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Hirshhorn Presents Major Guillermo Kuitca Retrospective

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Major Guillermo Kuitca Retrospective

Washington, D.C., Is Last Stop of National Tour 

For more than 30 years Guillermo Kuitca (Argentinean, b. Buenos Aires, 1961) has forged a distinctive path as an artist, creating visually compelling works that reflect his intense and often ambivalent relationship to his primary medium: painting. “Guillermo Kuitca: Everything, Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980–2008,” on view Oct. 21–Jan. 16, 2011, presents over 45 canvases and 25 works on paper, spanning the artist’s career. The exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of the artist’s work in the United States in more than 10 years and is co-organized by the Hirshhorn, Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. and Miami Art Museum in Miami, Fla. Douglas Dreishpoon, chief curator at Albright-Knox, is the organizing curator, and the presentation at the Hirshhorn is coordinated by Evelyn Hankins, associate curator. With the opening of this retrospective, the museum is launching a year of exhibitions featuring the work of Latin American artists working in a diverse range of media, including “Directions: Cyprien Gaillard and Mario Garcia Torres,” opening in November, and “Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space,” with pieces by Carlos Cruz-Diez, Lucio Fontana, Julio Le Parc, Hélio Oiticica and Jesús Rafael Soto, which opens in June 2011.

“Part of the Hirshhorn’s commitment to international contemporary art has always been a focus on the artists of Latin America,” said Kerry Brougher, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator. “The Hirshhorn acquired its first work by Kuitca back in 1995, when he was still an emerging figure, and we have watched his reputation continue to grow ever since. We are pleased to have co-organized this retrospective and to be able to present the full spectrum of this insightful artist’s work in Washington, and we look forward to the upcoming year featuring exhibitions with some of the most influential Latin American artists of our time.”

Kuitca’s work is characterized by recurring imagery, most notably spatial and mapping systems such as seating charts, architectural plans, road maps and numerical sequences, as well as theater sets, beds and baggage-claim carousels. Through these Kuitca explores universal themes of migration and disappearance, the intersection of private and public space, and the significance of memory. “Guillermo Kuitca: Everything, Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980–2008” includes pieces from all of the artist’s major series, as well as a broad range of his works on paper, which have played an important role in the evolution of his painting. At the Hirshhorn, coordinating curator Hankins will work closely with the artist to install the show. This venue, with its distinctive circular layout, provides a unique opportunity for Kuitca to explore his ideas about public architectural space.

The exhibition begins with works from the 1980s inspired by the artist’s involvement in theater during the early part of the decade. One of Kuitca’s formative artistic influences was the avant-garde theater of legendary choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch (German, 1940–2009). Kuitca’s canvases from this period bear titles inspired by plays, literature and popular music. Works such as “El mar dulce” and “Siete últimas canciones,” both completed in 1986, are reminiscent of stage sets viewed from a distance, with tiny figures acting out seemingly mysterious and disturbing dramas. Ideas about absence inform later paintings in this period: haunting scenes populated with overturned chairs, sullied beds that appear to be on fire and spotlit microphones abandoned by the speaker.

Kuitca’s works of the late 1980s and early 1990s, purged of figures, explore architecture and geography, as well as domestic and communal spaces. Working with the floor plan of a one-bedroom apartment inspired the artist to foreground other representations of spaces—plans of public institutions; city, highway and topographic maps; and reimaginings of road maps and star charts. The floor plan, normally thought of as an objective depiction of a location, and the map, ostensibly a navigational tool, become, in Kuitca’s hands, vehicles for poetic musings about place and non-place, memory and loss, migration and displacement.
Kuitca further explored organizational systems inspired by plans, maps and public spaces throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. In the “Neufert Suite” paintings (1999) the artist references diagrams and data contained in an architect’s handbook to create a blueprint devoid of architectural signs and focusing solely on the objects such spaces would contain. “L’Encyclopédie” (2002), a series of works on paper, reconsiders the work of French philosopher Denis Diderot, who attempted to condense the whole of human knowledge into a single set of books. The “Global Order” drawings (2002) fuse a map of the world with building plans for domestic spaces, identifying borders and notions of “place” as the changing products of human invention. The paintings “Terminal” (2000) and “Trauerspiel” (2001), based on airport baggage-claim carousels, serve as metaphors for tragic journeys without end. (“Trauerspiel” is a monumental work that is part of the Hirshhorn’s collection.) More recent works, such as the “Desenlace” series (2006–07), demonstrate Kuitca’s dramatic departure from previous paintings by referring to the history of abstraction.

