BY IDA RODRÍGUEZ
January 16, 1963
The disconcerting panorama of modern art causes many to look at aesthetic uncertainties with distrustful, even jaded, eyes. Paintings or sculptures today are, in their way, expressions of "rebels without a cause," or generally confused concepts. While the numbers of art galleries and the public which more or less participate in the fashion of abstract art are growing, the man in the street is disinterested and without understanding.
It seems the restless, young artists of our time neither make nor want to make likable or entertaining art. They don't want their art to be considered as possible decorations for bourgeois homes, though some of them are. So, if we don't consider them to be shameless or crazy, and try to take them seriously, we must ask, "What do they want?"
Using two artists of the vanguard who recently exhibited their work in Mexico City as examples, one can try, perhaps, to define what is going on in the chaotic world of art. Both artists live in Mexico, though one, Bruce Conner, is a North American.
On the opening day of the Conner exhibition (in the Antonio Souza Gallery) the artist displayed a self-conscious posture by opening a suitcase containing thousands of marbles which ran over the floor of the small, narrow salon. The surprised public didn't know where to look. On the walls were hung a series of objects composed of elements of discarded trash. Medicine bottles, old cardboard boxes, fur, trivial reproductions from magazines, nylons, broken glass, hair, candles, etc. created a hodgepodge of screaming colors and incoherent sensations. They seemed to be shouting desperately, "Down with the aesthetic of the museums and galleries. Down with all the pretty pictures which are lies. The truth, here you have it."
The overwhelming impression on the public from this chaotic and confusing demonstration is of an extraordinary mix of religious, erotic, and folkloristic elements. Nothing could be more shocking. Obviously, Conner wanted to create this shock. However, the pensive spectator must ask if this incoherent scream is not also the reflection of his own image and situation. Isn't this a fundamental and most realistic expression of our own general confusion?
Without a doubt, this is not a concept of beautiful or pretty art, but a crazy dance with the elements of destruction which continually surround us. In other words, Conner is truly an artist of our time. His discomfort creates a realist's atmosphere; a reflection of what he sees of our life and our world. His attitude, more than his aesthetic, is moral. He shows modern man a reflection of his confusion, his lack of stability, and his repugnance.
The work of another artist is very different. A few weeks later Vicente Rojo presented an exhibition of paintings at the Protea Gallery.
Canvases, among them some of considerable size, are absolutely tranquil. Most of them are nearly monochromatic, with a very small range of colors, covering the wall of the gallery. Around the rectangular paintings one can discern a square form which follows the exterior margin of the frame. Its monumentality is like a block of carved stone. The refined treatment of different textures which create an agitated microcosmos serve the artist as an internal movement of these painted blocks. But that agile texture is subordinated, like that of the stones, to each massive and compact form.
These works, each one separately and taken together, express a vision of the "New Prehistoric" which we find ourselves in. For Rojo detail is only important to reinforce the composition. The Conner exhibition dealt, at first glance, with the destructiveness of our age. There is here a profound and constructive will; rough and barbarous. They are made with the coordinated force of the senses to mold a single formal truth.
The impact of these works aspire to a concept of total integration, leaving a sense of security. Here is an artist who builds a structure with a firm base upon which one can build the future.
Total abstraction, maximum concentration on a single concept, for lack of established philosophical values, is expressed, through the sensibility of the artist, in paintings. These works are not painted to adorn the walls of elegant dining rooms. They are reflections of a constructive, philosophical preoccupation. Rojo doesn't paint the outdoor panorama but retires to his inner world where – within an aesthetic field – he creates firm values. It is great ambition presented with great modesty. Here there is neither neurosis nor noise, and if there is, it has been interiorized and sublimated in an extremely reduced vocabulary. Each painting is a single, affirmative word. Only this way can mankind find himself.
We have apparently spoken of two opposite concepts; the work of Rojo and Conner is different more in philosophy than imagery. Nevertheless, this takes in two artists of the same time. We could easily find other foci on the same problem of modern man using other artists. However, without going too far afield, one could say that these two are appropriate examples.
Neither Rojo nor Conner is isolated in this search. They represent, without a doubt, the vanguard of art of our time. Analogous phenomena exist in other countries. Artists like Robert Rauschenberg (USA), Arman (France), or Daniel Spoerri (Switzerland) move in the same line as Conner – a tendency that has evolved in art from the time of the Dadaist movement (1916). Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters established a sculptural language with everyday items and bits of trash.
On the other hand, Vicente Rojo could be included with such artists as Jean Dubuffet (France), Jasper Johns (USA), Antoni Tàpies (Spain), and Jan Lebenstein (Poland). French critic Michel Tapié called this movement, born after World War II, "another art," opening a new vision of beauty. In 1948 the Spanish movement "Escuela de Altamira" discovered parallel visions as well, making the artist aware of the birth of a new age. They called it, with optimistic vision, the "New Prehistory."
The essential thing is that in all these cases the artists are not only "producers of beautiful works," but they go beyond to formal and aesthetic problems. This is a great revolution in search of ethic values. Though we are perhaps too close to appreciate its importance, one cannot deny that this art is not limited to the few. Like the philosophy of Spinoza, Kant, or Hegel, it did not stay in the hands of the intellectuals, but transcended to the masses, and now forms, though invisibly, part of our life as human beings.
Since we are leaving the age of individualism of past centuries, the art of these new creators seems the work of a prophetic minority. It is rapidly converting itself into a modern language. Very soon, though under different signs, there will come to life the new society for which we all aspire.
Translation: Thor Anderson
This translation from Spanish to English is Copyrighted 1989 by Bruce Conner.