Buenos Aires

Liliana Maresca

Centro Cultural Recoleta

Myriad romantic interpretations have transformed Liliana Maresca into a myth: the housewife who abandons the comfort of home out of devotion to art, the beauty whom everyone fell for, the victim of an early and tragic death. This show, “Transmutaciones,” a coproduction with the Castagnino Museum of Rosario (where it was previously shown), was the first retrospective of Maresca’s work since the one that took place in 1994, the year she died of HIV at the age of forty-three. Thoughtfully curated by Adriana Lauria, it proved a well-deserved homage that untangled many of the inaccuracies surrounding Maresca’s art.

Contrary to legend, Maresca was not a neglected artist. Despite (or perhaps because of) the very limited circulation of her works, she exerted a decisive influence on the development of the local art scene. She was the figurehead of a group that, having been artistically suffocated by the military dictatorship, sprang into the streets to recover its voice. With a natural talent for bringing people together, she organized collective exhibitions such as “La Kermesse. El paraíso de las bestias” (The Fair. The Beasts’ Paradise) (1986) at the Centro Cultural Recoleta, which gathered many of the artists who had participated in the underground scene. Few records of the event have survived, but Lauria, in a titanic effort, has managed to unearth as much as possible: Photographs suggest the feeling of a carnivalesque fair imbued with a baroque element best understood in the terms of poet José Lezama Lima—not only as the style of the theatrical and abundant but also that of need, hunger, and poverty.

Documents of installations and performances convey a comprehensive panorama of an artistic production that spanned the period between 1983 and 1993, a historical arc that goes from the return of democracy through the unfulfilled promises of the Alfonsín era to the disenchantment of the first Menem presidency. It is easy to see how Maresca’s work, though never overtly political, was engaged deeply with the times: Lo que el viento se llevó (Gone with the wind), 1989, shown here through photographs, was an installation full of poetic and historic resonance. Ruined by wear and weather, the rusty skeletons of tables, chairs, and umbrellas taken from an old summer resort lay scattered about. Time decays, remakes, transfigures them; they become painful vessels of memory, touchstones of experience. Recolecta (Recollection), 1990, is a prophetic installation consisting of four versions of the cart used by one of the urban scavengers called cartoneros; a decade later, after the economic debacle, they flooded the city. In different sizes and materials—the original cart was placed next to one in white plaster as well as smaller, jewel-like versions in silver and in gold—they become by turns a memorial to human misery, a death mask, and an alchemical transmutation of trash into gold.

Maresca’s consistency as an artist becomes clear, paradoxically, through the range and eclecticism of the works exhibited. Brilliantly recreated for the exhibition was Espacio Disponible (Space Available), 1992: A cheap billboard placed in the center of an empty gallery offers for rent a room originally destined as exhibition space, while on the wall a text of Chuang Tzu expounds the principles of Taoism. Maresca se entrega todo destino (Maresca Gives Herself Away to All Destiny), 1993, is an erotic photographic self-portrait published in a magazine along with her telephone number. The first plays with the dematerialization of art, the precarious place between presence and absence, the philosophical and unavoidably biographical idea of letting go, while the second evokes the alienated self through the metaphor of artist as merchandise. Many of Maresca’s more intimate works have until now been considered lost: sculptures (twisted tree branches on brass stands), crayon drawings (mostly simple faces), and poems both moving and confessional. Whatever the medium, Maresca succeeded in transmuting her pain into lasting art.

María Gainza