View of “David Bestué,” 2015.

View of “David Bestué,” 2015.

David Bestué

garcía | galería

View of “David Bestué,” 2015.

Barcelona-based David Bestué first came to prominence as part of a duo with Marc Vives, with whom he had systematically and mockingly subverted the tropes of modern sculpture through performances that gained the pair international attention, for instance through their participation in Daniel Birnbaum’s Venice Biennale in 2009. Working on his own since 2012, Bestué has relentlessly elaborated a critical slant on architecture. In carrying out this critique, he transcends artistic and aesthetic concerns, often sneaking into the realms of engineering and constructive techniques.

Bestué’s first solo show in Madrid was titled “La España moderna,” after a magazine popular in Spain at the turn of the twentieth century. Miserable and melancholic after the collapse of its empire, the country was worn down, and a good number of intellectuals sought to heal a wounded national identity by reassessing its culture. This movement, commonly called “Regeneracionismo,” was Bestué’s point of departure for a journey across Spain—but far from finding unity, his expedition served to unmask the sheer heterogeneity of the country’s features. His observations regarding its variety of architecture and construction techniques link up with other dimensions of the culture, from landscape to memory, literature to domestic habits, provincialism to megalomaniac bling. The resulting works, a blend of performative and sculptural propositions, are the fruit of actions Bestué undertook in the various locations he visited.

The exhibition offered various ways to understand Spain’s diversity but, as many will have guessed, it lacked the gravity and solemnity of the texts that inspired it. Bestué’s stance is, to say the least, sardonic, as demonstrated by the trip he took to El Escorial, the late-sixteenth-century monument built under King Philip II to glorify his empire after a victory over the French. The building is a formidable reticular mass of granite that inevitably brings to mind Spain’s imperial past and the sober gravity of its memory. Bestué’s work consists of little granite fragments scraped off the structure’s walls and placed in a curved resin tube whose lightness and shape evoke the opposite of the monument’s bombastic aura. Similarly, Filtro de luz (Light Filter; all works cited, 2015) consists of filings from arrows and bullets that were used in legendary battles placed on a lightbulb that discreetly illuminated a wall, reducing any commemorative spell to a rather imperceptible stain.

A blend of the readymade and the playfully constructed artifact, Bestué’s works share the unmistakable substance of poetry. The stone of an olive from the oldest olive tree in Spain is displayed in an eyebolt (Oliva de la Farga de Arión). In another work, Dos luces (Two Lights), an aged crystal lamp neighbors a halogen spotlight in a somewhat clumsy structure. The show was certainly full of odd encounters. The works’ implausible formal syntax may derive not only from Bestué’s skepticism toward the current sculptural trends but also from his fear that sculpture may shatter the full potential of poetry. His journey through Spain seems to have supplied him with a set of aesthetic coincidences that inspired him to let his work roam from the universal to the vernacular, from reminiscences of a magnificent past to the somewhat quaint domestic vulgarity of our own times, one that we seem unlikely to ever shake off.

Javier Hontoria