New York

Javier Marin

Javier Marin, a thirty-five-year-old sculptor from Mexico City, made his New York gallery debut with a show of fourteen unglazed figurative works that showcase the artist’s taste for eclecticism, expressing a distinctive, playful vision that synthesizes disparate ideals of beauty from a number of cultures. The sculptures—nudes and portrait busts—feature an intriguing mix of characteristics: generally high cheekbones; slanted or almond-shaped eyes; the archaic smiles found on Greek or Egyptian statuary; rounded faces; voluptuous lips; and noses that are sometimes flat, with flared nostrils, and at other times aquiline or roman. The female figures boast fantastically dressed hair. The eclectic bases on which the works are displayed were designed by the artist in an edgy mix of styles that contrast the figures they hold, affirming Marin’s desire to juxtapose discordant elements.

The figures are fashioned from Oaxacan and Zacatecan clays, giving them distinctive colorations, and many feature a sort of polychrome improvised out of slip. Many of the sculptures’ surfaces were also marked with fingertips or a palette knife, or incised with words, such as “siempre tu” (always you), on the belly of Mujer Grande de Pie (Large woman standing, 1997). They radiate a delight in corporeal being; the nudes have somewhat exaggerated penises, vaginas, and breasts. Some of the larger figures lack arms, as though they are damaged antiquities. The arms that remain tend to gesture dramatically.

The sculptures were lifted high off the ground on their bases, so that the viewer was constantly looking up at them, as one would in a church or public square. This style of installation gave the large-scale works a forceful presence, in what might be a response to the monumental church sculptures brought to Central and South America by Europeans, which championed Western physical ideals over those of indigenous cultures. (The height seemed to strand the more modestly scaled works, however, and did nothing to help their sometimes mannered or even trivial feel.) Marin’s politics are not polemical, however: his work is one of inclusion, bringing the Western tradition stemming from Michelangelo, Bernini, and Rodin to the anonymous Mayan masters and the makers of Chinese funerary sculptures. Though he addresses himself to the possibilities of a multicultural, multiethnic beauty, he is clearly an artist who values the private and personal response.

Justin Spring