Buenos Aires

Juan José Cambre

Fondo Nacional de Las Artes

“How to undergo the last twenty years of Argentina’s provincial rush toward the latest fashions in art and not only survive but come up with a style”: This should be the title of Juan José Cambre’s latest miniretrospective, “Pentateuco” (Pentateuch). Because if anything is made immediately clear here, it’s that Cambre has over the years forged a style of his own—by which we mean not a cluster of recipes but, as André Gide would define it, “a vision of the world.”

Cambre’s early work, like Narciso, 1984, with its combination of crude drawing and ravishing brushwork, still seems linked to strategies associated with neo-expressionism and the Italian Transavanguardia. But from the late ’80s to the late ’90s Cambre began to depurate; eliminating all extraneous incident, he began introspectively concentrating on a series of paintings that depicted one single object: a Chinese bowl floating weightlessly in the vastness of the canvas. His vessels emerge as philosophical objects that pose questions rather than give answers. In their oval perfection, they resonate on many levels, charged with notions of nature and culture while at the same time heedlessly open to interpretation.

Born in Buenos Aires, the artist has been living for the last few years in Costa Rica—a probable but not exclusive expla- nation for his ever-increasing interest in light. The title of this show alludes to the five colors that define Cambre’s latest work in relation to the chromatic circle: yellow, orange, red, blue, and cyan. Cambre found the subject matter for these large monochromatic canvases—executed in the brilliant, exuberant, flat palette the artist first began using in 1999—in the play of light and shadow produced by foliage. Tenderly discerning the evanescent and cloudy translucence of all things around us, the colors melt on the canvas in a muted rhapsody of shades that render a situation in subtle flux: At times the atmosphere is light and feathery, at others the shadows grow thick and menacing. The exquisite paint handling shows how far Cambre has advanced in refinement without losing any of his original muscle.

The foliage paintings were set facing each other on opposite walls while some smaller versions were placed on the floor in a row that traversed the room. This suggests they are not meant to be seen in the usual way. Their weightless beauty has to be revealed gradually, perhaps once you’ve had your fill of the more eye-catching works on the wall and decided you’re ready to kneel down for a closer look. Then their colors can be savored discreetly, glimpsed in passing, as the eye grows accustomed to the different perspective. Like a haiku, where words are meant to be savored, not rationalized, Cambre’s world has a mood to be evoked in time. It is vital not to understand these paintings too quickly. Better to let them grow in your mind, even after you leave the exhibition.

Maria Gainza