Carlos Amorales

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Carlos Amorales’s first museum exhibition in the United States owed its success, partly, to the context in which the works operated and to the seductive installation Black Cloud, 2007, which consists of thousands of black paper moths. The creatures were scattered in the main gallery, a stairway, and the neighboring galleries, where they were affixed, for example, to the wall next to a pristine Mondrian and in the sight line of a Jasper Johns. It was as if an infestation had occurred and bugs were attacking the institution and its treasures—a conservator’s nightmare. The moths, based on images culled from Liquid Archive, 1999–, the artist’s database of his own drawings, propose a materiality and dedicated craftsmanship that is a clear counterpoint to the phanstasmatic aesthetics espoused by the other works on display. Indeed, Amorales is known for making drawings and films depicting fantastic and ghostly images, shadows that erase individual identity in favor of archetypal, metaphamorphosing forms. Take his 2008 series “Selected Ghosts,” linear compositions in which the artist uses vector graphics to reproduce silhouettes of human figures, skulls, birds, spiderwebs, and trees drawn from his archive and collaged on the surface of the paper so as to suggest the evasiveness, instability, and, as the title indicates, generic and spectral status of the (digital) image in contemporary culture.

In his animated films, presented in a small room next to the installation, virtuality prevails. The images have a sharp, graphic quality. The Forest, 2003, a jazzy alternation of human figures, trees, airplanes, and other images that move to the beat of the sound track, adopts the look of advertising (the black-silhouetted dancers in iPod campaigns come to mind). In the two other nonnarrative films shown, Rorschach Test Animation, 2004, and Faces, 2007, Amorales seems interested in the liquidity and ambivalence of images and the free association of perception, showing as he does forms merging and disintegrating. The former film has no sound, and its relationship to the title is quite literal, while the latter is accompanied by atonal music from the 1950s. Here the artist alludes to the chance operations and formal systems of historical avant-gardes—Dada film and experimental animation are clear predecessors—and while the work is visually attractive, the overall effect is monotonous. Manimal, 2005, rendered in black-and-white three-dimensional animation, is formally and structurally different from the other films. It implies a narrative, as it depicts the silhouettes of wolves moving violently through a dark, primitive-looking landscape that spans wilderness to city via an airstrip. Julián Lede’s energizing heavy metal sound track contributes enormously to the success of the work and helps bring out its apocalyptic undertones.

Monica Amor