En la piel de toro

Palacio de Velázquez

What best justifies a group show—its thesis, or the relationship between the works exhibited? This is a difficult question, but in general Spanish art institutions seem to favor exhibitions that are not built around a specific argument. “En la piel de toro” (In the skin of the bull) is one example. Though this show’s title, which alludes to the shape of the Iberian Peninsula, appeared to promote a “geopolitics of sensibility,” in fact the exhibition did not reflect on the possibility of a single Iberian soul. The six Spanish and six Portuguese artists whose work was assembled here inhabit the frontierless world of global communications, so it was difficult to locate a common denominator—something the exhibition admittedly did not try to do—or even a sense of community. Aurora Garcia, the show’s curator, suggested that these were simply “representative individuals within the present variety of positions and languages.”

Because “En la piel de toro” was presented as a mere “sum of individualities,” one had to address the individuals it brought together. One of these was Pedro Cabrita Reis, whose magnificent installation Sistema de constelaciones. Atlas Coelestis IV, 1994 appeared here. The twelve wooden-and-glass modules that this work comprises resembled a frozen stage, or an ice-skating rink raised to eye-level. Rui Chafes’ contributions included an enigmatic piece formed of an iron sphere and iron mesh that was suspended from the Palacio’s impressive architecture. Juan Usle’s recent paintings stood out among the works by Spanish artists presented, although it made little sense to juxtapose them with four much older neo-Expressionist works; Usle’s formal and elegant new pieces jarred with his convulsive and cumbersome older canvases.

The works by Susana Solano were excellent, but Juan Muñoz’s ship pieces seemed too obvious in their intent. Curro Gonzalez’s large paintings, which at times recall the work of Öyvind Falhstrom, also faltered. Amidst all this, Julio Ventura’s photographs and “finger paintings” seemed direct and fresh, while Daniel Canogar’s and Daniel Blaufuks’ well-executed pieces came across as mannered and were presented in a fashion that was too theatrical.

It was difficult to draw any conclusions from what was represented on this “bull skin.” But open-endedness was perhaps exactly what the curator sought to communicate: her thesis, after all, was that “art has abandoned what was understood until recently as the idea of movements and trends.” Since no movements or trends were visible here, “En la piel de toro” certainly met its objective.

José Luis Brea

Translated from the Spanish by Christian Viveros-Faunè.