São Paulo

José Antonio Hernández-Diez

Galeria Camargo Vilaça

Caracas-based José Antonio Hernández-Diez seems, at 31, reluctant to let go of the symbols of his youth. Consider the dominant theme of his first one-person show in São Paulo—the skateboard. Consider also, a photograph published in a local newspaper the week the exhibition opened, which showed the artist wearing a baseball cap backwards. As “symptoms of U.S. imperialism,” skateboards and baseball caps may prompt Marxist readings, but despite the artist’s and this writer’s Latin American background, the concerns in this show were of another order altogether. Besides, if you’re really looking for Latin America’s sacred heart, Hernández-Diez already made it: Corazón Sangrante (Bleeding heart, 1991)—a bull’s heart encased in a Plexiglas crucifix incorporating other typically Latin American gadgets such as plasma and surgical equipment.

Indy, the central piece of Hernández-Diez’s recent show (all works 1995), consisted of four color monitors on wooden tables, each of which displayed a video loop in which a hand propels a single skateboard axle with two polyurethane wheels attached to it on third world pavement. The formal esthetic touch is achieved by making the color of the wheels identical to the color of the skater’s shirt—blue, green, orange, and pink—while the piece’s conceptual spin comes from placing on top of each monitor the very axle and wheels that we see on the screen below it (or so we are led to believe). The obsessive never-ending play with the literally (though not theoretically) deconstructed skateboard has an adolescent flavor to it, and even a masturbatory quality, as is the case with a number of other pieces in the exhibition. In Drag, for instance, the monitor rests on a shelf sustained by a thick cylindrical metal pole and displays a videotape that shows the artist’s finger on a set of wheels rolling down the street.

Bad (third world) boy gone astray, Hernández-Diez is fascinated with boy toys of all genres. It is thus not surprising that the video X-1 depicts the head of a penis from which a stream of bright-yellow urine almost always gushes. The video monitor itself protrudes from a brown bag in the shape of a rocket tail. Again, the work bears flowing and onanistic patterns, taking another male juvenile obsession, this time truly universal, as its subject matter. Though overall, one might be tempted to read X-1 through a feminist framework (perhaps none too productively), the brown bag, made of the cheapest paper, can hardly be read any other way, and here unequivocally signifies the precariousness of boy power.

As I left the gallery, I ran into two skaters in all the vigor of their early teens admiring Experience—three wooden skateboards, two of them approximately 90 inches long, the third a more typical length of about 32 inches—hanging on the gallery wall. Wearing baseball caps and holding their own skateboards, the boys asked how much Hernández-Diez’s cost. A lot; but at least here the potency associated with skateboards, jets, clicks, and video paraphernalia is acknowledged as pathetic and skin-deep. Could that be the gloomy glimmer of coming-of-age?

Adriano Pedrosa