New York

Victoria Civera

Victoria Civera first exhibited Gallinero (Chicken coop, 1994–95), the main piece in her recent New York solo show, last spring in Dan Cameron’s survey of contemporary art from the Americas Cocido y crudo (The raw and the cooked) at the Reina Sofia. Though the change in the work’s title from “Sketch (Para el Soñador de Islas)” [Sketch (from the dreamer of islands)] to the more concrete “Gallinero” was accompanied by some minor adjustments to the work itself, on the whole the piece retained its makeshift appearance and the oneiric quality suggested by its original name. This “coop”—a two-tiered structure gridded by square openings, some left yawning and others fronted by panels covered in Mylar, felt, or terry cloth—is narrow and rests awkwardly toward the rear of the much larger platform, itself draped in sheets of flesh-colored rubber. Objects (rubber dolls, a drawing, something in a fur muff) litter the area behind the “coop” like backyard clutter. Some obviously allude to significant moments in Civera’s life and others to earlier work; loose Polaroids, for example, meant to be sorted by the spectator, depict friends and loved ones as well as sculptures in the artist’s studio. The quirkiest and most unnerving are the rubber props—the sheets, the dolls with tubes suggestive of medical interventions as well as umbilical cords—and a set of stainless-steel tools reminiscent of the twisted gynecological implements in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers. One rubber tube coiled from the platform to a corner of the room where it attached itself to an unlikely life-support system—a blue felt bag.

Civera’s iconography and materials evoke the physicality of the body and serve to personalize the range of formal languages she references. Despite their neatly gridded arrangement, the fabric-covered panels in Gallinero possess the roughness of the handmade. Similar in appearance to Jessica Stockholder’s colorful, jerry-built sculptures, Gallinero, though still large in scale, is much less monumental than Stockholder’s current installation at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York and much less solidly present. Civera finds in the gap between the materially apprehensible and the abstract the freedom to drift in and out of both, a condition somehow metaphorically akin to daydreaming with its attendant gentle shift of mood. Often, it is the small-scale object that best conveys this state, and, in fact, Civera’s miniaturist sensibility undermined Gallinero’s scale and undercut its presence as a coherent installation.

More satisfying, more complete in their incompleteness than the main attraction were a number of unrelated, richly colored, luminous pieces, displayed in an offhand manner eminently suitable to Civera’s piecemeal, constantly changing project. In Lego III, 1995, a white beanlike figure sporting a blue wig stands against a ground of pink Plexiglas that glows with a lurid, reflective light. Another work, 147 Dreams in Brooklyn, 1988–95, comprises a pedestal supporting a dollhouse-size table with two little chairs upended at either end; a laser beam suspended above casts a tiny, slightly wavering red light onto the tabletop. This one colored point of light, tremulous and minute, animated the whole room. With their distinct if unobtrusive presence, these small objects best demonstrate Civera’s skill in uncovering what is most personal in inanimate things.

Faye Hirsch