Madrid

Rogelio Lopez Cuenca

Leafing through an American magazine in Berlin in 1920, Raoul Hausmann cut out an anonymous face and crowned it with industrial headgear as the protagonist of his photomontage portrait of mechanized man, Tatlin at Home. Armed, as always, with Hausmann’s “invincible weapon”—irony—Rogelio Lopez Cuenca returns this image to its common source as a full-color magazine cover in Maison & Tatlin (all works 1990). It is one of a series of poster-size photocompositions based on various European magazine covers, which also includes Walter Benjamin posing for Uomo, and a working-class Maison & Travaux.

Lopez Cuenca has adopted Vladimir Mayakovsky’s words, “The streets are our brushes, the squares our palettes,” as a motto in his ongoing attack on cultural totalitarianism. Appropriating historical revolutionary prototypes as both paradigms for and targets of his militant practice, Lopez Cuenca acknowledges the failure as well as the necessity of this century’s revolutionary movements.

At a time when communications companies are expanding in Spain—private television debuted last year—and corporate sponsorship of exhibitions has become a new and fashionable means of corporate advertising, Lopez Cuenca focuses his works on the exploitative relationship between commerce and culture in a group of painted anagrams executed in sharp constructivist colors.

The Bell Telephone logo and the title credit from the film E.T. are part of a group of four paintings that spell out the words “Belles lettres.” He plays a similar word game with the names of international record companies in Ein Für. . . . In these visual poems, whether in English, French, German, or nonsense, Lopez Cuenca dismantles the language as a specific means of breaking down a universal system. This deconstruction, coupled with the works’ format, acknowledges the historical power of language—and art—as a political tool. The same might be said of works like Land, a Soviet-style billboard on which a kerchiefed worker cries out for reforms, or perhaps even hawks her wares. In a large painting entitled Retrato del artista complacente (Portrait of the complacent artist), a motorcyclist straddles his huge machine, his bike and body covered with the trademarks of his “sponsors’”: ARCO ’90, Sotheby’s, ART L.A., etc. Like Tatlin at Home, this rather Pop portrait of the contemporary artist recalls Hausmann’s observation, “what good is the spirit in a world which will continue on mechanically anyway.”

Judy Cantor