but when I did it, I wasn’t thinking of that. I was really fascinated by the idea that you could go in and out of things by creating different steps along the way. And somehow I think the link between architecture and maps, it came from that experience of being further and closer all the time.

Something that really struck a chord with me: Reading the catalog, you were talking about how painting is different from looking at a photograph or another piece of art because when there’s two people standing in front of a photograph, it’s kind of a shared experience, but somehow, inexplicably, if they’re standing in front of a painting, it’s a very lonely experience. You feel alone looking at painting almost no matter what is in the painting.

Absolutely. Or no matter what is in you.

Why?

I don’t know. It’s an interesting question. I’m fascinated by this idea and since I started to talk about this idea that privacy is a pictorial measure, or that paintings could be measured by their level of privacy, how much privacy you achieve by looking at painting, which is normally a big amount. So I think sometimes paintings are successful because it makes you feel even more lonely.  Not lonely in terms of a complaint that you’re alone, it might be that privacy is the right [word.] I don’t know why it happens. I think it’s because experiences with the images throughout the centuries were, it’s a very intricate one, and somehow the goal was to make a person be able to be standing in front of something equivalent as another [person]. 

What I’m saying, is, is that what painting does? It means, like, being in front of a painting is like being in front of another person. I’m not saying that a painting is a person at all, I’m not giving it that status at all. What I’m saying is that in terms of physicality and the things that you’re getting and the fact that you might not be sharing that experience with anyone else is because that thing in front of you is as complex as a human being. But I’m not sure if that’s the case. I think that it could potentially be that. I know that that’s what happens. I don’t really know why.

Yeah, it’s a great mystery and I don’t think you could probably ever know why.

It is a great mystery, but it shouldn’t be remain as, because a painting is mysterious. Things happen in front of paintings sometimes that are not mysterious at all. It doesn’t really depend on the quality of the painting, sometimes it’s really the fact of being in front of it.

So I’m not really… In a way, it’s more, it does happen with reading a little bit. But reading happens in solitude.

And the other place that it happens, for me, and I can only relate to this on a personal level, is in a theater that’s empty. I think a lot of people probably feel that way.

Empty, the stage, or the audience?

There’s nobody in the whole theater… it gives you this sense of wonder and possibility. Obviously your theater plans, seating plans, don’t have people in them, and they seem like lonely paintings in themselves.

That’s true. But that’s also open in space where everything is possible in a way. Which is not exactly what I think it’s like in front of a painting, which is not exactly that everything is possible. I know what you mean about being alone in a theater, I think I understand that experience, but I’m not so sure whether I could relate to that to be in front of a painting.

I guess what all that gets at is what I see as a very clear sense of loneliness or alienation, the absence of people in your painting I’ve seen, and whether that’s something you’re conscious of.

Well, I think I started to be conscious very early on because in ’86 was the last paintings that I’ve done with human figures. But objects like chairs and beds remained. I found that the dramatic effect of a painting would be achieved much better by having an empty chair than a figure in a chair, or a fallen chair, or a chair that’s just placed in a corner of a room rather than a person. And so on. So I think it was easy for me to get rid of the human figure as a depiction of a human figure. So maybe that’s when I started to find that my work was all the time about having all this, all the things that talk, I hope, as best as it can, about human experience. And yet there is no human figure, ever. I mean, maybe there’s a few paintings where you can see. I mean, there’s a few early works here from ’85 and maybe ’84 with human figures here and there, but that’s it.

So I think I consciously got rid of that figure. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough doing human figures. I don’t know. I just thought that it was something in between that was not quite right.

You said something interesting about trying to achieve a dramatic effect. I just wonder if you strive to paint in a way that is emotionally accessible or dramatic in a way that hooks people.

I realized that it doesn’t matter whether I wanted to achieve a dramatic effect or not, it just will happen anyway. The drama in the painting is not in the painting, it’s in the situation of being in front of a painting. I might have understood that later and probably much before I was playing with the dramatic effects of paintings… in the sense of playing with elements that are very emotionally loaded, like thorns or blood or tears or sperm. I mean there’s a lot of stuff around.

Ultimately it all leads to the idea that and the end of the drama is there is a drama, it’s happening by the mere presence. And that’s why I think it’s so theatrical, because you need to be there. So maybe that’s a real link between paintings and theater.

Absolutely. I’ve always thought of painting, in a way, as participatory, theater-like in the sense that you have to be there to get an emotional something out of it. And then later on you can get your conceptual information. I’ve always thought, and maybe I’m wrong, but if you don’t get the emotional stuff then why are you there?

