Buenos Aires

Elmgreen & Dragset, Zwischen anderen Ereignissen (Between Other Events), 2000–15. Performance view. From: “Experienecia Infinita” (Infinite Experience). Photo: Jorge Miño.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Zwischen anderen Ereignissen (Between Other Events), 2000–15. Performance view. From: “Experienecia Infinita” (Infinite Experience). Photo: Jorge Miño.

“Experiencia Infinita”

Elmgreen & Dragset, Zwischen anderen Ereignissen (Between Other Events), 2000–15. Performance view. From: “Experienecia Infinita” (Infinite Experience). Photo: Jorge Miño.

The first exhibition curated by Agustín Pérez Rubio, therecently appointed artistic director of the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), “Experiencia Infinita” (Infinite Experience) presented a cross section of live works orchestrated by eight of the most curatorially opportune artists of the moment. What all the pieces have in common is what might be called a designed perpetuity. Performers hired by the artists continuously enact their prescribed gestures—whether poetic, visceral, or data-driven—and, in doing so, transform the spaces they inhabit into theatrical panoramas that draw visitors in as interlopers and catalysts. A handful of these artists have become omnipresent on the biennial circuit over the past decade or so; until now, however, few of them have been shown in Argentina, although the nation has long been an incubator for both performance art and progressive theater.

Though works that tap liveness as an inherently profound characteristic can sometimes appear utterly calculated, the first two rooms of the exhibition did a sublime job of setting up a pervasive sense of the kind of self-consciousness that can produce an effect of sincerity. Viewers entered the exhibition via one of Elmgreen & Dragset’s most minimal mise-en-scènes, in which two painters carry out the Sisyphean task of painting and repainting an already pristine white gallery; empty buckets of paint were piled in the center of the room as a sculptural souvenir. Next, Dora García stationed a typist at the entrance of an ambient screening room, where textual dialogue was beamed onto the wall. Viewers encountered the screenplay in media res and read about different types and quantities of people moving through a room and talking to one another. Naturally, the story committed to text was a live record of what was happening there and then. Together these works played up specific elements of artificiality that define an institutional art space and enlivened them with immediacy. On my visit, García’s room was accentuated by the arrival of Pierre Huyghe’s delegate to the exhibition: a figure perambulating the show as a gallerygoer wearing a mask of blindingly bright lightbulbs. Described by the typist, he became an event, as did my reaction to him.

From there, “Infinite Experience” surveyed other, less remarkable works of similar ethos and mechanics. While the terrain is familiar, I can’t recall another exhibition that has brought together so many artists of this type for the purpose of expounding on their collective efforts. Roman Ondák installed one of his census works in which a man asks visitors the time and writes it on the wall with their name. Allora & Calzadilla stationed a dance troupe in an antechamber, moving in concert as a human revolving door. Judi Werthein’s orator reciting writers’ and curators’ accounts of artworks they have never personally seen unfolded as a game of telephone but without the spark of humor that would keep listeners on the line. Diego Bianchi, the lone Argentinean in the show, had every joint and appendage of a performer tied to various objects, so that his Butoh-like movements lifted, pulled, and dropped casts of body parts, brooms, frames, and more, as though he were a living, breathing Rube Goldberg machine. Different from the other works in the show, which exhibited snappy Conceptualism or riffed on relational dynamics, Bianchi’s highlighted the discomfort of his employee. The endurance of most of the other performers was tested more by monotony than by their own physical thresholds.

The show’s final act was a guard pacing back and forth at the end of MALBA’s permanent collection. The words to her soaring lilt were “This is propaganda, you know, you know”—Tino Sehgal’s unforgettable refrain. Situated among the museum’s masterworks as a coda spatially removed from the rest of the exhibition, this heavy-lidded wink to the constructed nature of art history perhaps suggested that while the brand of work expounded on in “Infinite Experience” carries influence, to some extent that’s thanks to hype.

Kevin McGarry