New York

Guillermo Kuitca

Guillermo Kuitca is a fitting choice to inaugurate Sperone Westwater’s new Foster + Partners building on the Bowery, what with the artist’s long-standing representation by the gallery—this marks his eighth solo show—and even longer-standing interest in design. (The show also coincides with the national tour of Kuitca’s retrospective, organized by Douglas Dreishpoon, chief curator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.) In the present context, Kuitca’s signature architectural iconography served not only to indicate the persistent nature of his practice, but also, and more unfortunately, to call further attention to the handsome if overgenerous eight-story setting. It was hard not to read into the diagrammatic floor plans in his paintings and drawings an almost deictic address to their surroundings. Even worse was the placement of Kuitca’s significant Le Sacre, 1992—a suite of fifty-four child-size mattresses painted with maps of various and randomly selected locales—on the three stationary walls of the so-dubbed Moving Room (otherwise known as a freight elevator, it is a working gallery that moves between the second and third floors). While the flexibility of the portable gallery will no doubt prove a generative hallmark of this new space, installed with Kuitca’s rendering of the psychic resonances of geopolitical displacement, it felt like a gimmick, especially as it established a pat equation, whereby a displaced and ultimately poetic evocation of nomadism was made strikingly literal in the movement of a lift.

Still, the hang suggested relationships among the works themselves, with most relating to others fairly explicitly. (Aside from Le Sacre, all of the other exhibited works were recent.) Some aired recurrent themes and imagery—like the maps that reappear in Untitled, 2008, or the thorny branches that punctuate numerous compositions, such as Philosophy of Princes III, 2009, where they overlay a grid of architectural sketches. Elsewhere, the very real buttons affixed to the mattresses in Le Sacre recur as a play of illusionism in Untitled, 2009. In that work, the depiction of tufted furniture offers a compelling formal analogue to the ubiquitous faceted planes—á la early Picasso and Braque—that cover Kuitca’s surfaces insistently as signs of “modernism” or “abstraction” through which he seems to be working as appropriated pictorial effect

Yet while Kuitca’s motifs are consistent, his scale and brushwork vary, in works from the diminutive Untitled, 2010, to the epically sized Untitled, 2009. And whereas the latter reproduces the planes of analytic cubism as an overall field of Abstract Expressionist mark-making, the former isolates its elements as discrete units, suspending two distinct forms against a neutral ground, and likewise trades the larger piece’s drab gray palette for vivid color. These two works and others thus highlight Kuitca’s move into a new kind of subject matter: the legacy of painting itself. Inaugurated with the series “Desenlace” (Denouement), 2006–2007, which was not on view here, this exercise yields canvases that bear traces of modes, from Jackson Pollock’s to Lucio Fontana’s, less as appropriative acts than as monuments to abstraction—as kinds of abstraction upon abstraction. In his earlier map pieces, too, Kuitca redoubled the operation of abstraction, by subjecting maps, which are always abstractions of a place, to the mechanisms of dislocation and estrangement. Here, the artist substitutes the distortions of style for those of schemata. The press release quotes a distinctively Borges-inspired Kuitca as saying that these paintings “emerged from an anonymous way of accessing modernism. The result is a sort of explosion of chronology, in which all references almost cancel each other out.” Which leaves one to wonder what these near-anesthetized ciphers can still do and to what degree they can be more than a thing on the wall, even if the wall moves up and down.

Suzanne Hudson