Buenos Aires

Verónica Madanes, Enamorada del muro (In Love with the Wall), 2021, acrylic on canvas, 50 3⁄4 × 39 3⁄8".

Verónica Madanes, Enamorada del muro (In Love with the Wall), 2021, acrylic on canvas, 50 3⁄4 × 39 3⁄8".

Verónica Madanes

Living with unresolved questions can be disconcerting, especially during periods of great uncertainty, when life as we know it seems to become upended. Sometimes, a negative answer may offer some form of respite. A succinct sound with the power to contradict an idea or refuse consent, the word no was what Verónica Madanes chose to be the title of her recent exhibition of new paintings. The first-ever solo show presented at the artist-run space Fantazia, “No” captured the haziness and distress caused by the unpredictability of life over the past two years.

Born in 1989, Madanes is an artist ridden, like most of us, by a sharp sense of anxiety. Her paintings embody a kind of visceral abstraction that rejects the tenets of conventional mastery of technique: She paints fast, frenetically, chaotically, finishing copious amounts of work along the way. When her studio burned down three years ago, she began painting lavishly, her practice haunted by the threat of material loss. When she spoke with me during a recent visit to her studio in Buenos Aires, she told me how an urgency to paint has shaped her into the kind of artist who will avoid making eye contact with others as she walks hastily to her studio every morning. She is the sort who will cut a trip short to get back to painting sooner. The works in “No” conveyed this sense of determination. More than half of the paintings in the room hung on one wall, installed tightly against one another, as a vibrant sextet of scenes in opulent colors and spontaneous brushstrokes. The ensemble bore hints of figuration, as suggested by such titles as Little Apples (the abstract becomes taste #1), 2020; The Swamp, 2021; and Ayax Sunbathing, 2021, but mostly captured the energy of an artist laboring through a reactive process of self-preservation.

The title of the largest work in the room, Enamorada del muro (In Love with the Wall), 2021, is both the name of a kind of creeping fig and a play on words insinuating that a passionate adherence to the support might cause the painting, or the artist, to crawl up the walls. In another work, Untitled, 2019, Madanes inscribed the word no repeatedly in gray strokes against a nuanced black-and-white background. Notwithstanding its dubious legibility, we were reminded that, graphically, no condenses the gestures of a line zigzagging from corner to corner, followed by a full circle returning to its origin—an evocative tension between wandering and orbiting. In this work, the techniques of painting transfigured the exhibition’s anchoring theme, arriving at a marriage of idea and form, discourse and matter.

In the context of an artist-run space, where a nonprofit logic allows artworks to exist outside a market economy, “No” granted visitors an experience of painting with an unusual degree of immediacy and access to the artist’s process. Obscuring the views into the exhibition space were sheets of paper pasted on the windows and doors, with copies of a poem collage that read, in Spanish: “Spring of enjoyment, / near is that revolution that / evokes times / of stones, / liberty and extravagance.” Compiled by Madanes from magazine clippings, the original cutout sentences emerged from a studio routine: She would rearrange the sequence as a daily warm-up before moving on to painting. This kind of collage strategy has a political implication: an intention to reassemble what is given in the world in order to gain a different access to it. The resulting poem refers to the anticipation of an unforeseeable future: an apprehension toward what is coming that pervades and distresses our perception of time and can, as Madanes’s work shows, be at once registered and alleviated by the practice of painting.