Buenos Aires

Pablo Siquier

The effects of Argentina’s military dictatorship were as devastating to fine arts as they were to the nation generally; thus, the fall of the military regime in 1983 triggered an explosion of optimism. Thanks to the military government, the experiences that informed the politicized Conceptualism of the late ’60s had been relegated to oblivion; as a result, neo-Expressionism found a cozy haven for its a critical expansiveness. The ’80s were defined by a devotion to what had once been called “bad painting,” a phenomenon that only deepened the amnesia already threatening to bury the memory of vanguardist Argentine art. One must bear this context in mind to appreciate the radical nature of Pablo Siquier’s work. From the mid ’80s onward, Siquier sought to distance his work from neo-Expressionism’s false optimism, as well as from the lack of rigor that characterized a number of parallel alternative practices of that time. His work was positioned to negate the expressive gesture’s supposed immediacy: it was committed to a specific investigation that consisted of equal parts objective rigor and subjective choice.

This panoramic exhibition attempted to trace Siquier’s project from his first canvases of the mid ’80s to his most recent series of black and white paintings, with their deceptive simplicity. The absence of a strict linear chronology was appropriate, and the show did by and large achieve its purpose. It could be faulted only for not including the installations the artist has always been making alongside his paintings. Siquier’s work is often linked to the geometric tradition in Argentina—to the work of artists like Tomás Maldonado, Raúl Lozza, and Giula Kosice during the mid ’40s. That influence, transformed and translated to present circumstances, is notable in his paintings, but only if this influence is seen as having been filtered through capricious versions of the rationalist architecture of cities like Rosario and Buenos Aires. Siquier recovers the Concrete project fundamentally through the traces that Argentine Modernism left in urban architecture. His paintings from the early ’90s appear, then, as something like schematic representations of architectonic fragments, twisted, enigmatic, and imposing. Toward the middle of the decade, the fragments, or their serial repetition, gave way to a series of black and white paintings that resemble tracings of city maps combined with obscure hieroglyphs and specific, though unclassifiable, references to Op Art and to the geometry of the ’60s. It is the conceptual density of this most recent work that makes Siquier one of the few contemporary artists who still make it possible to imagine the practice of painting. These are paintings of extreme if delicately contained violence. Nothing appears on the canvas beyond an arrangement of black lines representing the accidental nature of light on an object: sharp shadows on an immaculate white field.

The painter Fabian Marcaccio once remarked to me that Siquier’s work represents an attempt to trace a concrete shadow of his country. With his most recent paintings and their harmonious disequilibrium, Siquier almost manages this feat. Absence, however, lingers on, and the spectator is left with the sensation of having witnessed an impossible spectacle.

Carlos Basualdo

Translated from the Spanish by Christian Viveros-Faunè