Paloma Navares


Paloma Navares’ recent exhibition, “Del jardin de la memoria” (Of the garden of memory), presented images of women taken from famous paintings of the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, by artists including Cranach (both elder and younger), Botticelli, Titian, Dürer, Rubens, Goya, and Ingres. Inevitably, the sixty-eight female nudes Navares selected—many of them Venuses or Eves—reflected standards of “beauty” defined by the male artists who painted them.

The most arresting piece in the show was a video installation entitled Sombras del un sueño profundo (Shadows of deep sleep, 1984–85), in which Navares projected, onto large curtains, images of four panthers pacing in circles. After shooting this footage with stationary cameras placed inside the animals’ cage in the Madrid Zoo, Navares manipulated it to create startling slow-motion images. The panthers in captivity—a potential, but contained threat—appeared to roam freely around the darkened room of the gallery, seeming to share a virtual space with the parade of art-historical Eves and Venuses. Objects of desire, rather than desiring subjects, the passive female figures contrasted with the panthers and their barely contained aggression. The video projection, which lasted a little over four minutes and was continually repeated, recalled two installations Navares created between 1984 and 1986: La osa polar (The polar she-bear), and El paraîso (Paradise). This show, however, involved a more expansive exhibition design and the works were interconnected, rather than isolated: while each piece was a small, discrete installation, images of women served as a common denominator.

The four remaining pieces occupied the large, central room of the space: Almacén de silencios (Warehouse of silence, 1994–96), En el umbral del limbo (On the threshold of limbo, 1994–96), Luces de hibernación (Hibernation lights, 1996), and Venus de corazón ardiente (Venus of the burning heart, 1994). Almacén de silencios, was a modular installation involving light, photography, and sound: methacrylate tubes were filled with Cibachromes depicting fragments of female figures. Opposite, En el umbral del limbo contained black reflective panels with photographs of children attached by thin latex tubing, which on closer inspection resembled umbilical cords. Luces de hibernación, which appeared in the center of the room, consisted of large plastic curtains defining a circular enclosure, inside of which hung electric cables and several large capsules containing black and white photographs of women, and fluorescent lights that endowed the piece with a pale aura. The nude woman depicted in the black and white portrait, printed on transparent plastic, in Venus de corazón ardiente, wore a small, colored light at the level of her heart.

Perhaps the most poetic work in the show was The education of Maria de Medicis, 1995, a spinning top laminated with a postcard of Rubens’ painting of the same title, which depicts a trio of embracing Venuses. A magnifying glass attached to the postcard suggests an eye observing the erogenous zones of the three nudes. Disquieting and obsessive, Navares’ work explores sensory perception, vision in particular.

Menene Gras Balaguer

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin.