Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Azor, 2012, compacted yacht, 15' 5“ x 14' 9” x 6' 2 3/4".

Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Azor, 2012, compacted yacht, 15' 5“ x 14' 9” x 6' 2 3/4".

Fernando Sánchez Castillo

Matadero Madrid

Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Azor, 2012, compacted yacht, 15' 5“ x 14' 9” x 6' 2 3/4".

Fernando Sánchez Castillo, one of Spain’s leading midcareer artists, takes a multifaceted approach to the representation of power structures. Much of his work, typically sculpture and video, is based on the country’s shady twentieth-century history, but its resonance is more than merely local, since the implications he draws out from his material are so wide-ranging. His sculpture typically addresses the monumentality of official memorials glorifying leaders, while his videos often engage with motifs related to classical inability such as the horse—a universal image of power in Western portraiture—and even the pedestal. Sánchez Castillo has also thoroughly examined the means by which security forces attempt to keep crowds under control.

In “Síndrome de Guernica” (Guernica Syndrome), his current show at Matadero Madrid, a former slaughterhouse that is now one of the city’s most popular exhibition spaces, Sánchez Castillo focuses on the yacht Azor, once owned by the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. In doing so, he evokes some notorious attributes of Spain’s successive governments, such as their distressing inability to execute or even make decisions, taking it into his own hands to bring down the curtain of history on what is after all a rather spooky symbol of the nation’s recent history. When Franco died in 1975, the Spanish state took possession of the vessel and in 1992 sold it to a restaurateur whose avowed purpose was to dismantle it for scrap but who instead set it up on dry land as a tourist attraction. There it continued to haunt the nation like a bad dream. For his solo show at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, in 2007, the artist removed the vessel’s flagpole and showed it in the museum, returning it when the show ended. Now, for his installation in the cold-storage chamber of the old slaughterhouse, Sánchez Castillo has purchased the yacht and, using a metal compactor, turned it into a quasi-Minimalist sculpture, titled Azor, 2012. In one of his most effective and precise moves, he achieved something that several governments failed to. The work also uncovers a subversive potential in the seemingly glacial silence of Minimalism against the context of Spain’s political situation in the 1970s, when the artist was born—a time when subjectivity was systematically muted and when raising one’s voice could turn out to be fatal. The installation is strongly theatrical, evoking the time when the yacht was anchored in a field in Castile.

Sánchez Castillo’s cubic form is not materially pure and geometrically perfect but rather a clumsy jumble made of materials such as aluminum, steel, and wood, condensing seven decades of Spain’s infamous history. His version of the Minimalist cube brought to mind an important exhibition held around a decade ago at Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, “No es sólo lo que ves: Pervirtiendo el Minimalismo” (It’s Not Just What You See: Perverting Minimalism), organized by Cuban curator Gerardo Mosquera. That show explored Latin American artists’ radically different approach to Minimalism in their will to confront and repel American dominance. In their works, slick and industrial surfaces were impetuously wiped away and substituted by references to the quotidian, the biographical, the personal, and the political. Sánchez Castillo’s specific approach to Minimalism, like that of the figures who used to be called peripheral artists, makes academic primary structures look arrogant in their speechless aura and embrace of hegemonic power. By contrast, Azor is anything but silent. Far from effacing a nasty episode of Spain’s history—a past we forbid ourselves to confront—Sánchez Castillo’s sculpture seeks to concentrate its memory in a most vibrant form.

Javier Hontoria