“Holding Together”: The Photogravures of Rodrigo Valenzuela
by Megan Liu Kincheloe
Rodrigo Valenzuela: Stature at Asya Geisberg Gallery
October 29 to December 19, 2020
537B West 23rd Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, asyageisberggallery.com
At first glance, the works in Rodrigo Valenzuela’s recent exhibition at Asya Geisberg Gallery look like drawings, but the images are actually built from a complicated series of “translations” from one medium or situation to another. The Chilean-born LA-based artist’s starting point in these images is the ubiquitous polystyrene forms of consumer packaging; these are then cast into concrete components and carefully stacked into composite sculptural forms that are then photographed and translated to photogravure.. Defying their immovable appearance, the sculptural forms are specifically constructed without reinforcements or adhesives binding the parts together and exist only for their final output in two-dimensional form, as seen here in these intaglio prints.
Each ‘stature’ is photographed against the same industrial backdrop of the artist’s own studio. This repeated tableau serves as a constant, displaying the technical array and sleight of hand employed from image to image—shifting variations that move the forms between solidity and surrealness, and variously reveal the glimmering textures of the stained concrete and the flanking metal grating that come to life under the velvety tonalities of photogravure. The results echo portraits of Brancusi’s studio “anonymous sculptures” of Hilla and Bernd Becher. Some are reminiscent of the structural sketch-up paintings of fellow 2013 Skowhegan participant, Avery Singer. More pointedly, many recall brutalist architecture or pre-Columbian ruins. Valenzuela’s forms resonate with a highly particular power that manages to fuse the martial, the technological, the prehistoric and the occult.
His photographed constructions always start with materials charged with meaning. Previous bodies of work employed photocopies (which he terms “the material of bureaucracy”) and dimensional lumber and other construction materials to underscore the importance of invisible labor. While earlier work regularly depicted a dismantled architecture in a state of destruction or ruin, Statures offers portraits of integrated architectures born of deconstructed and discarded elements that seem equally born from the alienations of capitalism.
There is a tension in the work between formalist order and improvisation, and an impulse for transparency of means versus a manipulation of means. Valenzuela’s upbringing in Pinochet’s Chile, his interest in brutalism, and, according to the gallery press release, his ”fascination in the power of architecture to impose control” all seem pertinent to a reading of these images as Corbusian puzzles rejecting and affirming signals of power. Architecture and authority share the task of “holding together” various structures to create order and stability. Repeated translations of the image in the convoluted interplay between artistic modes (from discarded material into sculpture to photography to final rarified product in photogravure) confuses the authority of Valenzuela’s architectures and intentionally disrupts this stability — as humble materials are fortified and monumentalized, and/or the integrity of the final monumental image is undermined and denied. In any case, the works themselves comprise an ideal recipe for artistic authority: politically meaningful starting materials; a demonstrated art historical awareness; seductive formalism; transformation of media; an opulent finished product.
Despite pandemic-related slowdowns, this exhibition is part of a global tour: exhibited last at Kandlhofer Galerie in Vienna in October, after New York it moves next to Patricia Ready in Chile in 2021. Each work is an edition of eight with two artist’s proofs. Viewers home-bound at this time can also enjoy the images in the artist’s beautifully designed monograph, Journeyman, published by Mousse in 2020.
Image: Rodrigo Valenzuela, Stature No. 7, 2020. Photogravure, 31 x 35.25 inches. Edition of 8 plus 2AP. Courtesy of the Artist and Asya Geisberg Gallery.