Yeah, exactly. But on the other hand I would hate to think that I am trying to make any kind of manipulation in terms of emotion.

What’s really interesting to me is the appeal, or the necessity of ambiguity in any artist’s work and the futility or the pointlessness of trying to talk too much about it. You did talk about this in your interview in the catalog, but I wondered if you could reflect a little bit more on some of the conclusions people draw about your work. Do any of them irk you, rub you the wrong way. Or are you wide open to say, these are all possibly valid interpretations of what I do?

In the end, you ultimately are tempted by saying, yes, they are all, it’s all open to interpretation.

I would hate to say that I can control the meaning of my work. And definitely, I don’t like the idea that someone will eventually ask me, “Is it alright to say this, or this would be alright to say?’

It’s hard to know. It’s the whole point of whether you belong to a culture that speaks the same language or not, and whether that same language is a visual language or is a discursive language or is a language at all. Because most of the fear of having a wrong or right interpretation is coming from the idea of: are you and I speaking the same language? If you and I speak the same language, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem and you might not even be driven to interpret anything at all.

It’s happened normally to me that if I, for instance, if I do a show in the United States, I guess people are more tentative… There might be a little fear about what other cultures might be or whether that culture could be something that they know or they don’t know. And eventually, that would be a terrible filter to see the art. And it’s not a great filter, because it puts you always in the idea that this means something that I don’t have access to.

Then, all the ideas of interpretation came from that part. I mean, this is a horrible generalization. I’m saying that generally the United States is more culture-conscious about when a culture starts and finishes and when another culture starts and begins. It’s much more divided. I think from my experiences in Latin America or Europe, people are more comfortable not understanding things, not understanding each other. I think in the United States, people try first to place a very clear idea of who the other is, to where they belong and what, and from there, start to see in this case, art, under that lens.

It’s a difference between how people are comfortable with ambiguity.

Exactly. No one is comfortable with ambiguity. I mean, in general. But I guess Americans are very comfortable with American art, even when it is very challenging. Some of the most challenging artists are Americans. What I’m saying is that, I mean, you see a lot of that in New York, in reviews and things like that. Somehow it’s [possible] to get incredible nuances in criticism, especially to get nuances of American art. People can be very smart and very accurate. And then, when it is something that is so-called “another culture,” whatever that means, it gets a little bit stiff, like getting to understand, as if that would be the end of the experience.

When the experience is understanding.

Yeah, exactly. Ambiguity is difficult. I think it’s probably that it’s a country that doesn’t feel ease with ambiguity at all. Again, I don’t think anyone does anyway. Ultimately, it’s an uncomfortable feeling. And ultimately, many of the interpretations of the work come from that feeling.

Next, check out my interview with Douglas Dreishpoon, with contributions from Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Louis Grachos, From Thursday, Feb. 11:

CD: You had to sort of take over this exhibition from Olga Viso (former director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington). Were you prepared to do that? You wrote you had been faithfully following Kuitca’s career, but was it somewhat of a daunting prospect to do an exhibition of this scope?

Douglas Dreishpoon: Olga, she started the project. She’d known the work for many years. She’d done a project at the Hirshhorn. She put together a checklist and shared that with me… By the end of the conversation she was at the Walker and I looked at the list and I wanted to add something.

What I would do if I were given that opportunity, is I would start looking at the works on paper, which, if one is going to say anything about what makes this show different, it’s about the works on paper and about that impulse, not only to work on paper, but to use the materials and media of someone who draws. And you’ll see that in the paintings. It’s writ all over the paintings, because they’re non-traditional paintings because there’s pastel, there’s graphite, there’s chalk. 

So it was a little daunting to kind of step into those shoes, but it was already well underway and Olga is a great collaborator. The artist is a fantastic person to work with. It was a question of making a different kind of show than what had been proposed. But a lot of the thematic structure of it was maintained. So, a good way to approach him is thematically, whether it’s through beds, through theater, through house plans, through maps. It’s a good lens to view him, through the various themes he’s worked in and mined and probed. He does that in depth. When he gets into an idea, he really digs in.

That’s, I assume, where a lot of the drawings come in? You get to see him explore these themes?

The drawings are actually, they sometimes run parallel and they don’t even intersect. He once told me, and I think it’s true, and at least it was true initially, that the drawings followed paintings rather than precursed. The drawings were never preliminary or dress rehearsals. But that’s changed a little bit and I’ve noticed that the drawings have now become paintings in terms of the sort of fractured quality of the works on paper that are sort of floating in the water and starting to migrate, that that concept was made into a painting. But that had its own challenges.

