New York

Maria Elena González

Art in General

When a home becomes inaccessible or is destroyed, remembering it can be a poignant exercise. Such an act of memory is a fact of life for much of humanity, given the magnitude of contemporary immigration and displacement. Maria Elena González’s understated, post-Minimalist work often references her own biography; like Eva Hesse and Roni Horn, she interlards the vocabulary of Minimalism with personal detail and uses media that purposely avoid the sanctity of the “specific object.” Loss clings to her work (an earlier sculpture of two tiled stools referenced her deceased parents), and her materials function like updated Proustian madeleines.

For the work in “UN Real Estates,” González tapped her memories of her Cuban childhood and the spaces her family inhabited. The show included five sculptural installations, which were deftly placed around the gallery. Two pairs of three-quarter-inch-thick panels of translucent rubber, each imprinted with a different architectural floor plan, made up Trans Parent Home I and Trans Parent Home II (all works 2002). Lying on the floor like doormats, they’re embodied recollections (necessarily incorrect) of the plans of González’s aunt’s and parents’ homes in Cuba.

Wave consists of a phalanx of identical curved tiles cast from a patented mix of paper pulp and cement, each imprinted with a two-room floor plan and the letter C (for “closet”) and arranged on the gallery floor to create a single undulating wave. Weave is made up of multiple tiles arranged in such a way that the whole took on the appearance of a mat of woven strips—a subtle reference to the carpet and, more particularly, the flying carpet, whose magical mobility González has alluded to on more than one occasion.

The uniform casting and organization of Wave and Weave were abandoned for Flying Apartment Flotilla. Here the fiber-cement tiles were embossed with floor plans of her own and others’ recent apartments and scattered around the room. Instead of uniformly curving and lining up to create an “interlocking” structure, the edges of these tiles curled up randomly like drying leaves. In their dispersal throughout the space, they became emblems of a floating architecture, subject to fading memory.

As in the lives of other immigrants, of refugees, and indeed artists, many of whom are migrants to the world’s metropolitan centers, memory and the imagination become the only home. (González’s initial displacement from Cuba has been replicated in her present life: She divides her time between Switzerland and New York.) To create something stationary would be a false move—or, at best, wishful thinking. Architecture instead becomes fluid, transparent, flying, a wave or flotilla—at any rate, something in constant motion.

Martha Schwendener