Mexico City

  View of “José León Cerrillo,” 2016. On floor: Double Fault (Dresde 2), 2016. On wall, from left: New Grammar (tie breaker), 2016; New Grammar (error forzado) (New Grammar [forced mistake]), 2016. Photo: Ramiro Chaves.

View of “José León Cerrillo,” 2016. On floor: Double Fault (Dresde 2), 2016. On wall, from left: New Grammar (tie breaker), 2016; New Grammar (error forzado) (New Grammar [forced mistake]), 2016. Photo: Ramiro Chaves.

José León Cerrillo

  View of “José León Cerrillo,” 2016. On floor: Double Fault (Dresde 2), 2016. On wall, from left: New Grammar (tie breaker), 2016; New Grammar (error forzado) (New Grammar [forced mistake]), 2016. Photo: Ramiro Chaves.

I arrived at the gallery to find the lights still off, the door locked. No matter. A look through the windows revealed an exhibition made to be seen from the outside looking in. From the street, I could see a blue tennis-court floor cutting through the space, landing like a slanted pancake on top of the rooms. In some ways, this piece—Double Fault (all works 2016)—presented a visual paradox. Because it traversed more than one room, it couldn’t fully be comprehended from outside; the only way to understand it was to move through the space. Yet the exterior perspective was in other ways more helpful, offering the distance to observe, for instance, how the diagonal echoed the lines in the pieces hung on the walls, and interacted with the two concrete balls, each paired with a nylon exercise jacket, that made up Problem (0) and Problem (1). The tennis court brought the whole show together, not just visually but formally, by materializing a set of rules that oversee the movement of bodies in competition and thus a kind of grammar, echoing the title José León Cerrillo gave his exhibition, “Nueva gramática, doble falta y las posibles” (New Grammar, Double Fault and the Possible Ones).

I leaned onto the window and cupped my hands to take a better look. The lights came on, wham!, as if for a match at Wimbledon; the harsh, cold illumination, almost acidic in its pure neon whiteness, made surfaces and textures come alive. I entered and began to notice how all the“paintings”—or rather, wall reliefs made with modeling paste and screen-printing on plywood—had layers and transparencies, and that their imagery included letters and numerals (most often M, W, A, O, H, 8, I, and X, all of which were formally symmetrical and therefore potentially abstract) and also geometric shapes that are in fact patterns for the jackets. Though one might initially label these pieces abstract, they actually refer to concrete parts of the body. The characters present in the wall pieces were taken from the designs on the water-resistant nylon exercise jackets. In Problem (0), the jacket is partly buried in a concrete ball, its letters making it into a potentially wearable poem, one that could envelop a subject, even if the material it is printed on is repellent. These pieces embody Cerrillo’s concerns with giving shape to language—to its porousness and impenetrability.

Problem (1), the smaller of the two ball-and-jacket sculptures, is a ghost of sorts; the letters and their possible combinations have vanished from the white garment. In both these pieces, the impermeability, lightness, and synthetic perfection of the jackets contrast with the spheres’ extra-heavy concrete, all four hundred kilograms of it in the case of the larger piece, and slightly crumbling—a deliberate imperfection comparable to that of the wall pieces, in which ghostly erasures and “mistakes” are made possible by silk-screening onto porous plywood.

These recent works represent a development and condensation of Cerrillo’s previous explorations of the relationship between language and art, as well as the themes of transparency and opacity in pieces such as Schindler’s Window, Plato’s Cave, 2011, or his many pieces based on Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Colour (1950), among them Wittgenstein Suite, 2012. Everything was carefully thought through: The materials, and also the titles, many of which poetically relate to tennis, plus the court’s geometry and the game’s rules—all relate to the artist’s search for a visual language that articulates abstraction and poetry through material concreteness. But if in Cerrillo’s previous works there are many pretexts, here, the only immediate reference was to the rules of tennis: beyond that, the show generated its own text—an internal abstract vocabulary.

Gabriela Jauregui