View of “Rodrigo Hernández,” 2020.

View of “Rodrigo Hernández,” 2020.

Rodrigo Hernández

A wide, waist-high white plinth stood in the middle of the narrow front room of the gallery. Behind it, a slim temporary wall, also white, blocked the view to the rest of the larger space beyond. This created the corridor-like setup that Rodrigo Hernández, who divides his time between Lisbon and his native Mexico City, designed for his recent exhibition “Dampcloot.” The show included nine playful, intensely colorful papier-mâché sculptures, all likewise titled Dampcloot and numbered 1 to 9 (all works 2020). Placed close together on that plinth in the center of the room, they seemed to explode as a point of focus in the neutrality of the white cube. The group (including the support) could well have been seen as a single multipart work rather than a gathering of separate pieces. The only work separated from the rest was a framed watercolor drawing, Dampcloot D, on the other side of the false wall.

Each of the sculptures had its own specific palette and patterning, yet they were all characterized by modest dimensions—none reached two feet in any dimension—and chromatic brightness. Even the grisaille Dampcloot D has a patterned layering and scale that accentuated its commonality with the other works. Collectively, they all seemed to share some kind of symbolic or even metaphysical function. The combination of curvilinear with rectilinear forms, their assertion of a direction that related to where and how their interconnected shapes abruptly ended, and the frequent presence of appendages that framed as well as obscure their sculptural and spatial surroundings all emphasized that this grouping was a presentation of abstract postulations. The arrangement was a gathering of ideas—some evidently fragmentary, others more complete—that had literally been given shape and color and volume, but most of all had been posed to accentuate a sense of collective presence and the permeability of the works in relationship to one another. Each piece represented an initial idea or construct, which was then expanded by the contextual positioning and the angle from which it was seen and understood. This vibrant collection of compressed suppositions stood crowded yet in unison on the clear-cut boundary of the shared white base.

And here was where the title Dampcloot came into play. The word was invented by seventeenth-century Flemish mathematician Simon Stevin, who coined it as a Dutch translation of Galileo’s “vaporum sphaera,” vaporous realm—what later became known as “atmosphere.” Stevin combined two short words—as sounds and as hints for vision—to represent something still in movement, to describe something that could not yet be precisely explained by science. It was a way to conjure up meaning without assigning it a fixed foundation. While Hernández’s works and their presentation seemed detailed in their construction and conceptual underpinnings, they also remained open in ways that could further stimulate new connotations and constellations of significance.