London

Jaime Gili

Riflemaker

For his solo debut, “Jaime Gili Makes Things Triangular,” the London-based Venezuelan artist made good use of Soho gallery Riflemaker’s funky, atmospheric exhibition space. Still redolent of the gunsmith’s shop it once was, this is no white cube. And for heaven’s sake watch your step on the treacherously dark stairs to the basement viewing room. Gili installed his paintings chockablock, with massive freestanding ones dividing up the room and black-and-white offset posters covering the ceiling. It was as if he wanted each work to distract us from the others: The effect was somewhere between the Suprematist “0.10” exhibition of 1915 and a festival of abstract graffiti.

Nearly hidden amid the seductive clutter was a small and somewhat anomalous work, Filosofía del Entendimiento / Homenaj a Cruz-Diez, 2006, that nonetheless provides a clue to Gili’s intentions. It consists of a pair of shelves (each a single rectangular metal sheet bent to form a triangular surface and bracket) displaying fragments of colored concrete, like remnants of some ancient fresco. As it turns out, they came from a rather more recent ruin than Pompeii, that of Fisicromía Homenaje a Don Andrés Bello, 1982, a public artwork in the artist’s hometown of Caracas. This polychrome relief was the creation of Carlos Cruz-Diez, venerable Venezuelan exponent of optical and kinetic art, and architect Manuel Silveíra. Cruz-Diez himself has explained his art of mutating color relationships as a response to “a society of the moment, of the event, of mutation and of the ephemeral,” but presumably he had not anticipated just how short-lived his work would be under conditions in which public art is regarded as a resource for scrap metal looters. Gili’s homage to his predecessor takes the form of an elegy, though a strangely lighthearted one for all its warmth.

Next to the shelves, slides of the streets and architecture of Caracas were projected at an angle across a corner. The everyday scenes were thereby warped and ruptured, becoming abstract compositions much like those in the paintings, whose dynamic centrifugal blasts of acute triangles evoke Lyonel Feininger’s intricate meshes of spiky forms but as if distilled into Suprematist nonobjectivity. There is a slightly worn or dusty quality to their physical presence, not unlike the surfaces of Beatriz Milhazes’s paintings. The paintings are all named after people: “Friends,” as the artist puts it, “those who had admired my work or whom I admire, people I have slept with or who have given me drugs, others who have swept through my life like a hurricane”—titles include Sandrine, 2005, Gloria, 2004, and Rainford, 2005.

But Gili’s paintings aren’t attempts at abstract portraiture, bypassing physiognomy on some direct route to the soul. Rather, as the romantic, even melodramatic tone of his statement suggests, they are shadowed by an acute sense of the need for human contact in the absence of the programmatic public use in which an artist like Cruz-Diez (or almost any precursor in the lineage of that International Constructivism on which Gili’s pictorial idiom is so dependent) could believe. And yet for art, if not for society, desperation might just be more useful than faith; the artist whose heritage is a failed utopia might be more fortunate than the heir to one that still promised hope.

Barry Schwabsky