Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Luis Cruz Azaceta's Museum Plans

Alfredo Triff

There is almost nothing in Luis Cruz Azaceta’s Museum Plans, his recent exhibition of mixed media at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, that makes one think of 1980’s New York. Certainly, there is a path one can follow in Azaceta’s stylistic transformation, from those garish, colorful, idiosyncratic self-portraits, reflecting the Neoexpressionist Geist of the Reagan years, to this more sober, abstract, less iconoclastic, nonetheless thought-provoking work of today. In the mid-1980’s Azaceta appropriated “la balsa” (the raft image), made it his signature and pursued it relentlessly.

This is before the raft became “cool” in the art of the Bedias and the K-Chos of the world. It was the right symbol for the times: The decade of Capitalist self-indulgence and excess, solipsism was in the air. Azaceta’s self-depiction was not an excuse for reverberation and self-aggrandizement (Clemente, the Italian painter being a notorious example). Instead, Azaceta made his rafter alter-ego a trademark for revolt and self-definition. What better cipher than the bearded, hirsute looking artist, quixotic, alienated nomad, paddling his way through labyrinthine loops, network crossings, fragile grids and mechanic entrails? Then, toward the mid-1990’s, as the mazes got bigger, the rafter got smaller and smaller until it got swallowed by a part-mechanical, part-digital mind-boggling system (it was not a coincidence that Azaceta decided to move to New Orleans).

This new work hints at a formal -as well as material- development. At first sight, it has a Douglas Huebler-like architectonic flavor, which can be traced back to Dada (particularly the Duchamp from 1919-1925 or Picabia’s Portraits méchaniques), or even better, a Situationist-like space, but without the hyperpolitics. In our porous, smaller post-Capitalist global village, the X-Cold War exile, becomes an existential/aesthetic rather than a political/semiotic wanderer: Revolt exchanged for suspicion, Kafkian to the core with more questions than answers.

Museum Plans looks like coded messages being sent between incommensurable paradigm-shifts (The Twentieth and the Twenty First Century). They have an anthropomorphic/topographic quality about them: Figure that Frank Gehry, Luis Kahn, Charles Bukowski, Kafka and Reinaldo Arenas have museum plans -as well as Havana and Miami Beach. In “Museum for Reinaldo Arenas,” we notice a grey and black-colored box-like apparatus with edges painted in red and yellow, showing a little sphere coming out of a conduit on the upper left hand side of the canvas. If this is the body, the green silicon-chip glued on the piece’s axis (next to a tentative sketch), would indicate the Cartesian pineal gland, the center of cogitation.

The biomorphic-looking “Museum Plan for Kafka,” hermetic and oppressive, resembles a solid-in-revolt, with its silicon chip inside a busily dot-filled colored core surrounded by conical pipes showing little eye-like bulbs. “Air Carrier” is a hybrid between Space-shuttle and Airbus, populated with tubular inner passages, cul-de-sacs, toy cars, airplanes and helicopters attached onto the painting’s surface. Finally there is “Museum plan for Edison,” sort of an archaic drum-brake-like mechanism: Three coils, one upside down, connect to a crankcase through an internal passage going all the way inside the apparatus’ brain. Aside from the obvious Dada connection, Azaceta’s rhizome-like cerebral sketches remind me of Warren Chalk and Peter Cook’s mid-1960’s drawings for Archigram, an association which in both instances, point to moments of bafflement, introspection and curiosity.