Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Pablo Palazuelo at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Pablo Palazuelo at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

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Pablo Palazuelo, Omphale II , 1962, Oil on canvas, 277 x 207 cm. Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul. Photo : Claude Germain.

BILBAO, SPAIN.- The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents one of the most complete retrospectives to date of the work of Pablo Palazuelo (Madrid, 1915), a key figure in Spanish art of the second half of the 20th century who, sadly, has yet to enjoy the kind of international recognition his oeuvre deserves. Organized by the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and co-produced with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the exhibition takes up the entire third floor of the Museum. On show are some 350 works, many of which the general public has never seen, as they come from private collections or the archive of the artist and his family. Also included are a number of artworks from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection.

Unlike previous anthologies of Palazuelo’s work, which were limited to presenting his artistic development chronologically, Palazuelo: Work Process looks at the most neglected aspects of his oeuvre, displaying gouaches, paintings, sculptures and a number of sketches and drawings. Together, the works provide a sort of personal rulebook for his creative processes, which he considered to be even more important than the finished artwork. Recent art historiography has tended to class Palazuelo’s work as a kind of idealist abstraction, with close links to currents of spirituality and a holy conception of the artist and his work. A major influence in his career was his twenty-year sojourn in Paris, where he became interested in esotericism, the Cabbala and forms of knowledge not associated with Western thought.

References to art history are also clear in his work, particularly the notion of line derived from the work of Paul Klee (a complete revelation for Palazuelo), Russian Constructivism as practiced by Gabo and Pevsner, and the early work of Kandinsky and Mondrian. But his interest in scientific thought, in math, music and the physical laws of nature, was every bit as important—if not more so—to his career. Indeed, both exhibition curators, MACBA director Manuel J. Borja-Villel and Teresa Grandas, believe that such interests “helped him develop a very personal mode of abstraction based on the analysis of natural forms and the use of geometry, linked to a rational, ‘preformative’ process.”

This explains why the exhibition is not the traditional kind of retrospective giving a chronological overview of the different stages of his career. Instead, it focuses on works that illustrate more clearly the artist’s search for a type of abstraction closer to notions of process, performance or relation. This is particularly true of his production from the 1950s and 60s, which in this exhibition is given a more extensive outing than is usually the case.

Theatricality in the work of Palazuelo - In his famous 1967 essay Art and Objecthood, Michael Fried coined the concept of “theatricality”, intended as a criticism of certain practices, in particular Minimalism, which, from the viewpoint of modern visuality, implied the disappearance of the autonomous artwork and its confusion with the ordinary. In other words, according to this notion of theater, the meaning and value of a work is not an intrinsic truth to be revealed, but depends more on the exchange occurring between the viewer and the work in its public setting and the discursive structures around it. The viewer thus becomes an interpreter of the work, an actor in a play that is updated through his experience and which therefore is caught in a potential, open state quite the contrary to what is understood by modern autonomy. Rather than using an established idea or an unambiguously uniform figure as the platform for his works, Palazuelo concentrates on the relationships established between forms. In his work, the modes of visuality proper to modern abstraction coincide with performative, theatrical working methods more akin to Fried’s notion of theatricality as formulated in his critique of Minimalism.

The unending quest for new forms - So Palazuelo’s forms are open, and it is up to the spectator to complete them. His forms generate transformations restlessly, forever fuelling dialogues that act on the relational spaces emerging between them. Imagination plays a major role as an activator of hidden reality; the real world is, in turn, an organ of knowledge. The works selected for this exhibition, produced by Palazuelo in different stages over a period of more than fifty years (1949–2005), highlight the creative metamorphosis arising from this unceasing quest for form. Throughout his career, forms undergo continual transformation, appearing, disappearing and surfacing again in different guises, gradually coalescing into “families”(his term for the groups of works with clear biomorphic relationships to each other).

This evolution of forms is the result of an analysis of structure and of the needs and sensations they produce in him. “In a way, making geometric forms fulfils a much deeper need to discover what lies behind things, the deep structure”, said Palazuelo in a monologue for television filmed in 1996. For this reason, the exhibition does not seek to underscore the much-fêted mystical or esoteric facet of Palazuelo’s work. What it concentrates on instead is its “definitively theatrical” side, distinguished from classical abstraction in its renunciation of autonomy of forms in favor of the tension between them, of the process and transformation they undergo. Which is why Palazuelo’s formal explorations break with modernist tenets, except for the fact that, unlike the object literalness of Minimalism, the literality in his work is the result of an internal, reflective process. So it is hardly surprising that, after the research done to organize the exhibition, Manuel J. Borja-Villel should refer to Palazuelo as a solo artist, the lonely “bachelor” of Duchamp’s machinery of desire, who seeks to reaffirm his idiosyncrasy in Spanish—and even French—art circles.

Didactic approach to the exhibition - To aid visitors’ understanding of the life and work of Pablo Palazuelo, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has paid particular attention to the Didaktika section accompanying the exhibition. Together with an introduction to his life, Didaktika offers a series of key concepts including quotes from Palazuelo himself, notes from catalogues and essays on the artist and his oeuvre, plus definitions supplied by theorists and scholars of his work, all of which facilitate our understanding of the show. Didaktika also gives an insight into the artist’s creative process by screening two documentaries produced by Spanish public television corporation RTVE in 1977 and 1996, scripted and directed by journalist Paloma Chamorro. Several pieces are also played to give listeners an idea of the musicality that pervades the work of Palazuelo.

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