Critics’ Picks

  • Pablo Castañeda, Simulacro 21: Locura en la ciudad (Simulacrum 21: Madness in the city), 2010, oil on canvas, 22 x 30 3/4''.

    Pablo Castañeda, Simulacro 21: Locura en la ciudad (Simulacrum 21: Madness in the city), 2010, oil on canvas, 22 x 30 3/4''.

    Rotterdam

    Pablo Castañeda

    Kunstinstituut Melly
    Witte de Withstraat 50
    September 9–December 31, 2022

    Pablo Castañeda’s neorealist paintings balance between fidelity to the mundane aesthetics of the border town Mexicali, where he lives and works, and an absurdist irreverence toward semiotic icons. For example, a large air conditioning unit is perched on the sloping roof of a nondescript commercial building in the center of Simulacro 21: Locura en la ciudad (Simulacrum 21: Madness in the city), 2010. The unit’s metal casing has only one remarkable characteristic: It is blocking part of Cindy Sherman’s face, which is painted on a giant billboard in the central background. The image is borrowed from Untitled Film Still #21, 1978, a self-portrait of Sherman as a vaguely skeptical, smartly-dressed denizen of New York City’s midcentury midtown workforce. In Castañeda’s laconic re-presentation, Sherman’s cosmopolitan heroine oversees a fantastical street scene. A woman wearing a canary yellow feathered mask dominates the foreground. Behind her, a middle-aged man kicks the air as though it were a football, his body loose in the joy of inexplicable movement. Everyone follows their own script in this arid, light-drenched place.

    The street in front of a churro stand; the inside of a garage; a rocky landscape featuring a plywood shed and a Duchampian bottle rack—all are representations of a real border town rendered hyperreal. Castañeda works from photographs, but the effect of the work is filmic. Both his individual paintings and the constellations of canvases installed at Kunstinstituut Melly—where he groups variously sized works into narrative clusters, or overlays them onto a mural painted directly onto the gallery wall—echo Sherman’s conceptual maneuver, fracturing the linearity of filmic time by expanding the potential of the fragment.