Buenos Aires

David Armando Guerra

Belleza y Felicidad

David Armando Guerra is an Artaud-like figure who still believes revolution is not only about the transfer of power but about changing reality. “There are bombs that need to be put somewhere, but at the base of most of the present habits of thought,” Artaud wrote in 1926. Guerra’s recent exhibition of collages and objects ranging from 1990 to 2005 was all about demolishing those habits. There is a freshness to these works that recalls the operations of magic, the “aha moment” that art can sometimes still grant us. It is true that since Picasso’s invention of collage in 1912, the coexistence of images, words, and objects has become a familiar artistic method. And yet with Guerra, the freedom to mix materials and media, to emphasize abrupt juxtapositions and discontinuities, and to do all this with wit seems curiously new and radical again.

Born in 1978, Guerra has worked as a butcher, grocer, newspaper deliveryman, florist, waiter, cook, messenger boy, and antique restorer. During the ’90s his political consciousness was awakened by antigovernment demonstrations in Buenos Aires, and he felt the urge to express himself through collective art. In 1998, he became involved in the Etc. Movement, a group that strove for “an art done by all” while occupying an abandoned printing house in the old Abasto neighborhood that had once belonged to Surrealist artist Juan Andralis. In 2004, when the municipality of Buenos Aires opened the exhibition “Estudio abierto” (Open Studio), grouping together what they thought were the latest artistic manifestations in the country, Guerra contested it by organizing an action across the street called “Estudio Abierto, Artista en prisión” (Open Studio, Imprisoned Artist). Then, when an exhibition by León Ferrari was closed down by order of an Argentinean judge on the grounds that the works injured the religious feelings of the community, Guerra reacted by joining La logia de los pecadores (The Sinners Logia), an anticlerical group founded by Ferrari.

But however radical and overtly political Guerra may be, it is in his collages that a true sense of the artist emerges. Using images taken from magazines, catalogues, and books he finds in the street, Guerra makes gorgeously satirical images attacking culture, society, and politics. In Y2K, 1999, a surprised nymph by Manet looks out from the top of an abandoned building; Marx walks by dressed as Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince; Che Guevara, like a founding father, makes a proclamation; Argentina’s outrageously corrupt ex-president Carlos Menem has become a black monk; and a tragic moon shattered into bits and pieces like a broken mirror hovers over the scene. El delfín (The Dolphin), 1998, an image of a skeleton walking on the moon, is powerfully disquieting in its expression of the uncertainties and anxieties of the modern world. Much like Hannah Höch, Guerra emphasizes paradox in works so insolently executed they seem cut with a kitchen knife. The unexpected becomes the norm; miniature spaces cunningly evade reality’s claim to power and, in doing so, become a quiet protest against regimentation and dehumanization.

Guerra challenges society, not just the construction of art: He shows the power structure behind the image by cutting it up and poetically reconstructing it. Yet in contrast to much political art, his images are oblique, subversive, and imbued with subtle humor.

Maria Gainza