A New Post for a New Year: My Roommate Alicia Herrero

[Images courtesy of aliciaherrero.com.ar]

The end of 2012 was oh-so-hectic down here, but it’s a new year now, and to make good in a small way on the whole seasonal rebirth/renewal theme, I’m posting an update. It’s a long-overdue introduction to my indefatigable roommate/dueña/friend, visual artist Alicia Herrero.

One of my luckiest breaks in Buenos Aires was finding my way into Alicia’s beautifully restored turn-of-the-century PH. She’s not only a wonderful person to live with and a constant source of insight and intellectual challenge; she also makes great art. Her most reject project, Museo de la economía política del arte (Museum of the Political Economy of Art), just ended a solo showing at Buenos Aires’ prestigious 11 x 7 Gallery. It’s wonderful.

The show uses images, video, and three-dimensional pieces to critically examine contemporary art market practices and their influence on artistic production and on the capitalist system at large. At its heart stands the Action-Instruments Box, a “toolkit” that enables anyone with a computer to develop alternative metrics for the success of art. Model graphs show works reshaped along two axes, one measuring the piece’s price per square centimeter at auction, the other the overall average for the lot in which it sold. A neatly designed catalog incorporates dozens of these lushly colored analyses; the huge mutli-fold pages reproducing elongated Rothkos and Warhols force a visual confrontation with the far-from-aesthetic forces bubbling just beneath the surface at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. I love this box, and I’m not alone. MALBA, BA’s leading museum, acquired one for immediate display.

[In the Banco Nación]

Alicia has done lots of other stuff, too, including a bold series of performances/ interventions in spaces like the Banco Nación and the Argentine Capitol planned under the aegis of the University of Buenos Aires’ Laboratorio de Investigación en Prácticas Artísticas Contemporáneas, which she leads. It’s all on her website, in Spanish and in English. Right now I’m helping Alicia update the English side, and the more time I spend there, the more enganchado I get. Check it out if you’ve got some time.

Welcome to 2013 — ¡E.M.A.N.C.I.P.A.C.I.O.N. ya!

[In the Capitol]

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Horacio Zabala at 11×7

At the recent opening of Horacio Zabala’s excellent show, Otras cartografías / Obras 1972 -1975 (Other Maps / Works 1972 – 1975), I learned that I am, in fact, still a wimp–at least when it comes to approaching famous artists I’ve long wanted to interview. Here’s what I wrote about it for Juanele:

I’m a cartophile. I can lose myself for hours on Google Maps, and my bedroom walls are papered with schematics of some of the places I love most. Maybe Horacio Zabala’s are, too. At the very least, the pieces featured in 11×7’s exhibit of his work, Otras cartografías / Obras 1972 -1975 (Other Maps / Works 1972 – 1975), make it clear that Zabala has both something to say and the tools to say it cartographically.

The opening itself was a cultural experience, its onda quite a departure from the typical vibe at the edgier, less-establishment galleries where I most often find myself. That much I could have concluded from the neighborhood alone. Half a block from Patio Bullrich (where one can spend 100 pesos on two coffees and an apple bar, as I discovered firsthand one pecuniarily painful afternoon), 11×7’s located smack at the epicenter of porteño Old Money.

Marta amid the maps

Sure enough, past the tuxedoed waiter with a tray of wineglasses balanced on one palm, the gallery was packed nearly wall-to-wall with the exquisitely dressed and the important-looking. Even Marta Minujín was there, her Andy-Warhol-blond hair and giant sunglasses all-but-impossible to ignore. (I desperately wanted to talk to her, but, seeing no break in her conversation, I wimped out.)

With the gallery so crowded—and the majority of the patrons deep in conversation right in front of the art—it took some maneuvering to see the works themselves. When I did manage to squeeze my way to the front, though, I was like a kid in a candy shop; the very sight of such well-crafted and well-conceived cartography had me smiling broadly.

No doubt, Zabala’s works could be read on a political level; it’s hard not to hear political overtones in a series of Argentine maps, layered one atop the other, each with a larger hole burned into its center than the one below—especially one like Seis imagenes del fragmento 30, created as the country was tearing itself apart in 1973.Visually devouring the works, however, I was struck most not by Zabala’s message but by his precision, by the mastery of geographic form evident in his simultaneously fanciful and plausible Deformaciones y hundamientos I-IV, and by the studied irreverence of Aparaciones/desaparaciones (a) – (f), carefully plotted on sturdy, lined pages torn from a student’s notebook. Zabala might have been building his own world, but he was willing to do so within the constraints of cartographic practice. And I was more than happy to indulge.