Everything is Coming Up Guillermo Kuitca at the Hirshhorn

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When you think of maps, seating charts or architectural plans, does “art” immediately pop into your head? It does for Argentinean artist Guillermo Kuitca (b. Buenos Aires, 1961), who is known for his works that make use of repetitive motifs and spaces like these. The Hirshhorn’s new exhibit, Guillermo Kuitca: Everything–Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980-2008 opens today, and is the first comprehensive survey show of Kuitca’s work in the United States in over 10 years.

At the start of the exhibit, you’re immediately faced with the striking futuristic sweeping gray and black curves in the piece, “Terminals,” where Kuitca almost makes baggage-claim carousels sexy.

But the official “beginning” of the exhibit is the earliest work on view, the simple, yet haunting “Del 1 al 30,000.” A true origins piece, it helps provide the viewer a better idea of from where Kuitca is from, and how that environment would later influence his art. Kuitca came of age in Argentina during the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time of state-sponsored oppression and violence toward dissidents. Using a numbering motif that he employed early in his career, Kuitca represented the estimated 30,000 who disappeared during Argentina’s “Dirty War” with tiny inked numbers on canvas, creating a textured pattern when viewed from afar.

There’s subtle undertones of menace and violence in his works­–the stark settings, empty chairs, empty beds, and empty baby carriages (in a nod to Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin). And there’s power in his repeated patterns, along with the reds, blacks and whites that he often employs. His large paintings occupy the walls comfortably and draw you to them with bold shapes and lines.

“I think what makes these works powerful to people is that they are both familiar and strange,” says Hirshhorn’s associate curator of modern art, Evelyn Hankins, the coordinator of the exhibit. “So at first you look at something and you think, “Oh, it’s a seating plan.” And then you take a closer look at it and you can see the very subtle, or sometimes more obvious changes, in the case of the collages, that the artist has put in the piece. And then you realize that everything is not the way it’s supposed to be. I think it’s also what makes his work interesting, how it sits on this line between representation and abstraction.”

For the exhibit’s title work, and one of its largest pieces, "Everything," Kuitca disassembles and recombines maps in assorted ways over a large scale, eventually obscuring them to abstraction and a state of grandeur so that the roads end up appearing like patterned white cracks over a huge slate tablet tetraptych.

This show is the first in what will be a year of exhibitions at the Hirshhorn featuring the work of Latin American artists. You can get more even more personal insight on the artist later this evening. Guillermo Kuitca will be discussing his work tonight in the Ring Auditorium at 7:00.

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