Critics’ Picks

View of “Silvia Gruner,” 2016.

View of “Silvia Gruner,” 2016.

New York

Silvia Gruner

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
February 24–June 18, 2016

In the photographic diptych How to Look at Mexican Art, 1995, Silvia Gruner displays a punctured molcajete, or Mexican grinding mortar, atop bright-red plastic. Her hand grips the object from above in the first image and playfully penetrates it from below in the second. Not only does she juxtapose something typically associated with indigenous Mexican culture with a strictly contemporary material, but Gruner also inserts her body into her work to challenge assumptions about her artistic heritage. Similarly, in the adjacent film Centinela (Sentinel), 2007, the artist, her head shaved due to her recent cancer treatment, stares into the churning waters of a modernist fountain designed by Mathias Goeritz, Ricardo Legorreta, and Isamu Noguchi, a set of male modernist masters that the artist is confronting as much as she faces the imposing abyss.

Her early film pieces also centralize her body, poised between stasis and movement. In Arena (Sand), 1986, Gruner, naked, covers herself with a mixture of mud and pigment and repeatedly climbs up and tumbles down a dune on Cape Cod, in a Sisyphean loop that marks the surface of the sand. Cyclical repetition is also made visible in Re-Start, 2014, a brief stop-motion animation of the artist’s hands threading a knitting needle, yielding a kinetic set of tangled lines while subtly alluding to women’s association with craft. This more abstract engagement with feminist concerns is manifest in the show’s centerpiece, the two-channel video Hemisferios (Hemispheres), 2014, whose title conflates the artist’s psychic and physical spaces. Here we see Gruner’s assistant undoing two sets of yarn labyrinths that the artist set up in the front and back gardens of her home. One consists of a neat grid, laid out in thickly knitted red lines, while the other is a tangle of the same wool wrapped messily around tree limbs and stray objects. We watch as the two sets of fibers are respooled in real time, staging the tension between material permanence and ephemerality that permeates Gruner’s work, suggesting that artistic labor is always a process of doing and undoing.