Fernando García, Alacena (detail), 2013, wood, string, mixed media, 10' 10“ x 3' 3 3/8” x 11 7/8".

Fernando García, Alacena (detail), 2013, wood, string, mixed media, 10' 10“ x 3' 3 3/8” x 11 7/8".

Fernando García

Galería Heinrich Ehrhardt

Fernando García, Alacena (detail), 2013, wood, string, mixed media, 10' 10“ x 3' 3 3/8” x 11 7/8".

For more than a decade, the art of Madrid-born Fernando García was easily recognizable as part of the widespread trend of post-Conceptual painting sweeping Europe these days. Such work was marked by an ironic use of language, wry comments on art production, and witty allusions to the art market, all combined in a deliberately clumsy style of painting. And yet even when his paintings were at their most formulaic, his shows always contained something unexpected. Lately, something has radically changed, and the shift in García’s work seems to coincide with his recent move from the city to the countryside, marking what could be a major turning point in his career. His new position eschews the knowing sophistication of his previous work, and finds him turning instead to pits and pebbles, wood, branches of various sizes, and found objects of everyday use, from ropes to empty cans to bottles of wine. It would be easy to imagine that these materials reflect a move toward a neo-Povera aesthetic just as familiar as the neo-Conceptualism that preceded it, but this new work turns out to be a genuine poetic exercise that owes more to an anthropological reflection on time and place. And painting is no longer at stake.

This recent show included several vertical structures that resemble freestanding shelving units. These are called “Alacenas” (all works 2013), after the old pieces of furniture used in Spanish houses to hold plates, tablecloths, cutlery, and other domestic miscellany. But these alacenas hardly displayed any objects. Instead, they stood fragile and precarious, each supported by four vertical poles that, upon closer inspection, revealed themselves to be slim tree branches. The horizontal platforms are made of thousands of small pieces of wood tied together with thin strings. An avocado pit rests helplessly on one of them. It has been subtly carved by the artist to look somewhat odd. García thus informs us that his practice now stems not so much from intellectual disquisitions but from the organic experience of the everyday. This avocado pit—like the pistachio shells, branches, lemons, chickpeas, and so on that almost overflow another plate—evokes the apparently uneventful passing of time, and this extended temporality, along with the context in which it happens, seems essential to García’s changed understanding of art.

In one of the corners of the gallery, three wooden pedestals were supported by as many empty bottles of wine. Wooden sticks emerged from their interiors, as if seeking to gain some anthropomorphic shape. García calls this structure Anguiano, and it evokes the village celebrations of La Rioja, Spain’s northern province known for its red wine, where locals dance high up on stilts with astonishing dexterity. In such works, García blends memory, folklore, and vernacular aesthetics to defy the aseptic and increasingly homogeneous nature of so much contemporary art. He insists on a laborious practice, emphasizing handicraft, in which nothing is prefabricated, not even the wooden frames for a group of images (each titled El Dorado and followed by a Roman numeral) that resemble abstract pictograms through the revival of antique leather-embossing techniques. In the background of García’s latest work, there are references to historical figures in twentieth-century Spanish art. The School of Vallecas, a group of painters active in the 1930s in the rural areas surrounding Madrid, sought to praise the silent and prosaic beauty of their homeland by depicting its muted and somber atmosphere. García’s very personal new aesthetics are a celebration of this same solitary and mundane melancholy.

Javier Hontoria