New York

Liliana Porter

Center For Inter-American Relations

Liliana Porter has been making art directly on walls since 1971. Her mastery of this genre is strikingly revealed in Wall Piece, where she is dealing with the interconnection of memory and reality, using both content and form of images as means. Mostly representational and highly associative, the images fall into two main categories—art and time. In the first category there are, for example, what Porter has called “recycled images” like a Botticelli head and Magritte men with top coats and bowler hats, and there are images of the pyramid (an ancient form) and the cylinder and the sphere, (two modern Cézannesque forms). Other aspects of art are evoked in the process images of the drawing hand and streaking brush, and in the word images of printed statements, printed pages, and open book; all of which refer to other art images in the same piece (the printed pages, for example, are from a book on Magritte in German). Still other images suggest not only childhood but a more general time distant from our own—in this group are a sailboat, a toy horse, and a sculpture of a serenading student; the last one, although a traditional image, is definitely a kitsch object, bringing to mind early 20th-century, cheap, ceramic sculptures which came into their own then as an art of the masses.

The content of Wall Piece alone is sufficient to take us on an exciting mind trip through art and time. The form, however, is what makes us want to sign on to take such a journey. In drawing us into the wall space, the form of Wall Piece directs our thoughts toward issues involving memory and reality, her primary concerns. Porter does this with techniques and materials; her reproduction of the sailboat, which involves drawing, silkscreening, and photo-etching from different perspectives (she does the same to other motifs) invites us to examine the different material qualities of each image, and, most importantly, consider their relationships, which have to do with different levels of reality. When we realize, finally, that these are images of a real sailboat in the same way that the “recycled images” are reproductions of art originals, the knowledge both heightens our sense of reality shaped by time, and opens our memory banks. In thinking “real,” “realer,” “realest” for increasing degrees of substantiality, whether in reference to sailboats or Magritte, our memory floods with remembrances of things past; the flow, of course, is dictated by the times, places, and events involved in association. The additive arrangement of the composition encourages us to tune into whichever images mean the most to us and to focus on them by allowing us the choice to move freely, both perceptually and conceptually, from the pyramids to the contemporary wall. Another Wall Piece, a smaller still life, is again an investigation of multiple levels of reality through mixed techniques. The Argentina-born Porter has made her home in New York since 1964. Although the experience of coming here after having lived both in Latin America and Western Europe (she studied in Mexico besides) probably sensitized her to memory and to concrete images as catalysts for chains of associations. Porter’s art, if it wears any geographical label, says: “Made in New York, 1980.” After all, both representational images and poetically evocative forms are very much among the “in” issues of today.

Ronny H. Cohen