Wednesday, June 06, 2007



by Mario Cutajar

(L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice) It is difficult to consider the work of the Argentine painter Guillermo Kuitca without being reminded yet again of the extremely narrow straits within which contemporary painting is forced to operate by virtue of its ever-diminishing capacity to give effective representation to significant realities and ideas. Considered in the abstract, everything and anything could be a fit subject for painting. In practice, however, it is otherwise because any painter who appreciates something of painting's history must ask what, if anything, can be gained by bringing to a subject the stilted and self-conscious rhetoric of painting, a rhetoric as removed from and alien to the present as the conventions of Elizabethan drama.

Making a virtue of necessity, the conceptual, self-limiting brand of painting that sprouted up like stunted tundra in the aftermath of the glacial ravages of Pop, embraced the stiltedness of the medium itself as a means of making the ubiquitous seem alien. In the process painting acquired a new lease on life as a deconstructive medium, which is to say it became a way of turning unremarked cultural trivia into critically considered cultural artifacts. This is how painting found a way to be cool--at the price of relegating itself to the status of an academic anthropological tool.

Kuitca's specialty is maps, maps in the broadest sense of the term, maps as diagrams of both spatial and temporal relationships. He has painted family trees, the floor plans of stadiums, apartments and prisons, the seating arrangements of theaters, the street plans of cities (in one case creating a grid of city blocks composed of hypodermic syringes). He has transposed the topography of countries onto the hollow-pocked surfaces of mattresses and has tackled his theme with the broad- est possible range of painterly techniques. The results are often extremely handsome abstract paintings with a referential twist. Critics have insisted on discovering all manner of angst in these works--everything from elliptical references to the terror instituted by the military junta that ruled Argentina in the ‘70s, to suggestions of the anonymity and free-floating anxiety that attend modern urban existence.

The content that can be imputed to these essentially empty works is in fact almost without limit since like taciturn, cool art in general they function as screens for the psychic projections of the viewer. But it is equally possible to see them as elaborate excuses for the continuation of painting itself. In that case, their vague melancholy issues from a different source: the sense they intimate of painting's slow starvation.


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