It seems like at the Albright, a lot of recent shows have been about works on paper, they’ve been a concern here for a while, and that’s a big part of the Albright’s collection.

You should know: It’s a huge part, it’s an amazing part. We’ve never had a curator for drawings or works on paper or photography. So that part of our collection, in some ways, while it’s been used by curators in different capacities, like Holly [Hughes] installed some turn-of-the-century photos, and while works on paper have found their way into installations, it hasn’t been fleshed out. We’re actually doing that in the print vault now with grants and I’m working to get that part of the collection at least systemically ready.

But yes, works on paper. I personally am wild about works on paper. It’s been a big interest of mine for a very long time. And so, with Guillermo, that’s what I wanted to look at. No one had looked at it, and I had a hunch that if I went to Buenos Aires, to his studio, I would find things.

Little did I know. This was an artist who told me, “I don’t draw.” Or I’d read, “I wasn’t an artist who could draw.” And yet when I asked him the question and told him what I was interested in, he sent me six or seven CDs of 3,000 images total. Amazing.

For an artist who doesn’t draw…

So the chronology of those drawings began when he was 13. That’s when he started becoming an artist, maybe 13, 14, 15, but continued. Some were amazing. I went to Buenos Aires for three days, and all I did was look at drawings and drink espresso coffee and came up with a group of things that I isolated, maybe 40 or 50… Well, this is an interesting thing, because few of those drawings made it into the show. Why? Because they were more historical fodder for my writing and for thinking about drawing vis a vis the painting. But there they are, and they were an incredible cache of things, a great revelation.

In the show, the works on paper are actually more recent, from the ‘90s on, let’s say. But he’s drawn, and what was proven by that visit was that he’s always drawn and that’s terribly important.

Why do you think he wanted to project the idea that he wasn’t such a drawer?

I think a lot of the material was old and past and wasn’t... He’d been there, he had done it. It was more kind of adolescent juvenilia to his mind. But they end up being amazing drawings, amazing works on paper.

It’s like, you think what you wrote 20 years ago sucks.

Yeah, and it does a lot of times. I mean, it can.

I think artists and writers always think it’s terrible and that’s why curators like you exist to come and tell us that it’s really not.

Or at least ask the question, or at least take a look.

I didn’t get the idea that the drawings in the show were not sort of precursors to his paintings. Can you just talk a little bit more about what they tell us about his work?

Absolutely. Some of the most interesting drawings are the works that developed from about 1994-95. The story was that he was sitting in a bathtub reading a magazine or something glossy. Some water got on a page and it seeped into the print and it dislodged the print as a block and moved it. And he thought, “That’s really interesting.”

He took that principle and started to download images from theater seating sites around the world. I mean, you can get anything you want online. So he basically goes online, he looks at seating plans from various theaters from around the world, he downloads them, he then pulls them up, the ones that he wants, he Photoshops out all of the superfluous information, because they have numbers – sometimes he keeps numbers, and that’s significant – but it’s got all of this other information. So he deletes what he doesn’t want and streamlines the image and then takes that, prints it out with computer inks, Hewlett-Packard, on Hewlett-Packard paper or Kodak paper, which has a bit of emulsion to it, a skin. And then he floats those in water, hot or cold, and the image doesn’t dissolve; it begins to migrate. So you don’t lose anything, it just ends up in a different place.

So, that process really was a huge catalyst in terms of re-envisioning the works on paper and finding another way to work on paper. And he’s used that for many, many years in very interesting ways. Warhol is a big influence, and you’ll see there’s a suite that’s reproduced in the catalog, it’s called “The Warhol Suite,” where he went back to Warhol, someone who was of great conceptual interest to him.

We’re talking about a very conceptual artist, too. Not just emotional, because he’s that, but he’s a good combination of heart and mind. And he looked at Warhol and appreciated the conceptual rigor of Warhol and went into the Kynaston McShine catalog, which was a big retrospective at MoMA, and scanned images from it, did the same process and started bleeding them in water or with spray. So what was he doing to Warhol? He was imposing another kind of identity. He was denaturing the identity of that image and inserting another kind of identity. So that’s of interest.

Then, otherwise, it’s the actual drawing on canvases: a painted image that he then goes in with pencil or with pastel or chalk, or with water and bleeds – there’s a lot of bleeding that goes on in his images. It’s about spraying to activate and violate an otherwise pristine image. What is that, you know? It’s emotion, it’s chaos. And chaos is something else to think about with this artist. It’s a combination of analytics and chaos.

