New York

Daniel Quintero

Marlborough | Midtown

Like Soutine, although obviously working in a somewhat different style, Daniel Quintero at first glance seems interested in human expression, signs of an obvious mood. But after looking at his numerous portraits, and especially at the faces in his magnificent tour de force Windows (Ventanas), 1982–83, and observing that all the figures have the same “quietistic” expression and pensive, meditative glance, one realizes that the representation of expressive subject matter is not the issue. Quintero is obsessed with the irreducibility of space, signaled by the glance that traverses and announces it in the form of distance. The “mystery” of space is that it is not “reduced” by the bodies that inhabit it, and the “mystery” of the glance as Quintero renders it is that the distance of space it travels is not shown, only implied, which suggests its infinity. The meditative glance is really this infinite distance of space internalized in the figure, which in part explains its own irreducibility. The glance punctures the pristineness of space, but is also its succinct embodiment. The calm of Quintero’s figures is that of the space they partake. They move as little as space can be removed, contemplating their own confinement in space. It is a metaphysical imprisonment conveyed through the inescapable hypnotic glance. While a Quintero figure typically has a social identity, perhaps most clearly in The Trade Unionist, 1980–81, he exists more absolutely as a body bound by the architecture of space. This architecture is manifest in Windows (Ventanas), where it has the aura of a visible embodiment of an invisible reality. Its power to become invisible at will—the power which articulates its infinity—is suggested in the second, fourth, and sixth (of seven) panels in the picture’s top tier (reading from left to right). In these, a head, a hand, and a head again are isolated in a potentially infinite space, which seems to have swallowed up the rest of the bodies. The space of Windows (Ventanas) is not simply irrational, but can manifest itself in any body it chooses, or through an indeterminate openness.

There must be some social meaning in the fact that all the figures in Windows (Ventanas) are male and young—mostly adolescents, with some children and perhaps one adult (second upper panel). The work can be read as a meditation on lost youth, lost because it is paralyzed in a world that has no place for it, and does not want it to grow up. Is this a sociopolitical message about life in Spain, or its “immaturity” on the world stage? It may be a mistake to interpret this work allegorically, yet the figures seem preternaturally silent. The silence itself may be the message, but it seems too deliberate a refusal of communication to be a form of the ineffable. Whether Modernist in origin, i.e., a way of declaring the abstract character of the figures and their relationships, or social realist, the figures have an archetypal Spanish gravity which Quintero seems to be presenting as a pointless, anachronistic mannerism, so perfected or stylized that it has become self-allegorizing. Is Quintero trying to tell us that abstraction itself has made the ineffable a bad habit? In any case, Spanish gravity is a wonderful way of announcing the solemnity of space itself. Quintero’s pictures are satisfying because of the complexity that allows us to read them as simultaneously abstract and realistic, and in either case they articulate absolute space as a state of mind.

Donald Kuspit