Buenos Aires

Jorge Gumier Maier

Braga Menéndez Arte Contemporáneo

During the summer of 1997, avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage acquired a Bolex camera. A few days later, he decided to test it out by filming a nearby stream. But instead of recording the surface of the water, he chose to capture the undercurrents—that which stirred below. This exploration of the existence that lies just under the surface of everyday life might be emblematic of the kind of artistic experience that the Argentinean artist Jorge Gumier Maier seeks as well.

It suggests a way of looking at the world. “I have always been fascinated by silent, almost mute things, things that move only slightly on the surface,” Gumier Maier once confessed. Living in a house in Tigre, twenty miles north of Buenos Aires—a place of rivers, islands, and canals where he escapes the city’s fumes—the artist has little by little found himself possessed by the area’s atmosphere of stillness. Houseboats made of corrugated iron and wooden bungalows leaning into the lapping brown water conjure what writer Ricardo Piglia once described as a “lost continent.”

Gumier Maier’s work begins with the flotsam that the tides deposit on the riverbanks. His findings consist mostly of fragments of wooden planks, cans, and plastic bottles; on these, he subsequently paints colorful horizontal and vertical lines that remind one of wrapping paper. The rescued object becomes a sort of gift. And yet it always retains some remnant of its former life—broken bits, splinters, peeling paint, rusty nails—thereby allowing the rawness of the material to emerge, as if something of that lost past, of the roughness of life, could become palpable.

Later, Gumier Maier explores the connections between his materials, not forcing but allowing associations to emerge slowly. Placed in different arrangements, the fragments form either abstract figures that nonetheless consistently breach the austerity of geometric art, or else figurative personages, a bunch of absurd puppets or escaped circus clowns—in either case irreverently commenting on the dryness and lack of spontaneity in so much contemporary art. It is as if constructivist Joaquín Torres-García had run wild.

This was a playful yet poetic exhibition; these humble chunks of woods seem to piece together the unrecoverable. Conscious of the precariousness of his materials, the artist didn’t set out to represent nature but rather to build it up from scratch. And it is in this frailty that much of the exhibition’s beauty lies. Like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, Gumier Maier teaches us to improvise ways to live in that solitary and faraway place called the mind.

Gumier Maier was, from 1989 to 1997, curator of the art gallery at the Centro Cultural Ricardo Rojas in Buenos Aires. As such, he was a key figure fostering the emergence of much of Argentina’s most interesting art of the decade. In his farewell manifesto “The Tao of Art,” he defended an aesthetic linked to sensitivity and taste (“the only certainties in art,” he proclaimed) in opposition to the self-conscious gestures of neo-Conceptualism and the idea of the artist as an institutionalized product. Gumier Maier became the first and, at least so far, the last artist-curator to make a difference in this country.

Maria Gainza