Carlos Pazos

The career of Carlos Pazos has always thrived on contradiction. A veteran Barcelona artist, he has long tried to distance himself from what his Catalan peers were doing. Although his name is widely known among artists, he is not well known to the public. Three years ago he was awarded the Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas—the most important prize given by a Spanish institution—but little of his work is owned by museums.

Organized in conjunction with MACBA in Barcelona (its director, Manuel Borja-Villel, is the show’s curator), “No me digas nada” (Don’t Tell Me Anything), the enormous exhibition at the Reina Sofía, not only failed to clear up the ambiguities in Pazos’s life and work, it actually heightened them: Three hundred works on display revealed the artist’s desire above all to be in constant motion and to vary from the norm. The layout of this vast accumulation, including not only Pazos’s own sculptures and installations but also objects from his private hoard, presented a scene quite unlike that usually found in museums. The motley and the kitsch faced off with the sober and the elegant; good taste stood side by side with bad.

The exhibition included rarely seen early pieces as well as Pazos’s most famous work, “Voy a hacer de mí una estrella” (I Am Going to Make Myself into a Star), 1975. Made two years before Cindy Sherman began her “Untitled Film Stills,” 1977–80, this series of twenty-one black-and-white photographs shows the artist incarnating various movie characters. At a time when Catalan art was primarily conceptual, with political overtones, Pazos turned to narcissism and simulation, foretelling the course of his work for the next five years, in which self-representation would be central.

But in 1980 Pazos decided, in the words of poet Ángel González, to go from “the adolescent artist he was to the damaged artist he is.” That was the year he elected not to show up for his own performance, Bonjour melancolía (Hello, Melancholy), sending an actor in his place. After this, Pazos disappeared from his work. Yet, as this exhibition shows, in some way he has always remained there, right at the center—as revealed by even the titles of works from the ’80s, such as Podría acostumbrarme al peso de tus diamantes (I Could Get Used to the Weight of Your Diamonds), 1987, and Había dejado profundas cicatrices en mi corazón y en mi talonario (Someone Left Deep Scars in My Heart and My Checkbook), 1988. In the early works in which he appeared, Pazos was trying to be someone else; now that he was absent, his works became markedly autobiographical. And this in the midst of the post-Minimalist revival that took over the Spanish art scene in the late ’80s! Once again, Pazos positioned himself where he was least expected. Although eventually many of his themes—role-playing, popular culture, narrative, and so on—were adopted by others, his heterodoxy continues, as shown here by his refusal to differentiate between objects purchased in toy stores or gift shops and his own work. Thus, the line between art object and found object, between artist and consumer, between the sublime and the vulgar, was blurred in the vast rooms of the Reina Sofía.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.