Teresita Fernández/Quisqueya Henríquez

The Contemporary

One of the significant characteristics of Baltimore’s Contemporary Museum is its lack of a specific physical space; the institution functions as a center of operations for the presentation of contemporary art in different places around the city. A number of the Contemporary’s projects have strategized this paradox of having a museum without a museum. The large-scale collaborative show of work by Teresita Fernández and Quisqueya Henríquez, Miami-based artists of the same generation, consisted of two parts. The first, a “phantom exhibition,” was a tour of selected works in the Baltimore Museum and the Walters Art Gallery. The wall labels for these selections were rewritten by the artists and curator Lisa Corrin, transforming them into brief texts reflecting on these works’ influence on them. Their approach sought to provoke a new appreciation for some well-known works—the tour included stops at pieces by Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, and Richard Artschwager, among others—as well as to give viewers a more personal insight into Fernández’s and Henríquez’s creative process. The title alluded to the incorporeality of the “exhibition,” and perhaps commented as well on the ability of contemporary artistic practices to reanimate the art of the past, even the very recent past.

The second part of the exhibition was more traditional, a careful installation of works by both artists on the ground floor of a downtown Baltimore building. Flanked by large windows, this unconventional raw space fit the works perfectly, laying bare a complexity that is all calculated structure. Henríquez and Fernández share a sensibility that is at once subtly poetic and studiously conceptual, and yet their work operates according to totally different means. Fernández’s installations are perceptual riddles, intellectual traps intended to confuse the senses and thus force a redefinition of the spectator’s relationship to his or her environment. In an untitled work from 1995, two tables in a room painted light yellow with a kind of sfumato effect look the same from a distance, but one turns out to be considerably larger than the other. Another piece looks like a water basin, but a closer view reveals it to be a rectangular mirror covered by a translucent plastic screen (Untitled, 1997). Light and color in a room are woven together, thereby confusing the perception of their limits, in Landscape (projected), 1997. The use of banal, everyday objects, one measure of the artists’ distance from predecessors like James Turrell and the California Light and Space group, prevents the viewer from finding solace in illusions, transforming them instead into complex mnemonic devices. Unlike these earlier artists, Fernández does not direct her pieces exclusively toward some threshhold of visibility, but instead alludes to the constitutive elements of her work, the half-remembered and unattended memories that inhabit everyday life.

Henríquez has moved from an interest in the relationship between images and concepts (evidenced by the early works on view) to a concern with the composition of poetic models that have their genesis in the relationships between visual elements. Time, 1996, consists of a series of disassembled clocks, their springs and gears disgorged onto a low, wide pedestal. In an untitled 1996 work, sixty-four photographs of a pair of hands, palms up and lightly cupped, are placed on the floor in a grid of eight by eight; on the ceiling directly above appears an identical arrangement of photos, these showing single hands with the fingers slightly contracted as if holding onto something invisible. The pathos of the photographs brings to mind the ambiguous images of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ billboards. The tension between the groups of photographs is almost palpable, as if the space were structured by columns of time, or as if some lost object has been swept from one set of hands to the other in a movement so rapid as to render it imperceptible.

Carlos Basualdo

Translated from the Spanish by Christian Viveros-Fauné.