Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

Juan Hidalgo

Tenerife Espacio de las Artes

In 1964, Juan Hidalgo was a founding member of ZAJ—an avant-garde collective crucial to Spanish art during the Franco years. The group has been compared to Fluxus, thanks to its roots in experimental music and its sense of humor. Hidalgo’s work straddles the fields of poetry, performance, and music, all with a cultural sensibility based in Zen thought, which he studied in Italy. The content of his performances and writings—“etcéteras,” as he called them, “public documents” in the form of poster-invitations bearing clever and irreverent phrases—has often been markedly sexual. At the famous Destruction in Art Symposium (dias) in London in 1966, for example, Hidalgo carried out an action entitled Música para cinco perros, un polo y seis intérpretes varones (Music for Five Dogs, a Popsicle, and Six Male Performers). Who would have thought that Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus, and especially the very macho Otto Mühl, among others, would so willingly have allowed Hidalgo to rub a melting Popsicle over their behinds?

Though now eighty-one years old, Hidalgo still has the same unruly spirit. The uninhibited sexuality of the works he has produced since 1997, recently shown at TEA, is startling. Hidalgo rejects the assumption that sex is the sole domain of youth. Many of the works take the form of what Hidalgo calls “photographic actions,” images in which the importance of artistic skill and form is second to poetic content. The show also contained objects from sex shops (vibrators and dildos of different shapes and colors) inside urns, which gave them a somewhat comic, unreal, and strangely mortuary feel: They looked like embalmed fetish objects. This is certainly the case of Tibor mulato, 2001, a collage-object with a surrealist air that shows an erect fake phallus on a base of gravel. A tibor is a large earthenware vessel from China or Japan, usually in the shape of an urn and decorated on the outside. Hidalgo turns his tibor into a transparent glass container and puts the dildo atop an unusual color of gravel (purple, which often appears in Hidalgo’s work). Indeed, color has been crucial to all of Hidalgo’s art, and thus all the rooms in his show at TEA were painted in multicolored stripes of red, yellow, and purple—the colors of the Spanish Republican flag, flown until Franco’s coup d’état.

A recent text that Hidalgo wrote while in Ayacata, the small village in the Canary Islands where he lives, reveals his unhurried way of seeing the world: He asserts that the world is ruled by chance, and that life is above all a form of transit, of continuous movement in space and time. What really matters is ethical action. The text continues, “Do not kill, be ignorant, harbor religions, extreme nationalism or any of the other things that are the root of all evil. Do not be racist: Let there be white, let there be black, and let there be white and black. Respect each and every sexual preference. Do not steal and brush your teeth every day.” A sense of irony animates these “Notes for the Millennium” (2000), and they evoke a Mallarméan typographical chaos: The words appear inside a yellow circle on a blue background, luminous tones for a clearly Zen-inspired work.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.