Guillermo Paneque

La Máquina Española/Galería Estampa

The centerpiece of Guillermo Paneque’s installation in La Máquina Española (all works 1990) is a structure that’s half dining-room table—informally set for the family meal—and half tabletop soccer game (what Americans sometimes call “foozball”). Bread and circuses are the subject of this exhibition as well as of a simultaneous one of drawings at Galería Estampa entitled “Holy Hooligan,” in which Paneque profiles the fanatical Spanish “futbol” fan, the game’s domestic, economic, and political prevalence in that culture today, and its relationship to other national pastimes—cocaine, corruption, and yellow journalism.

Bleacher cushions and a green and white spread turn a twin bed into a playing field, and large oil paintings, which the artist refers to as “windows,” illustrate soccer-match snack foods, and piles of contraband in police custody in a style simulating newspaper graphics. Ink drawings of a spill of coins on the front and back pages of a newspaper are titled “Terrenal” (Earthly), suggesting the scope of contemporary earthly delights.

The drawings, watercolors, and collages in the second show reiterate aspects of the same themes. Concept has a stronger defense here—the artist’s talent for drawings that combine a spontaneous feel for composition and color with the look of commercial illustration. This series traces the initiation of young males into the secret society of the sport, with references to sexual as well as athletic development. Drawings that play with referee signals recall military positions and everyday body language, and equipment and stadiums are altered to serve as civilian garments and suburban homes.

A young artist from Seville who spends part of his time in New York, Paneque has demonstrated a taste for cultural analysis in previous exhibitions, and this time a painting of a thermometer, mercury rising over sensational headlines, reminds us that he is taking the temperature of popular culture. Facile solutions like these lessen the impact of his work, which is, on the whole, amusing and thought provoking on several levels. Is this an intentionally superficial treatment, as banal as the subject it explores? Perhaps, but the critical investigation seems too earnest to be taken as simply kitsch. Faced with a virtual archive of ideas, of variations on a theme, one wishes that Paneque would go further with some of them.

In his role as pop-sociologist, Paneque has picked an appropriate theme. The gallery space imposes obvious connections between the player on the soccer field and the artist playing a somewhat different game. The potential for allegory is too great not to inspire comparisons between the soccer season and the ongoing spectacle of the art world, with the stadium and gallery as separate but analogous chapels of a nonsectarian culture.

Judy Cantor