Buenos Aires

Jorge Macchi

Ruth Benzacar Galería de Arte

You couldn't think of a more deceptive title for this exhibition than “Fuegos de artificio” (Fireworks). There is nothing either spectacular or transient about these mostly white, gray, and black works that, even when not downright small, are rather discreet in character. Since the late '8os, Jorge Macchi has been making these cryptic works in diverse media. They're easily overlooked at art fairs or biennials, so it's not surprising that Macchi has not yet enjoyed great international success. A comprehensive view of his recent work, “Fireworks” showed it to be richer than many a more eye-catching oeuvre. Intimidad (Intimacy), 2001, consisted of eight small white balconies, each just big enough for one person, mounted on the wall at regular intervals. As in many of Macchi's works, there is a strong sense of muteness here, in this case paired with a feeling of solitude and impossibility. Despite Intimacy's Minimalist references and slick finish, its tone is understatedly poetic and melancholy. The Speaker's Corner, 2002, also evokes muteness and impossibility. To make this piece, Macchi cut out dozens of newspaper headlines and excised the words from them, leaving behind nothing but quotation marks, which have been pinned up and framed in a glass box. The title refers to the place in London's Hyde Park where people go to make public speeches. The quotation marks framing empty space assume elegantly sinuous lines as they hang loosely in the box.

This play with language and writing continued throughout the exhibition, always in a subdued way. Nocturne—Variatión sobre el Nocturno No. 1 de Erik Satie (Nocturne—Variation on Nocturne No. 1 by Erik Satie), 2002, consists of a musical score written with nails that pierce the staff paper. La canción del final (The song of the end), 2001, a video made in collaboration with Alejandro González Novoa, shows the final credits of a black-and-white film, blurred and projected in a loop. Shown in a separate room, a series of six drawings each titled Les Feuilles mortes (Dead leaves), 2001, consists of small pieces of lined paper that have been punched with holes in delicate abstract compositions. On a different note, Horizonte (Horizon), 2000, was a line of nails arranged horizontally on the wall with a lamp positioned at either end; the shadows cast by the nails draw a dark horizontal line across the wall. And then there was Fuegos de artificio, 2002, a large drawing made with mud. At the bottom is a bootprint, the rectangular marks of the sole printed in mud; above it, the same footstep seems to have exploded, the tiny marks increasingly separated from one another. A series of forty-six small watercolors (1996–2001) created visual puns by depicting such objects as a leafless tree joined to a knife's handle; a recently putout matchstick whose smoke is represented in a washed-out black from the burned match head; a watering can pouring black water in the form of roots.

In a highly laudatory review of this exhibition in the Buenos Aires Herald, the prominent critic Alina Tortosa praised Macchi as “the ultimate Argentine artist.” Macchi is indeed an exceptional artist in his national context, quite simply because it's difficult to find anyone to compare him with. If he seems typically Argentine, this is rather because of his proximity to the country's rich literary tradition, with its propensity for fable, paradox, and linguistic play—Cortázar and Borges are only the first to come to mind. One would expect to find more such work in the Buenos Aires art scene, but only Macchi seems able to deliver.

Adriano Pedrosa