Everything is Borrowed___
Alejandra von Hartz Gallery, Miami. February - March 2009
A 60 ft. wallpainting, 18 works on paper, 4 paintings taller than the space and 2 more works comprise this exhibition created especifically for Alejandra von Hartz Gallery in Miami.
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Installation view: Everything is Borrowed, Miami 2009
Gesamtkunstwerk Jaime Gili
I had been thinking of writing about Jaime Gili for a while. Lack of time delayed the endeavor. Now, the exhibition Everything is Borrowed at Alejandra von Hartz art gallery in Miami has furnished me with the perfect excuse.
Before I start to expound on a series of considerations and ideas about Jaime Gili’s painting, I believe – as I set forth in my latest book – that it is important to speak about the current state of painting and that unstoppable return – or rather, excess. “Has painting once more become urgent? It is said that the actual interest –writes David Lillington - is the consequence of 9/11. The art world has panicked and goes back to the most safe, commercial, and conservative art form: painting. Maybe it’s true, maybe not, but it is evident that painting is a witness to a small resurgence.” History always repeats itself, albeit with small retouching here and there. Back in the 80’s, Benjamin Buchloh had already outlined, in the form of “a new classicism”, the (periodical) return of easel painting and traditional values; just as it had happened with Picasso, Malevich, Derain, Severini, Carrá and many others since 1915, and with a special fervor in the interwar period.
It seems highly pertinent to remember this moment of classicism, which irremediably pushes us towards Jean Cocteau’s old and well-known Le Rappel à l’ordre. And I say that it seems highly pertinent, because Jaime Gili’s pictorial proposition lies at the Antipodes of this current aesthetic orthodoxy, delving into an integral, coherent and ambitious practice of what we may refer to as “expanded painting” : the relationship and interaction of painting with other media such as photography, video, installation, performance, sculpture or the digital, and on any kind of support. Secondly, Gili’s work links with the Wagnerian spirit of the total work of art, or gesamtkunstwerk, because of its interdisciplinary focus and ambition, which comprises different art genres, such as installation, or public art and architecture. Finally, I would also like to make reference to the “nomadic” character of his life – Caracas, Barcelona, London – which shapes and nourishes his artistic practice and that search, or rather ricorso: a return to concerns and matters that constitute the roots, contradictions and conflicts of artistic and social order of his native Venezuela.
Everything is Borrowed opening, Miami 2009
There are some concepts that I consider it is interesting to touch upon when explaining the contemporary character of Gili’s work, as most references to said work have been widely established in previous texts. These texts discuss references to Venezuelan modernity, public space and popular culture –Jesús Fuenmayor, Juan Ledezma, Edgar Alfonso Sierra-, to European modernity –Barry Schwabsky- or to (post) modern concerns such as repetition, speed or movement –Sacha Craddock, David Ryan.
Taking a retrospective look at Jaime Gili’s work, we become aware of the fact that, throughout these years, his pictorial development has been governed by an overwhelming logic, however much this logic may be labeled as “unknown knowns”. Let me explain myself. The year 1998 entails a rupture – not in the literal sense – for that is when the first juxtapositions take place of abstract-minimalist car doors – “PhA” type – and the first kinetic compositions that slowly adopt the form of tall and elongated paintings, leaning on the wall – “GFP”. In the year 2001, the first series of the stars arrives – “alma” – and with it Gili materializes that stylistic change that had been showing through. Already as from 2003, which coincides with his first trip back to Venezuela, everything begins to fit and that “unknown knowns” becomes “known knowns”; which would bring us to the latest series, Everything is Borrowed, and a new turn of the screw.
Installation view: Everything is Borrowed, Miami 2009
However, before analyzing the works on show at Alejandra von Hartz art gallery, it is imperative to analyze the conceptual load of his work and, particularly, the sense that Gili assigns to the concept of “modernism” and his ability for change and utopia. I must say that I have a different perception from Jaime’s with respect to the idea of modernism or the lasting value of said modernism. In my opinion, the modern project has ended, it is kapputt, for post-modernity, with Derrida and Virilo at the front, imbued science and progress with such enormous mistrust, considering them corrupted by capitalism, that they proved incapable of arriving at the truth and bringing about the longed for change . According to Jaime Gili, “The European modernist project may have failed or ended, but not elsewhere: in South America there are still many cities to build, and it may be something sustainable from an ecological point of view. […] In my opinion, modernity is a spiritual state, the willingness to work alongside others in order to attain a specific goal, beyond mere formalities. And the austerity, the use, of the materials that are necessary nowadays, like recycling, fit my idea of modernity in a perfect way. In this sense, Carlos Raúl Villanueva is a perfect example, because to build the “Universidad Central de Venezuela” he requested the collaboration of visual artists from the very beginning of the project." Jaime understands that his modernity is possible, in spite of the fact that some may consider it utopian. Quoting American sociologist Daniel Bell: “ The idea of revolution still mesmerizes some, but real problems arise on the day after the revolution.” [And I find it practically impossible not to think about the current situation in Venezuela.] On the other hand, let me make myself clear, I do not subscribe to post-capitalist, post-historic sensationalism and the idea that all that remains is the market or what is left of it.
But let us go back to the total work of art or gesamtkunstwerk, and that for two reasons: 1) for Jaime Gili, art is idea-based and not medium-based, generating a dialectic that is nourished by diverse media and disciplines in the framework of one work of art alone and independently of the context, be it the mobile design for a helmet or bus, a poster, a public art project or an intervention in an art gallery; 2) because it links with the very Wagnerian idea of staging and influencing the perception and imagination by fully immersing the spectator in the midst of the work.
Detail of wallpainting and work on paper, Everything is Borrowed, Miami 2009
In this way, in the exhibition Everything is Borrowed there is, on one hand, an interaction between the wide gallery wall – which the artist has directly intervened– and a group of works on paper and some paintings, and on the other hand, a series of narrow and elongated paintings – “tracks” – reminiscent of “Oterian” aesthetics, inserted in the space, which rest on the art gallery’s beams. The spectator is able to stroll along the mural on the lookout for the possible narrativity in it, or move among the paintings whose backs are exposed, in which is for Gili a wink towards Lina Bo Bardi’s Museum of Modern Art of Sao Paulo of the 40s, the design of which was thought of as without walls, in such a way that the reverse side of the paintings could be seen, but that reminds me also of Peggy Guggenheim’s exhibition Art of this Century in New York (1942). Like back then, the explicit insertion of the spectator in the mise en scène is important, forcing the work of art – the object – and the spectator – the subject – to share the same universe.
The contrast between the spotless mural and the paintings, which we now experience as freer and with more gesture, “rougher” and, even, with visible drips, give us a glimpse of a practice in which repetition and symmetry have, gradually, given way to more spontaneity and dynamism. The stars have been left behind. Is this the new (fast) track along which Jaime Gili wants us to drive now that Everything is Borrowed?
Installation view: Everything is Borrowed (4 Pistas, 315 x 71 cm.) Miami 2009
Thanks to Manuel Zapata, Begoña López, Kathryn Mikesell, Joaquina Testa and the von Hartz Family.
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