Guillermo Kuitca, Trauerspiel, 2001, oil on canvas, 77 x 133 ¼ inches. Images courtesy of the artist and Sperone Westwater, New York.
I first met Guillermo Kuitca just outside his installation at the project room of the Museum of Modern Art in 1991. He was showing a group of single beds that were painted as maps and graphically strong figure/ground paintings of apartment layouts without windows or doors. Contemplating the severity of the work, I was very surprised when the gallerist Annina Nosei introduced me to a youthful and energetic blond Argentinean.
Guillermo Kuitca, Untitled, 1992, acrylic on mattress with wood and bronze legs, 20 beds: each 15 ¾ x 23 ⅝ x 47 ¼ inches. Installation view.
Dialectical oppositions or conjunctions were already present in this early show: bed/map; figure/ground; audience/stage; body/sight; home/exile seem to form the structure of Kuitca’s painting and sculpture. Later he began to include exploded theater layouts, record covers of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, hospital plans and street maps made from human bones. With their spare yet poetic aesthetic, these powerful works seduce us and at the same time remind us of what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil.”
Guillermo Kuitca, Planta con texto, 1989, acrylic and oil on canvas, 78 ¾ x 55 ¼ inches.
The Trauerspiel paintings lead us to another subject: space. For the first time Kuitca abandons the flat plane of the map and represents the illusion of three dimensions. The metaphysical character of this illusion is suggested by the restrained monochrome of the light depicted. The surface of the canvas has been worked with many thin layers of paint to produce a strange balance between luminosity and opacity. A literary reference in the Trauerspiel paintings is Friedrich Schiller’s Kabale und Llebe: Ein bürgerliches trauerspiel (Intrigue and Love: A bourgeois tragedy, 1783), a Sturm und Drang drama attacking political corruption and emphasizing moral autonomy, and the emerging middle class caught up in the values of the ancient regime. The luggage belt becomes a barrier defining the tense perspective that forces our attention to the seemingly banal opposition of the public and the state, in this case represented by the white void behind the belt.
Guillermo Kuitca, Heaven, 1992, mixed media on mattress, 74 x 75 x 4 ½ inches.
The 15th Century Neoplatonic philosopher, philologist and physician Marsilio Ficino spoke of his epoch in terms of having to resolve the “difficult freedom” that characterizes a cosmology that centers on the human. The freeform Naked Tango (After Warhol), the artist’s own barefoot steps sketching out a dance diagram In paint, presents the limits of this freedom. With Naked Tango and Trauerspiel, Kuitca creates a new synthesis that reminds us that the beautiful also must die.
Guillermo Kuitca, Naked Tango (After Warhol), 1994, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 58 ⅜ inches.
Note: Recently, walking around the perimeter of the Miami Basel art fair I saw a large print of Naked Tango being sold to benefit Aid for AIDS, a nonprofit organization that helps AIDS patients outside the US by gathering medicines that would otherwise be discarded because of laws governing “used” medicines.