Critics’ Picks

View of “Rodrigo Hernández: I Am Nothing,” 2016.


Rodrigo Hernández

Heidelberger Kunstverein
Hauptstraße 97
September 17 - November 20

Rodrigo Hernández’s current exhibition “I Am Nothing” packs a surreal punch with a rambling display of humble papier-maché and cardboard sculptures, found objects, and paintings. The artist combines Giorgio de Chirico’s perspectival metaphysics with Russian space exploration, poking holes in our conceptions of time, space, history, and the self.

The show’s title echoes the first words in Patrick Modiano’s 1978 novel Rue des Boutiques Obscures (translated to Missing Person for English-reading audiences), narrated from the perspective of an amnesiac detective. Figure 1, 2013, is a humanoid with a hint of a nose—a peripatetic creature Hernández has dragged along to a number of exhibitions. Its front is like a fleshy blank slate, while its back carries the weight of the world in newspaper clippings. It is leaning on Moзаика (Mosaic), 2016, a red school chair carrying a box of objects: a clock face and mechanical clock gear, a plastic eye, a round bell, and miniature papier-maché works. Who is Figure 1? Modiano’s protagonist? Walter Benjamin’s angel of history? The artist himself?

Hernández’s paintings are litmus tests of primordial urges. The oil-on-wood I Am Nothing (Dinosaur), 2016, depicts the titular beast looking askance at a De Chirico piazza. Across from it, Drawing Without Gravity, 2016, is a recreation of an outer space drawing contraption Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov designed, along with a copy of a sketch of the Earth he made while aboard the Voskhod 2 spacecraft. Konstantin, 2016, discreetly leaning in a corner, seems at first glace utterly out of place. A slab of inverted L-shaped cardboard, painted white, has been cut into to cradle a photo album. An upside down portrait of a man with a mustache, of the pornish seventies variety, in a red shirt, hands tucked into his jeans’ pockets, leans against a wall with one leg up—a quintessential hustler pose. Here we find desire, another kind of levitation, waiting to taunt us.