Time to look carefully at Mexico’s most important artist, says S. L. CONWAY
Pop for a moment into Room 11 at the moment in Tate Modern, and you face some of the most exciting Latin American art currently to be seen in London. Along with Gabriel Orozco (whose striking work was in the Tate mere months ago), and Gabriel Kuri, Cruzvillegas has been at the centre of the YMA movement that has swept through Mexico City over the 90s and Aughts.
For set up, across the four walls of this simple room, are both manic energy and frenetic calm: heavy paint holds on to the black sheets on one wall, kinetic, excessive reds reproduce and shatter across the walls of another. This is Autoconstruccion (2008), Cruzvillegas’ work from his 2008 residency in Glasgow and it is, in truth, as exciting as anything he has done since Observatorio Oriente (the beeswax, wire and fabric sculpture which was completed in the middle of the last decade). The title, Autoconstruccion (literally ‘self-building’) takes as its theme, the idea of houses and the elements of self-building and finding. It is about, says Cruzvillegas, “the failure of the promise of consumption”.
The Latin-American Acquisition Committee of the Tate is to be warmly congratulated on the purchase: subtle, beautiful, difficult – Cruzvillegas’ newest works are entirely what the Tate should be doing at the moment (and brings to a close, one would hope, the absence of serious Mexican art in London). Smaller sculptures sit it in the middle of the room: wood, wire, earth. It is breathtaking to see them together.
The Tate has, excitingly, drawn the usual comparisons both with Arte Povera and the Russian Constructivists (though it is impossible to look at modern Mexican art without drawing comparisons with Suprematism) – though the gallery does a disservice, to my mind, to miss out (or dismiss) the influences of Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay-Terk. Colour here acting as a medium to arrive at important messages about geopolitics, colonialism and (unfashionable though the term may be) mere love.
When Cruzvillegas wrote for the 2002 San Paulo Biennal, he wrote: “However art makes itself evident, it shall remain, above all, raw source material in all its natural, unstable, physical, chaotic and crystalline states: solid, liquid, colloidal and gaseous. It is the joy of energy.” Nowhere does that become clearer than in the red flags (each an individual flag of some impossible, divided Mexican Republic or distressed Chinese dictatorship) fluttering but still against the wall (almost as if shot like buckshot against the whiteness of the Tate’s walls). Facing down the black sheets across the room (who suck in and push out, like Malevich, the potency and colour of the works), it is as aggressively thoughtful in placement as concept.
I must declare an interest as a fan of Cruzvillegas’ work: sitting above me in my study as I type this is a work I purchased of his back in the Frieze festival in London three years ago. This work, to be seen before it vanishes back into the Tate’s vaults, is as important as anything else in the collection.
S. L. CONWAY
Autoconstruccion by Abraham Cruzvillegas can be seen in Room 11 of Tate Modern. Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG; tel: 0044 207 8878888.