New York

Adrián Villar Rojas, Two Suns (II), 2015, mixed media. Installation view.

Adrián Villar Rojas, Two Suns (II), 2015, mixed media. Installation view.

Adrián Villar Rojas

Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

Adrián Villar Rojas, Two Suns (II), 2015, mixed media. Installation view.

The Argentinean artist Adrián Villar Rojas offers his audience a mash-up of the adolescent iconographies that have fascinated him since he was a teenager: that of sci-fi, with its robots and spaceships; that of the postapocalyptic, derived from graphic novels and video games; and that of the prehistoric, with its dinosaurs and primitive tools. “Two Suns,” his first solo exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, might be understood as an endpoint of his long-term exploration of these surreal pre- and post-human universes.

To explain, it is necessary to return to Villar Rojas’s 2008 solo exhibition “Lo que el fuego me trajo” (What Fire Has Brought Me), at Ruth Benzacar Galería de Arte in Buenos Aires. For that show, the artist turned the basement of the gallery into an archaeological dig filled with thousands of broken clay tiles and numerous sculptures of anthropomorphic creatures. In the midst of the debris and fictional artifacts, visitors encountered a human-scale version of Michelangelo’s David. After a number of solo and group shows in North and South America and Europe, Villar Rojas’s breakthrough came in 2011, with his solo presentation for the Argentinean pavilion at the Fifty-Fourth Venice Biennale; there, the artist created a giant, futuristic forest. Then, at Documenta 13 in 2012, he presented an even more ambitious piece, Return the World, consisting of dozens of sculptures placed outdoors, on the slope of a hill and under a bridge of a highway.

Villar Rojas’s show at Marian Goodman comes after many years on the road with his team of assistants, and felt rather more delicate and subtle compared with his past efforts. The entire gallery was dark, and our eyes had to adjust when we entered from the bright elevator. The floor was covered with cast-concrete tiles of various colors (mostly gray and brown), which contained within them a diverse range of discarded objects such as coins, pieces of plastic bags, and even an old iPod. It seemed as if the artist had whisked us away to a time hundreds of millions of years in the future, when cast-offs we tossed out without a thought have turned into fossils, and a new civilization builds its foundations with this petrified trash. But rather than conveying a sense of rebirth, the show evoked a grim mood: The room was like an abandoned theater stage with the curtain closed after the performance, or a dance hall after the music has stopped and the revelers have gone home. Sentimentality, often faintly perceptible in Villar Rojas’s work, was pervasive in this installation.

But the show’s main attraction was still to come. As we walked down the corridor leading to the south gallery, a long leg came into view. It turned out to belong to Michelangelo’s David—not the David from Florence, but a prone David, lying on his side with his eyes closed. It was unclear if he had lost his fight with Goliath, or if he was recovering from battle—like Villar Rojas, he seemed to want a break from being a hero. This seemed to suggest that the next exhibition will introduce us to a brand-new aspect of Villar Rojas’s work, one in which the artist will “excavate” the clay monuments he has produced over the past seven or so years, performing an archaeology, of sorts, of his own history.

Jens Hoffmann