The 9.99 the Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition entitled “En otro orden” (Another order), featuring a new group of works by Guatemalan artist Darío Escobar.
“En otro orden” consists of nine sculptures, four paintings and ten drawings. The sculptures are presented in dialogue with American minimalist sculpture, not as a continuation of it, but as an exploration of its aesthetics and its socio-economic structure from an artistic and intellectual space. Escobar sculptures contrast with the austere minimalist works by inserting the industrial object, which had a fairly significant presence in contemporary sculpture in the 1990s.
Minimalism was born in the sixties and is geographically focused on the island of Manhattan, New York. A purely American movement, Minimalism refers primarily to a type of sculpture or three-dimensional works made beginning in the1960, which emphasize the abstract and downplay the expressive, avoiding any embellishment or decoration. Among the most renowned exponents are Donald Judd, Ron Bladen, and Tony Smith who exploited industrial mass production and Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, and Robert Morris who chose to present the objects, as they were indistinguishable from found objects, generating an art that could be classified as non-art because of its aesthetic ambiguity.1 Both currents show a preference for the object’s lack of content.
The sculptures in “En otro orden” identify with both developments and especially with the work of Donald Judd and Carl Andre. Still Life No. 4, Still Life No. 7, and Equilibrio No. 1, made from fabricated materials such as steel, plywood, and rubber, identify with the current represented by Judd. Judd’s preference for putting distance between him and the object by refusing to produce them himself was initially strongly criticized.2 However, this position is now quite common and is inherent in the works of Escobar mentioned herein. For Judd it was a way of maintaining control over the material 3 and so it is for Escobar. But Escobar contaminates the minimalist spirit of his work with the addition of industrially manufactured objects that are easily recognizable as basketballs and baseballs. Escobar does not show the material in a “pure” state as would Judd but introduces a Duchampian gesture: the easily identifiable found object.
The Duchampian readymade is also evident in the works that have a closer relationship with the austere sculpture of Andre. Equilibrio No. 2, Untitled No. 1, Untitled No. 2, and Untitled No. 3 are made of wood beams and thick wood pieces in different sizes that rest directly on the floor, as is characteristic of Andre’s work. They are examples of a type of unadulterated sculpture. Their genesis is wood that Escobar found in a local sawmill and used as is, changing its configuration by rigging beams and square blocks in a vertical or horizontal orientation. The presence of basketballs and soccer balls balancing precariously on a fairly sophisticated play of balance is amusing and contrasts with the severity and lack of expressiveness of the wood. The spherical shapes temper the rigidity of the straight lines.
The same applies to Balance No. 3, the only work that is made of square steel plates. The 25 steel plates form a grid measuring 98 7/16 x 98 7/16 inches in the style of Andre, but unlike Andre’s grids, which tend to rest flush with the floor and were meant to be walked on, Escobar fragmented the grid by placing tennis balls under it. The balls subvert the geometry of the work by allowing a glimpse of the negative spaces beneath it; its hard surface is turned into a kind of false floor that precludes a direct physical relationship with the work because one cannot stand firmly on it.
Untitled No. 1 is an atypical work within the exhibition because its forms lack the exactness of the other works. The irregularity of the hoe handles reveal their hand-made origin: a found object used by Escobar to create a work which, despite its uniqueness, it has a relationship with Minimalism in the use of the repetition of forms. The incorporation of a baseball at the base of each vertical element accentuates its physical imperfection, makes it unstable, and adds to its anthropomorphic appearance because it resembles an animal’s leg. Untitled No. 1 leans against the wall with the top of the hoe handles forming a straight horizontal line that contrasts with the bottom, which seems undulating and disorderly. While for Andre the transformation of the materials was unnecessary and the use of raw unadulterated materials essential in his questioning of what and who makes a work of art, Escobar is determined to destabilize again and again these and other principles of Minimalism from a non-hegemonic perspective and in relation to more recent artistic trends.
The exhibition is completed by ten drawings made with cinnabar pigment and graphite on paper and four small paintings on wood. The series entitled Dibujo que no obedece al contorno No. 1-10 (Drawing that does not obey the contour No. 1-10) shows solid geometries that do not fit into similar forms that are barely glimpsed due to the delicacy of the graphite line. Their solidity and forms have a certain kinship with certain sculptures by Tony Smith, as they do not easily reveal themselves but require time and attention as any work that is based on visual perception. The use of cinnabar pigment, employed by the Maya in ceramic painting, bestows them a unique and valuable attribute for the rarity of the material and its use in contemporary art. As their titles indicate Construcción Modular No.1-4 (Modular Construction
No. 1-4) are geometric paintings that reflect the interest Escobar has for abstraction, usually expressed in his drawings, but continued in a series of paintings with movable panels begun in 2010. Close to Frank Stella’s objective paintings of the sixties, these works embrace geometry in order to eliminate the potential narrative of painting.4
The works in “En otro orden” openly converse with the American Minimalist movement and especially with its two pillars—Donald Judd and Carl Andre. With this Escobar attempts to open a dialogue that is pending in Central America, and certainly in Guatemala since the cultural disruption caused by the armed conflict that began in the sixties. It also tries responding with humor and perhaps a dose of boldness to an artistic expression that is characterized by a severe and plain aesthetic and to rethink, half a century later, the relationship that exists between the artist and the subject from Escobar´s own perspective.