Santiago, Chile

Alvaro Oyarzún

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Alvaro Oyarzún is an artist untroubled by fear of narrative excess. Master of the prolonged title, he dubbed his recent exhibition in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes “Historía del Dibujo de A a L” (A History of Drawing from A to L), with the subtitle, presented here in English for brevity, “Seven ways to visit the museum crossing twice round the same rotunda, or how to confront all these years’ improvidence once and for all.” The exhibition was indeed installed in an entrancing nineteenth-century rotunda. But any expectation that Oyarzún’s artistic dialogue would meander through the whys and wherefores of drawing was confounded by the viewer’s discovery, instead, of a thorough dissection of painting. Oyarzún’s inner painter cannot be repressed, and his spotlight on paint defines it as “any pigment that can be spread over a surface.” We were presented with what can be described as a compendium of images: every shape, size, and form; drawings, paintings, cartoons, scraps of text—in no apparent order. These were, however, anchored by six historic works by grand figures of Chilean painting, recovered from the bowels of the museum and dusted down, as it were, by the artist himself. Oyarzún set his own work alongside that of Juan Francisco González, Carlos Dorlhiac, Alberto Valenzuela Llanos, Julio Ortiz de Zárate, Emilio Jecquier, and Pablo Burchard. In doing so, he narrated, absorbed, reinterpreted, and analyzed the aesthetic world that surrounds him. The formal or thematic relationships between works were sometimes blisteringly obvious, at other times cryptic. Always swimming against the current and imbued with laconic irony, Oyarzún created parallels between the crisis of art and an artist’s personal breakdown. He transformed the burden of artmaking into an existential project that questions the very nature of meaning.

Most striking was Oyarzún’s use of appropriation in its truest sense. The Burchard came across not as a Burchard, but as an Oyarzún. The six historic paintings dutifully surrendered themselves to the conceptual superpainting that subsumed them. This mammoth “painting” parodied motifs and themes handed down from generation to generation: landscape, portrait, nature, death, abstraction. The most delightful irreverence was the appropriation of a small watercolor depicting the facade of the museum itself. The spectator might have supposed this to be another borrowing from a historic collection of Impressionists. But the work was actually commissioned this year by Oyarzún from his friend Ricardo Araya, a Santiago sidewalk artist far removed from the lofty reaches of the official art world. This type of “collision montage,” as Aby Warburg put it, tends towards discontinuity, fracture, contradiction, and historical anachronism.

Oyarzún’s vision is the antithesis of purposeful teleological narrative. Instead, his “History of Drawing” mapped out a playful, ironic, and fragmentary itinerary. It also solved the mystery of a compendium finishing at L and not Z, validating the arbitrary and ruptured nature of our own existence. In turn, a certain coherence emerged within disconnected and parallel histories.

Cecilia Brunson