Shotgun Reviews

Verónica Bapé and José Porras: Filtros at Diagrama

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. For the next four Sundays, our Shotgun Reviews will come from the finalists for the Daily Serving/Kadist Art Foundation Writing Fellowship in Mexico City. In today’s edition, author Marisol Rodríguez reviews the work of Verónica Bapé and José Porras at Diagrama in Mexico City.

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Verónica Bapé. Investigación del color sobre el retrato (Investigation of color over portrait), 2015 (detail); oil on wood, acrylic paint, acrylic sheets, and wood; 78 x 248 in. Courtesy of Verónica Bapé and Diagrama. Photo: Andrea Martínez.

In Filtros (Filters), Diagrama presents the work of Verónica Bapé and José Porras, two young Mexican artists whose take on painting and sculpture is one of formal deconstruction and a refreshing detachment from local historicity. Traditionally, Mexican painting is difficult to separate from the monumentality of the muralists, an influential all-male group of militant painters consolidated in the 1920s. Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, “The Big Three,” not only created a didactic and distinctively Mexican form of representation, they also provided the country with an ideology that turned their art into an institution, thus dividing the 20th-century local art world into followers and angry detractors.[1]

Far from past and present parochial feuds, the characteristics defining Bapé’s work come from 19th-century Romanticism and its scientific approach to color. In Investigation of Color over Portrait (2015), Bapé works from a found black-and-white picture to create a small color painting punctuated by warm tones. The canvas is then divided, the side containing the most defining features of the face detached and replaced with evocative rectangles of colored acrylic. The work is a delicate physical transaction between representation and abstraction; it hovers between expression and an ultimate detachment that favors rationalization over straightforward emotion.

The idea of the filter gets a different treatment from artist José Porras, who has found a couple of unlikely collaborators in moths and paper-eating insects. In Polín (2015), Porras intended to create a ceramic model of a moth-eaten piece of timber. Unable to reproduce it in a single piece, the resulting work is composed of dozens of small chunks that bear witness not only to a technical accident, but also to a cognitive process where visual complexity is perceived but underestimated, becoming difficult to grasp and impossible to cast in a one-piece object.

The exhibition’s high point is in an upper corner of the gallery, where viewers will find a yellow balloon partially trapped by splattered plaster. Now less than half full, the cheerful object is slowly deflating. José Porras’ suggestive Yellow Balloon (2012) insists on what Filters points at: the impossibility of art’s most traditional mediums to translate physical and emotional experiences without removing valuable nuances in the process. Acknowledging the medium as a filter in itself, the artists use painting and sculpture’s constraints to rise above contextual and historical reality. The fact that these works are allowed time to mature while being actively discussed in a noncommercial space adds excitement to a modest but effective exhibition.

Verónica Bapé and José Porras: Filtros is on view at Diagrama through May 30, 2015.

Marisol Rodríguez is a freelance journalist, exhibition maker, and researcher in cultural studies.

[1] Largely supported by the state through the years, Muralism and the values it stood for remain the image of what “proper” Mexican Art is and should be: reachable, public, illustrative of a socialist ideology that the state applied indistinctly during the early 20th century. Although many artists managed to partially escape these constraints (see “The Generation of Rupture”), the influence of the muralists remains present not only in the way art is financed and disseminated in Mexico, but also in how it is perceived internationally. For more information on the politics of the movement, see Frances Stonor Saunders’ excellent text “Mexican Modernism and the Politics of Painting,” http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jun/29/mexican-modernism-politics-paint-rivera.

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