Mario Garcia Torres

The work of Mario Garcia Torres traces and restages half-hidden histories and lost moments. For example, the slide piece What Happens in Halifax Stays in Halifax (In 36 Slides), 2004–2006, explores the aftermath of a “secret piece” by Robert Barry, executed by students in Halifax in 1969; neither the black-and-white images nor the subtitles give direct clues as to the nature of this piece, which only exists, if at all, in the participants’ memories. Even while taking part in the current wave of reinvestigation, and sometimes fetishization, of historical Conceptualism, Garcia Torres is noteworthy for exploring historical and political connections that exceed the limits of standard art history; a number of works from 2006 are based on the One Hotel run by Alighiero Boetti in Kabul—a war-torn city where any trace of this venture has probably been erased.

The centerpiece of Garcia Torres’s exhibition (curated by Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen) at the Stedelijk Museum CS—the museum’s temporary quarters while the old building is being restored and extended—was the video A Brief History of Jimmie Johnson’s Legacy, 2006–2007. Toward the end, it shows color footage of three adolescents running through the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City. Garcia Torres had asked these visitors to the museum to reenact a scene in Godard’s Bande à part (1964) in which the three main characters break the speed record for visiting the Louvre (previously held by one “Jimmie Johnson”). Aside from this remake, the video consists of a montage of black-and-white stills from Bande à part and other films—an earlier variation on the Godard scene from Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers_ (2003) as well as museum scenes from lighthearted fare such as L.A. Story (1991) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)—in combination with footage showing performative interventions in museums during the ’60s and ’70s by artists such as Vito Acconci and David Hammons.

Making no distinction between movie characters and artists, the voice-over wonders how such actions might function in the different context of today. However, with its smugly objective, disingenuously warm, and subtly patronizing tone, reminiscent of corporate videos, the voice itself seems to cast doubt on the seriousness of Garcia Torres’s strategy of “rehearsing” obscure historical moments in order to see if they can still have an effect. And the look of the video increases this doubt. The mildly intriguing fact that the young visitors at the Museo Nacional de Arte run though a blatantly linear art history, culminating in Latin American modernism, is not enough to prevent this from looking like a cute, nostalgic Biedermeier version of Godard’s scene. It might have been more productive to stick to the French museum, without seeking official permission, to see what happens under the conditions of advanced cultural mass tourism, blockbuster shows, and audio guides—as well as stringent security measures.

An accompanying slide piece produced for the Stedelijk, Preliminary Sketches from the Past and for the Future (Stedelijk Museum), 2007, also plays nice. Five adjacent slide projections show spaces from the old museum building, its walls stripped prior to restoration, in which a series of actions are performed. Perhaps in homage to Barry Le Va, Garcia Torres is seen running up against the walls in one of the sequences; in another someone rolls around on the floor measuring the dimensions of the space with his body, as if in a Tino Sehgal performance; a third shows the Jimmie Johnson routine once more, now in the empty Stedelijk. Although the building’s vacant condition is potentially interesting, Preliminary Sketches doesn’t begin to realize that potential. What is the point of “speed records” and other deviant actions in an empty shell of a museum that has temporarily lost its status as a public space?

The third, easily overlooked element of Garcia Torres’s presentation was a framed card with the text I CAN’T SPEAK IN ART GALLERIES OR MUSEUMS, the relic of a weeklong 2002 performance piece of that title, in which the artist stopped speaking upon entering a gallery or museum. In the recent works on display, he speaks a certain idiom all too well: the language of institution-friendly interventions.

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