Mexico City

Gabriel de la Mora, Cristales de inevidencia (Glass Slides of Nonevidence), 2014, glass stereoscopic slides, cardboard box, 4 1/4 x 4 1/4 x 1 3/4". From “Formasobrefondo.”

Gabriel de la Mora, Cristales de inevidencia (Glass Slides of Nonevidence), 2014, glass stereoscopic slides, cardboard box, 4 1/4 x 4 1/4 x 1 3/4". From “Formasobrefondo.


Gabriel de la Mora, Cristales de inevidencia (Glass Slides of Nonevidence), 2014, glass stereoscopic slides, cardboard box, 4 1/4 x 4 1/4 x 1 3/4". From “Formasobrefondo.”

The duality of figure and ground is a basic concept: necessary to visual perception, and seemingly automatically comprehensible. But what can contemporary art still do with the notion? With work by eighteen diverse artists, “Formasobrefondo” (Figureonground), curated by Willy Kautz, formerly of the Museo Tamayo, presented subtle and intelligent responses to such a seemingly simple question, illuminating the perceptual and cognitive variables in the entire unseen universe that exists behind these three simple words: figure on ground.

The invention of pictorial perspective radically changed the gaze itself—the production and comprehension of pictorial space—by allowing the artist to “figure the distance within the two-dimensional.” In this sense, Leo Marz’s painting series “Monolito” (Monolith), 2017, which opened the show, seemed like an exercise in optical training. Further on, the twenty-six collages by José Luis Sánchez Rull, Talk to Your Daughter, 2015–17, an unbound artist book presented as a polyptych, visually (but not conceptually) complicated the figure-ground relationship with text and images that appeal to a multicolor post-kitsch aesthetic with a poetic flavor: Phrases—confessions, illusions, and life tips—offer themselves up in overpopulated compositions, their layered meanings seemingly peeling apart to reveal their origins in a sense of intimacy.

Gabriel de la Mora, an old hand at transforming found materials of all sorts, presented works utilizing layers of stereoscopic glass slides, relating the optical and spatial aspects of figure and ground to a type of scientific modesty: Cristales de inevidencia (Glass Slides of Nonevidence), 2014, and CI / 470 I (67, 66, 69, 68, 65, 66, 69) P.o., 2016. The works’ poetic spirit was echoed in the manipulated paper mural Dynamic diagonal grid, 2017—a simple and meticulous wall-hung work made from symmetrical, repeated, origami-like folds of paper—by the always impressive Ignacio Uriarte, who also had a video on display. Black and white square monochrome, 2006, is a continuous sequence that shows a grid filled out and emptied again and again with a pen controlled by a hand as persistent as it is conscious of its own inadequacy before such an initiative. Sebastián Romo’s Cuaderno de apuntes (Notebook), 2013, with three semitransparent prisms emerging from a notebook open almost to the middle, mediated the three-dimensionality of the objects with the two-dimensionality of the page inhabited by words and unidentified sketches.

The heartbeat of the show was La significación del silencio (The Meaning of Silence), 2016, by Verónica Gerber Bicecci. On two parallel rectangular tables, forty graphite-and-Chinese-ink drawings were displayed. Affixed to the corner of the first table was a small-format book, La significación del silencio (The Meaning of Silence, 1996) by Luis Villoro. Gerber Bicecci has translated or reconfigured the entirety of the book, page by page, into drawings. Its words disappear, and the relationship between figuration and meaning becomes guided exclusively by the text’s punctuation marks, which the artist represents as circles of varying sizes and degrees of saturation. Grammar is depicted as formal, geometric relationships on a page. Divested of language, the works offered an almost musical account of silence among background forms. 

An impeccable gesture that could easily have passed unnoticed bade the visitor farewell. On the upper right-hand side of a flight of stairs, the spectral presence of Fred Sandback’s Untitled, 1990, transformed air into sculpture, into indescribable spaces devoid of material or full of emptiness: figures without ground, or grounds that become figures in yellow, red, and blue wool. Observing this last piece with sensorial faculties heightened by the exhibition as a whole, the viewer might have recalled one of the phrases Villoro used in La significación del silencio: “To refer to things through signs that supplant them constitutes the essence of language . . . without being obliged to suffer its presence.” I exited the gallery certain that this exhibition had allowed me to grasp something of the visible in multiple languages.

Marcela Quiroz

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.