Carmen Calvo, Queridas mías (My Dears), 2020, digital print, paint, collage, 37 3⁄8 × 54 3⁄8 × 7 5⁄8".

Carmen Calvo, Queridas mías (My Dears), 2020, digital print, paint, collage, 37 3⁄8 × 54 3⁄8 × 7 5⁄8".

Carmen Calvo

A partial re-creation of Carmen Calvo’s studio in her survey show at IVAM seemed like an artwork itself, not only because the wooden shelves piled with small plaster pieces, racks lined with mannequin body parts, and drawers full of antique objects contained much of the material from which the artist makes her mixed-media sculptures, but also because the staged space reflected the taxonomizing impulse that characterizes much of her work. Born in 1950 in Valencia, where she has lived since, save some years in Paris, Calvo moves between assemblage and collage, combining objects accumulated from flea markets and antique shops to craft elusive narratives often concerned with indicting misogyny. The show spanned the major series of Calvo’s career, from the rows of enigmatic painted-stoneware hieroglyphics bound to canvas in her early series “Escrituras” (Writings), ca. 1970s, to the more heavy-handed recent collection of enlarged and collaged found photographs, such as Queridas mías (My Dears), 2020, in which a mannequin torso riddled with pushpins is affixed to a portrait of a group of girls whose faces are blotted out in yellow.

While the porcupined torso attached to that photo verges on being didactic, Calvo’s decades-long use of pinning and binding as a formal strategy was generally compelling. In Autorretrato (Self-Portrait), 1994, for instance, various items—a stiletto, a hair clip, a miniature plastic paella pan, an ax, a paint palette—were bound by thin wires secured with metal tacks to a plush stuffed canvas. Calvo employed the same method, as well as pearl-headed pins, to fasten figurines, a tuft of doll hair, and other ephemera to an array of notebooks and novels that were part of the studio display. Though the things themselves possessed the vaguely auratic patina of antique bits and bobs that could prompt trails of association, the violence implicit in binding was a more intriguing quality. This technique positioned the self-presentation in Autorretrato as a kind of entrapment, while also accentuating the threat in the many pointy-edged, would-be weapons assembled there. Calvo was probably referring to Hans Bellmer, another artist who employed a form of binding in his contorted life-size dolls, in a gridded address book from 2021 that read HANS in stenciled silver letters. Calvo’s work takes Bellmer’s supposedly sublimated mangling of the female form to task by employing a metaphorical register in which she employs a pervasive formal violence—from the subtler act of binding to more explicit mannequin assemblages, such as the pair of legs gouged by a sword in Pero el silencio estaba ahí (But the Silence Was There), 2021—to speak to (surprise!) actual violence.

While still menacing, La natureleza agita (Nature Stirs), 2011–22, an enclosure paved with red-nailed, white terra-cotta fingers, struck a more ambivalent tone. Viewable by peering through a doorframe-size opening, the installation with its hundreds of red dots was reminiscent of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. What were these zombiesque protrusions indicating? By multiplying a gesture at once tantalizing and accusatory, the installation literally enacted the primary impulse in Calvo’s work: to point a finger at the patriarchy.