This exhibition not only demonstrates Kuitca’s relationship to painting but also his affinity for drawing. The act of drawing stands out as an important part of Kuitca’s creative practice, taking forms such as linear articulations on paintings and notations scrawled on sheets of paper. These works, along with large collages and small manipulated digital prints, reveal how certain ideas are sustained, reinvented and abstracted across media, especially when seen in the context of his paintings. This prolific and diverse body of work inspires viewers to contemplate their relationship not only to the object in front of them but also to their place within the larger world.

Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kuitca has garnered international attention since the mid-1980s. His first solo exhibition took place in 1974 at the Galería Lirolay in Buenos Aires. In 1985 he represented Argentina in the XVIII São Paulo Biennal. His work was first shown in the United States in 1989, in a group exhibition at the Americas Society of New York, “New Image Painting: Argentina in the Eighties.” In 1991, he had his first solo museum exhibition, a “Projects” show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He continued to exhibit internationally at museums and galleries throughout the 1990s in cities such as Amsterdam; Valencia, Spain; and Paris. 

The most recent survey of Kuitca’s works, covering the period 1982–2002, was organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid and traveled to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires in the summer of 2003. Kuitca was chosen to represent Argentina at the Venice Biennale in 2007.

“Guillermo Kuitca: Everything, Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980–2008” is accompanied by a comprehensive, fully illustrated catalog that includes essays by Dreishpoon; Olga Viso, director, Walker Art Center; Terence Riley, former director, Miami Art Museum; and Andreas Huyssen, Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. The book explores the artist’s career and in particular addresses his relationship to drawing, a previously under-examined aspect of his practice. It also features a series of interviews with the artist by Graciela Speranza, professor of Argentinean literature at the University of Buenos Aires, recorded between 1997 and 2008.

Major funding for the exhibition is provided by the Bruce T. Halle Family Foundation, AXA Art Insurance Corp. and the Leadership and Honorary Patrons Committees, with additional catalog support from Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. The Hirshhorn’s presentation received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Related Programs
On Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Ring Auditorium, Kuitca discusses his work with Speranza for Meet the Artist. The exhibition is open prior to the talk. 

On Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Lerner Room, Luis Alberto Ambroggio, Nela Rio, Lila Zemborain, Mercedes Roffé and Alicia Borinsky, some of the most eminent Argentinean poets living in the United States and Canada, present an evening of spoken word accompanied by musical selections. “Poetas Argentinos en Estados Unidos y Canadá: Celebrando las Raíces” has been organized by the  Smithsonian Latino Center, the Hirshhorn and the Embassy of Argentina in the United States, as part of the series “Argentina at the Smithsonian 2010.”

On Jan. 13, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the Ring Auditorium, Huyssen discusses Kuitca’s work in relation to recent conversations about transnational modernism and its imaginative transformation in the contemporary arts in a lecture titled “Guillermo Kuitca: Painter of Space.” 

The Hirshhorn offers a range of interactive educational experiences designed to engage people of all interest levels in contemporary art. Friday Gallery Talks are weekly lunchtime chats with artists and scholars that focus on one work in depth. The museum’s ever-expanding library of podcasts (featured on iTunes in the top 100 Arts and Entertainment podcasts) make gallery walk-throughs and interviews with artists accessible internationally.

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