Buenos Aires

Guillermo Kuitca

Guillermo Kuitca has returned. He’s back after seventeen years of self-imposed absence from the local art scene. Or to be more accurate, his paintings are back, for Kuitca the man never left. What’s striking, with this fresh look, is the work’s quiet urgency. We feel we are being told something of such fundamental importance that we have no choice but to pay close attention. And then, suddenly, as if zooming out, the works take us from the very private arena of a bed to the public map of a city.

Nadie olvida nada (Nobody forgets anything), 1982, opened the retrospective, curated by Sonia Becce and Paulo Herkenhoff, and set the tone for what was to come: a series of paintings of solitary, abysmal beds, with tightly tucked sheets, that cling to flat monochrome backgrounds. As always in Kuitca, and most of all in Siete últimas canciones (Seven last songs), 1987, these works concern the immensity of space that contains the private realm. But by the end of the decade, the domestic gives way to the public landscape: unpeopled building plans, impossible prison plots, seating arrangements of theaters, and maps with cities that nightmarishly repeat along the road. Like a modern Beckett who switches to French in order to subvert his own dexterity, Kuitca abandons the epic vein of works like El mar dulce (Freshwater sea), 1984–86, with its grand narratives mixing religion, sex, history, and movie references, and to cut closer to the bone, turns to the rigor of a map. Devoid of any overt political statement, the maps nonetheless remind us of the alliance between knowledge and power—how would-be colonizers surveyed and mapped the world, founding empires yoked not only by force but by the control of information. The obsession with creating a unified archive of comprehensive knowledge, and the failure to do so, can be traced in L’Encyclopédie (siete partes), 2002, a title that refers to Diderot’s attempt to condense the achievements of human learning into a single work. Here, floor plans covered by blotches and drips seem to collapse into themselves, negating their very purpose. These exquisite works on paper show Kuitca at his best, while those based on Wagner—The Ring, 2001–2002, and The Ring (sentido inversa), 2002–2003—are perhaps his weakest, too arch and aloof.

Connections with the desaparecidos, connections with Borges, connections with Pina Bausch—not in the sense of a specific dramaturgy bursting into the work but as the “simple figurative delimiting of a scenic space,” as Kuitca himself has pointed out—have all been read into his work, and not without reason. But in the end they seem no more than reductions of an oeuvre that ramifies endlessly. In Trauerspiel (Mourning play), 2001, among the final works in the show, Kuitca depicts a mesmerizing luggage-conveyor belt that seems to reach out as if to engulf us. The atmosphere, with its spectral red curtains, airless space, and menacing presence, recalls David Lynch, but there’s also the desolation, the homesickness, so ever present in Kuitca’s work. His first retrospective in Buenos Aires is the story of his obsessions, the saga of the things that haunt him. Kuitca has devoted his time to the investigation of central questions, and all his paintings now seem like part of a single ongoing work—each one strengthened by the presence of the others. One wishes they could stay at MALBA, together and on constant view.

Maria Gainza