Critics’ Picks

View of “What We Want, What We Believe: Towards a Higher Fidelity,” 2014.

View of “What We Want, What We Believe: Towards a Higher Fidelity,” 2014.


Juan Capistran

The ISESE Gallery, University of Texas
John L. Warfield Center University of Texas at Austin
January 31–May 13, 2014

Visual Arts Center, University of Texas at Austin
2300 Trinity Street Art Building
January 31–March 8, 2014

I AM HOPING TO SEE THE DAY reads the text spelled out in fist-size, chalk-white rocks on the floor of Juan Capistran’s two-part exhibition “What We Want, What We Believe: Towards a Higher Fidelity” at the Visual Arts Center. Nearby, a tidy stack of offset prints of a craggily textured surface is available for viewers to take and crumple, forming an ad hoc rock. This replica, which intimates revolution but materially lacks the heft, is an apt summa of the thin line that Capistran walks with aplomb. How to suggest revolutionary potential without controlling the conversation? How to find a model that honors collective and individual contributions to social change?

Thoughtful about his archival material as well as the formal progression of his works, Capistran here caps off a few years’ worth of investigation on the subjects of insurrection, violence, and protest with a disarmingly quiet, monochromatic palette. Tellingly, Capistran’s archive is collaged from the existential texts of Albert Camus and the revolutionary rhetoric of Black Panther Huey P. Newton (with a note found in Timothy McVeigh’s car thrown in for good measure). These source materials appear here as photographs of isolated and redacted texts, and the artist’s renderings are bitingly open. One reads, MAYBE NOW, [REDACTED] LIBERTY!

Across the university campus at the ISESE Gallery, Capistran’s series of 2012 photographs featuring white revolutionary objects (a Molotov cocktail, a fist, a flag) photographed against a white studio background hang alongside the work of Austin-based photographer Ricky Yanas. Geographically split apart, Capistran’s two bodies of work are poetically distant even when their meanings are so intimately bound. Strains of Daniel Joseph Martinez’s white-on-white paintings and Black Panther marble works are present in both exhibitions of Capistran’s work, but in a generative rather than derivative sense. It was Martinez who once told a San Antonio blog, “I think we’re at the end of ideology. I think both the right and the left have failed. Utopian visions don’t work.” We’re hoping we never see the day, and we’re hoping Capistran doesn’t either.