Architecture is a very stable practice, but in the hands of Kuitca, it becomes very unstable. Places where you live become places where you die. The bed is a place that you’re born on, you make love on, you travel on, it becomes a dream landscape. So there’s a real surreal element to the work too, in terms of how things morph into each other.

Is there a fear of perfection, or an aversion to it?

I think that’s right. But there are also images that are almost totally perfect, so it may go from painting to painting, where one painting has that perfection… With the “Tablada Suite” in ’92, ’93, it’s not that they’re perfect but there’s a certain rigorous structure to them. He got to the end of that suite and he realized he had to do something different and he had to depart from that structure and so he painted blindfolded.

“Poem Pedigogico” is up there, where he’s actually painting blindfolded, and interesting things happen.

As you would expect.

As you would expect. But it was a way of entering back into his, dreaming rather than visually thinking.

I want to ask a question just about his insistence on remaining in Buenos Aires and not participating in the machinations of the art in New York and elsewhere. What do you think that lends to his work, if anything?

I think it’s a conscious decision on his part to stay in his home, or in the place where he was born. You’re right, he could be a wanderer, he could be a peripatetic artist on the world scene. I mean, his work is, but he himself has chosen to remain in Buenos Aires because it gives him something, it’s solace. His family is there, it’s where he was born. Borges, the poet, remained in Buenos Aires and envisioned it as a port into which everything came. And that notion that you don’t have to travel the world to be in touch with who you are who and you are creatively, intellectually – a very interesting notion.

He’s never felt the necessity to leave and in fact, after traveling hither and yon, he’ll always return and hunker down and get back to what’s real for him. So there’s a glue there that keeps him.

That comes with the downside of being boxed in as a Latin American artist by some people. I wonder, first of all, if there really is a tendency to group him into this secondary group of artists -- “Latin American artists.” And if so, why that tendency exists in the art world.

I think because it’s tangible and one can point to a place where one hails from, where one was born in, and say that because you remained there, you must be that. And he would be the first to say that he wouldn’t deny the fact that it’s fed him aesthetically, intellectually, emotionally. He can’t deny that being from Argentina has culturally, there’s a cultural inflection in the work that’s undeniable. On the other hand, he’s internationally minded. He reads a great deal. The world’s in a different place. Information flows.

You could live in Kuwait and still be in touch with what the intellectual history is. It’s a perception that is somewhat myopic and a little bit moot at this point.

I want to talk a little bit generally about the themes that he uses. The theater is so obviously a big part of his life. I find really interesting the time he just stopped painting and decided that he needed to go to Germany and see what this choreographer, Pina Bausch, was doing.

 

Very important, super important. And remember that Pina Bausch was in Buenos Aires. She did a performance there. So he saw that and was riveted by it and recognized in her someone who looked at theater with very different eyes, and someone who acknowledged ritual and downplayed drama to a point where it was very appealing to him. Also, he’s always been in the theater. Theater has been a place where he’s very comfortable in, both as a set designer and a director. So, seeing Pina Bausch, he was kind of driven to go to Wuppertal in order to be with her people.

The theater means a lot to him, and he’ll talk about it and you’ll read his quotes, because it’s a very complex motif. The one thing that’s of interest to me when you talk about the theaters and you talk about house plans and you talk about even maps -- there’s this space of recognition and this space of: how does he envision space and what does space come to mean for him? Because it’s not a stagnant concept, it’s a philosophical concept. And he’s a philosophical painter in a lot of ways and he thinks deeply about this notion of space and what it could mean. And he thinks deeply about what house plans are and how people come to inhabit them and how they become anthropomorphized so that a house plan can be crying.

And Bourgeois did that too. I mean, he’s not the first person to be thinking along these lines, but he’s consistently wrapped himself around that possibility.

Louis Grachos, Director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery: When I was living in New York, right out of grad school, my first curatorial job was with an organization called the America society and it was really to present exhibitions from pre-Columbian times to now. But Western Hemisphere, and no American art. So, the travels as a young curator that I took to Argentina and basically South America, Mexico, part of the Carribean and Canada were kind of an unusual start for a traditional curatorial career because most people are in New York or London.

We did a show that looked at the incredible energy that was coming out of Argentina, especially in painting. I did a small show, a very small show, a three-person show with Guillermo. At a very young age, it was apparent that he was going to really blossom into a phenomenal artist. In fact, I think two of the paintings upstairs are from the show.

