Caracas

Daniel Medina, Reja naranja (Orange Bars), 2012, metal, vinyl paint, 35 3/8 x 74 3/4 x 74 3/4".

Daniel Medina, Reja naranja (Orange Bars), 2012, metal, vinyl paint, 35 3/8 x 74 3/4 x 74 3/4".

Daniel Medina

Periférico Caracas | Arte Contemporáneo

Daniel Medina, Reja naranja (Orange Bars), 2012, metal, vinyl paint, 35 3/8 x 74 3/4 x 74 3/4".

In 2003, the private owners of a copy of Rodin’s Monument to Balzac, 1898, removed it from a courtyard of the Caracas Athenaeum, apparently fearing politically motivated vandalism. The next year, demonstrators knocked down the figure of Christopher Columbus from the Monumento a Colón en el Golfo Triste, erected a century earlier to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the explorer in the Americas. Daniel Medina has recorded those dramatic events in his native city by culling from the Internet a photograph of each of the eviscerated public sites, which he then included in an installation titled Lo que es del pueblo va pa’l pueblo y lo que es del cura va pa’la iglesia (Give to the People What Belongs to the People, and Give to the Priest What Belongs to the Church) (all works 2012). He hung the images on opposite walls, each in front of a small patinated-plaster figure of a baseball player throwing a ball, apparently directly at the picture. In the wake of heated public debates in Venezuela following the disappearance of the statues, the work was the most overtly political piece in Medina’s recent show, elegantly curated by Félix Suazo; it seemed to detect early alarming signs of a “cultural revolution” being launched against the old bourgeois, colonial society in his country. But the installation was characteristic of Medina’s conceptual approach: He often addresses the changing fate of monuments and emblematic edifices, as well as the public perception of current events and the way they are chronicled in ephemeral records, which, nevertheless, endlessly circulate in souvenir shops, on newsstands, and on the Web.

Medina seems not to be satisfied with being a passive witness to the changes around him; in fact, he appears to want to participate in them—to “throw a curveball” in their direction, suggesting an action whose purpose may be deliberately unclear. To produce his art, he often starts by appropriating a found object—an old postcard, a page from a popular magazine, an image from the Web—and then meticulously alters it. For instance, in the series “Ficción Postal” (Postal Fiction), Medina modified a series of old postcards depicting landmark buildings in Caracas (as well as in other cities, such as Berlin and Madrid) by cutting them into fragments and rearranging them. The reconfigured postcards recall jigsaw puzzles that could not be properly reassembled. As a result, the notable structures in those images, originally intended to project stability and permanence—as well as the utopianism associated with grand architecture—appear fragmented, unstable, and hybrid. Strangely enough, Medina’s constructions, as structurally unsound as they look, have assumed a new life as independent images—have become perhaps even more visually interesting than the original buildings.

Similarly, in Reja naranja (Orange Bars), Reja azul (Blue Bars), and Reja gris (Gray Bars), the artist addresses the legacy of kinetic and Op art, the beacons of modernism in Venezuelan art, and endows it with his own meanings by obliquely or explicitly referencing artists such as Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesús Rafael Soto, and Gego. In these works, stripes of color painted on the wall were paired with metal structures that looked like window guards or fragments of fences; these were either affixed to the wall next to the painted parts or leaned against them at a diagonal from the floor. Although the two sections of the same work were deliberately mismatched in terms of materials, they remained visually compatible—elegant and fragile—each looking like a modern found object and its painted shadow.

Marek Bartelik