Is it still important to talk critically about Surrealism today? This avant-garde episode of international art history has been revisited over and over again, from tributes and revivals to critical works and retrospective exhibitions. From a purist, restricted view, Surrealism is reduced to a datable European movement that ended in the mid-20th century. For others, the term is a tradable currency, a flexible category used to label anything that exceeds an “average” or realistic representation of things—a superfluous application that doesn’t consider the historical grounds on which the concept was developed. Between these two poles, there’s a vast area that demands a renewed approach. It is within that space that Objeto Móvil Recomendado a las Familias, an exhibition on Argentinian Surrealism at OSDE Espacio de Arte in Buenos Aires, occurs.
Curator Santiago Villanueva states in the first lines of the exhibition’s text that there was no specific outline or agenda for the Surrealism movement in Argentina. The most concerted attempt to establish a Surrealist group in the country took place in 1939 (fifteen years after Breton published the Surrealist Manifesto) with Grupo Orión, a collective of visual artists that couldn’t maintain a stable and unified aesthetic project for long. Their dissolution was imminent. Ambiguity, however, can nevertheless provide a fertile ground for possibilities, and that is precisely what Objeto Móvil Recomendado a las Familias tries to prove: When no one is looking at the margins and without strict limitations on parameters, loyalties, and particular interests, things can be built.
Surrealism never actually left the Argentinian art scene. It coexisted with many manifestations in different stages and moments—at times more visible, while at others, segregated by the indifference of institutions and the art market. Instead of following a chronological order or sticking to an aesthetic script, the artworks included in this exhibition follow a survival model (in the way that Georges Didi-Huberman conceives it), where images gain and lose force in a continuous and anachronistic fluctuation. Their arrangement by the exhibition’s designer and artist, Osías Yanov, asks spectators to take an active place in viewing the works. Yanov installs a series of dark metallic structures that can either frame or disrupt the visitors’ stare, depending on where they stand. With this specific display, what are we supposed to look at? Should we identify similarities and discontinuities? Do these structures gather the artworks into one big picture? The museographic resource challenges the exhibition’s spatiality.
Take, for example, the following composition: six small-format paintings, positioned one after the other with a very small gap between them, all aligned at the bottom. Five of the paintings depict human shapes, while the sixth, a crying cup with a printed landscape (Mildred Burton’s El Primer Dolor de Jean Jarrow, 1992), can be thought of as a metaphysical portrait. This is a looking exercise. While the shapes and subjects in the paintings resemble one another, there’s a considerable difference in each work’s dates and creators. The oldest image is by Orlando Pierri, who was part of Grupo Orión, followed by two pieces by Zdravko Dučmelić, Burton’s 1992 painting, and finally Tobías Dirty’s scatological drawings, both dated 2016. One of Yanov’s metallic structures on the floor traces a curved, ascending line toward the right side; this indicator outlines a reverberant tension within this proposal to see all the pictures as part of a whole, and, simultaneously, to appreciate their irreducible strength.
Without further text beyond the curatorial statement and the technical information for each artwork, the relations that appear between the pieces are organic, fluid, and astonishingly sincere. The intense research behind the exhibition is also still noticeable at all times. The oddness of some of the characters painted by Leónidas Gambartes echo in Miguel Harte’s self-portrait S/T (Autorretrato Multiplicado), (1991–1992). Fermín Eguía’s walking nose, Paseo Nocturno de la Creatura (2011), can easily dialogue with Emilio Bianchic’s Fashion Number One Rule Number One (2017), a satirical soap opera where a famous singer’s feet are the protagonists. The uncanny atmosphere of asylums and deserted landscapes captured in Mariette Lydis’s paintings can be found in the hyper-sexualized scenes from Tobías Dirty’s drawing Baba del Diablo (2016).
Despite moving the spotlight to brighten peripheral and renegade artistic productions, Objeto Móvil Recomendado a las Familias is not a reclamation exhibition. Its main intention doesn’t lie with a reconsideration of the canon of the Surrealist experience in Argentina. On the contrary, this exhibit calls upon autonomy and identity. Through the montage device, there’s no interest in settling a closed genealogy. Instead, it is a nonchalant and powerful way to weave new visual relations, a Surrealist constellation, a big reckless party between generations, themes, and techniques that celebrates oddness and willingness.
Objeto Móvil Recomendado a las Familias is on view at Espacio de Arte de Fundación OSDE in Buenos Aires through April 29, 2017.