Isidoro Valcárcel Medina

Although he has been producing since the early ’60s, Isidoro Valcárcel Medina was, until recently, unknown, even in Spain, outside a small group of followers. He works in a variety of registers, and his oeuvre runs the gamut from sociologically oriented proposals for public spaces, which he calls “Arquitectura premature” (Premature architecture), 1984–92, to works with a more poetic tone; and he is one of the few figures from the heyday of Conceptual art still working and putting forth coherent ideas. Valcárcel Medina has held tight to his convictions, and this has kept the institutions of art at a distance. Concerned with connecting ethics and creation, art and daily life, he has, in the course of his career, worked in both public and private spheres, though always to a similar aim: To dissociate logic from social behavior. Always rigorous, he is one of those uncommon creators who has succeeded in transporting daily life into the space of art and vice versa. He is interested in setting off processes that produce knowledge and, more specifically, in uncovering the absurd mechanisms that lie behind most public and private acts.

Admiring his boundless energy, many young artists are pleased to call themselves his disciples, and recently various important institutions have finally invited him to show his work. The Fundació Tàpies was anxious to organize a show that would survey his work as a whole. True to himself, and despite the temptation entailed by such an offer from so prestigious a space, Valcárcel Medina rejected that proposal and offered to do an installation instead. (He did not, however, reject the publication of a catalogue that covers his career.) The result is Ir y venir (Come and go), 2002, a set of three file cabinets, each of which contains 18,000 note cards. Two of them hold black or white cards with no text, while an aphorism is typed on each of the white cards in the middle cabinet. (Red cards with tabs serve as dividers.) Together, these cards and their texts constitute a chain of moral or edifying phrases, and reading them requires the spectator to move physically along the length of the cabinet (about eighteen feet).

While the didactic tenor of this central file cabinet is in keeping with Valcárcel Medina’s recent work—which, like his monumental new book 2000 d. de J.C., has a moral sense as well as a subtle narrative touch—the general layout of the installation has a visual presence that Valcárcel Medina has rarely been concerned with. In this piece, the symbolic need that gives rise to this visual appeal lies in the relationships among the white, the black, and the contents of the central file cabinet, which is apparently the synthesis of the other two. In designing a piece specifically to be seen in an exhibition space, the artist has apparently decided to add a more overtly visual element—a kind of stage setting—to the fundamentally didactic sense of the piece. Unlike the dynamic in most of his installations, where the pedagogical intention is supreme, here the visual element, while still clearly secondary, has acquired greater weight.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.