Lisbon

João Louro

Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art

The ongoing series “Blind Images,” 2001–, is the body of work for which the Portuguese artist João Louro is best known. The “Blind Images” are monochromes—usually black but recently white and sometimes other colors—with “captions”: emotionally powerful texts from diverse sources, including newspapers and Hollywood movies, at the bottom of the paintings, often on backgrounds of a different color. For example, Blind Image #66, 2004—not in this show—is a metallic structure more than eighteen feet high, painted black, at whose base is written: AT 9:02 A.M., WITH THE NORTH TOWER OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER ALREADY IN FLAMES, UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 175 SLAMS INTO THE SOUTH TOWER. By addressing the terrorist attack of September 11 without resorting to imagery, Louro distances himself from the spectacularization that marked the event’s global media reception.

With this exhibition, Louro took “Blind Images” into new territory by using fluorescent bulbs, painted black, as support for excerpts from film-noir dialogues. More sculptural than painterly and more textual than visual, these pieces demonstrate the importance of language in Louro’s production, placing him in the conceptual vein of post-Minimalism. This conceptualism can also be seen in another of his series, “Dead Ends,” 2001–, comprising replicas of traffic signs with multiple plays on words through which the artist explores the polysemic nature of discursivity. For example, in Dead End #11, 2005, multiple arrows point to various roads, substituting place-names with slogans such as LANGUAGE IS PACT and IMAGE IS A FACT as well as literary references like LES CHANTS and LA PART MAUDITE.

This recent show did not include any works from “Dead End,” but a similar organizing principle is found in the projects that were presented here, such as Rimbaud’s Spell (all works 2007), a large-scale sculpture that occupied the main area of the gallery. The piece consists of an overturned 1984 Jaguar from which music emanates, alongside components that evoke a highway accident, such as crumpled guardrails placed against walls painted a dark turquoise. MAD AND STARRY DESIRE TO ASSASSINATE BEAUTY, a quote from Rimbaud’s Season in Hell, is engraved on the guardrail; barely visible, it gives an allegorical clue to Louro’s intent, associating the personal hell experienced by the French poet with the everyday apocalypse that characterizes the collective imagination at work today.

This entropic facet of Louro’s practice is also notable in other pieces, such as Periodic Table of the Elements and Big Bang. As the works’ titles suggest, Louro aims to examine the essence of things in general and the dialectic between simplicity and complexity in particular. Big Bang, for example, is a work in twenty panels, seventeen with black background, and three with orange backgrounds, on which the artist has drawn, freehand, fundamental components of systems of representation such as “point,” “sightline,” and “circle.” Throughout his career, Louro has been regarded as a rational critic of the symbolic economy that defines contemporary culture, and in this exhibition he emerges as a metaphysician as well, concerned with the origin, the ontology, and the future of matter, the substrate of both objects and human beings.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.