José Maldonado

Galeria Juana Mordo

José Maldonado’s exhibition cast itself as a “version” of the famous play by Calderón de la Barca, El Gran Teatro del Mundo (The great world theater, ca. 1640) which inspired both Walter Benjamin and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Like Jorge Luis Borges’ Pierre Menard, Maldonado copied the manuscript in his own hand and included it as part of the installation.

The rest of the pieces in the show represented the characters. As is well known, they are allegorical characters, ranging from representative figures of the social order—the king, the child, the rich man—to more abstract figures such as discretion and beauty. Maldonado stages each one of these characters by using a continuous symbolic code: they all consist of a painting (that because of its heavy varnish acts at the same time as a “face” and a mirror), a ladder (the character’s body), a “carpet” that forms the feet of the figure, and a fragment of text indicating the character’s role in the play.

The whole show had a sober theatrical dimension—to the point that it recalled some of Robert Wilson’s best montages—but something made it clear that what was presented was not purely a stage set waiting to be transformed by an actual performance. Maldonado’s work is complete, as if it were suspended in time. And it is surely this suspension in time that made this show resemble an auto sacramental (a one-act religious play) that reflected the essence of Calderón’s text. If Maldonado’s approach to Calderónian drama reveals the ideological proximity of our era and the Baroque, particularly in regard to the question of “closure,” it is that vital, temporal dimension that renders the author’s expressive intentions—which are strongly melancholic—transparent.

In this temporal suspension all the roles that fill the performance space are already assigned, and thus Maldonado’s work speaks to us of the experience of the void that, as a testimony of an unconquerable temporality, is reserved for us. The role of each character does not mean much. As Massimo Cacciari says of Hofmannsthal’s drama, the allegory is void of theological content and instead gives us a pure political testimony, pointing to the bankruptcy ofthe promise of culture. And it pushes us with an extreme poetic force to recognize that we are subjected to that other greater law, the law of time. In this impermanence our history is viewed not as the history of our culture, but as natural history, as posthistory.

José Luis Brea

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.