But I’ve always followed his work and in 1994, I did a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego called “Sleeper.” In ’94, we did a show with Kutica, and we showed these beds that you’ll see. They were in that show with three of his paintings and the show included Katerina Fritsch, Doris Salcedo and Robert Gober. The theme was kind of, the bed. And it was kind of the other sort of moment when I had a chance to work with his art in a group context.

[Grachos also brought Kuitca’s work to the popular exhibition “Burning Beds, Guillermo Kuica: A Survey, 1982-1994” at the Miami Art Museum in 1995, when Grachos was director there.]

He’s someone that he never ceases to surprise me how inventive his work is. As an artist, I think he just continually evolves. I think what is truly extraordinary about this show, not to flatter Doug, is that no curator has really focused on the works on paper and so Doug’s really done some really great work and research in that area, which is a great contribution. So we’re very proud of that here at the Albright.

Dreishpoon: This is a nice collaborative project. It’s a perfect example of how institutions can team up and pull their muscle together and make it happen with a budget that doesn’t break the bank, hopefully.

Grachos: Not unlike the way work worked with the Jewish Museum and St. Louis and so Doug lent his expertise and leadership. Olga Viso who is from the Hirshhorn really started the idea with us at the Hirshhorn, so we’re all sort of utilizing each other’s staffs. It is a nice model, and it’s worked well. And we’re very lucky to have the show.

It’s been 10 years since anybody considered Kuitca’s work in such a broad way, so it probably seemed about time.

There’s no question he’s been collected internationally by what the three of us would probably term as really important institutions. But bringing the work together, and I think Doug drew them in beautifully. He’s still 47, 48, he’s a very young artist. But his confidence now is at a different level and Doug was really able to draw some great ideas out of how he works.

I was going to ask Doug this, but I might as well ask both of you, how did the “32 Seating Plans” piece (below) come into the collection?

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"32 Seating Plans," a 2007 piece by Guillermo Kuitca in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. 

Grachos: We were looking at I think three pieces and that was a project that was done specifically for the Metropolitan Opera. For us, we have a major painting, but this seemed to take it a step further. Doug can talk to you about how he creates them. But it also felt like a complete project, because the seating plans of opera houses or stadiums or the way the plots are organized in a cemetery – it has a kind of sensibility that we thought would tell a really complete picture of Kuitca’s work.

You see that in some of the larger canvases as well… the theater after the players have left. That interesting sort of state of melancholy and memory, loss.

Dreishpoon: I was telling Colin that it’s such an amazing combination of conceptual rigor and emotional heart. In moving away from the early theater pictures where the stage is somewhat evident and there’s a mise en scene happening, he moves into just the theater seating plan, which is diagrammatic and yet to that what he does is he brings a layer of emotion and animation and violation…

I think that’s what hits you immediately, not knowing anything about the conceptual background of the work, that sense of loneliness, melancholy.

Grachos: I don’t know about you, but I’m always really excited to be in a theater that’s empty. It’s like unbelievable. Also, when you think about it, it’s where people sit, and the people are missing. There is this really incredible emotional tension. I don’t know, Doug, how, the state of Argentina is always in flux. I remember when I traveled there, they literally had cash registers that could adjust the rate of interest on a minute-to-minute basis as the currency went up and down in value, they could actually adjust the rate on the cashier’s system, where there’s always this economic turmoil, there’s always an edgy political situation, interesting histories, a country, like many South American countries that looked more and more to Europe for systems and leadership historically than the United States. Even though they’re in the western hemisphere. 

Dreishpoon: And it’s a very European city, it’s a very cultured city. But Louis is right, it’s a very unpredictable city and there’s an element of tension. We were talking about why he’s elected to stay there, I think the tension keeps him where he wants to be. Besides grounding him.

There’s one piece in the show that’s titled, in English, “From 1 to 30,000” and if you look closely at that, and you really can’t see it in a reproduction, it’s numbered 1 to 30,000 and that numbering runs across and it creates a block of text or a block of numbers. That’s basically a memorial to the 30,000 that disappeared during one of the dictatorships, one of the worst ones. And so, numbers reappear time and time again. What does that tell us, what does that mean? And in the early drawings, they’re all over the early drawings: so, memory, recollections, the disappearance of people when the theater only has numbers on seats but no people, what does that mean? And that’s just one aspect of a much more complicated thing.

Grachos: I think, inherently what’s interesting about Kuitca’s work is that it translates worldwide. Audiences in many, many, many different cultures can relate to the work, yet it’s absolutely loyal to its place. A great artist. I feel very lucky, and I hope Buffalo does too.

--Colin Dabkowski


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