Getting Directions at the Hirshhorn

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As humans, we are curiously fascinated by destruction–the destruction of reputations, of ideas and especially of things. That fascination is turned into conceptual art by the two featured artists of the Hirshhorn's new exhibit, Directions:  Cyprien Gaillard and Mario Garcia Torres.

French multimedia artist Cyprien Gaillard’s Polaroid snapshots are arranged in nine-picture, diamond-shape patterns inside glass display cases, and they appear like specimens providing evidence to the decay and impermanence of man’s structures, be they recent or ancient. Locations are varied, ranging from international historical sites, like Angkor Wat, to the more obscure, such as a church in Gary, Indiana.

Even his medium is not long for this world. “They’re intentionally taken on Polaroids, which is a format that will fade,” says guest curator Kristen Hileman from the Baltimore Museum of Art. “It’s light sensitive, so even Cyprien’s artwork will eventually be destroyed. It will disappear–it won’t last forever.”

And Gaillard’s video installation echoes similar destructive sentiments, yet in a more dynamic and visceral fashion. It includes the demolition of a suburban Paris housing block, replete with a laser light show and fireworks, and a rumble between what looks to be the Russian version of the Bloods and Crips, all set to a vaguely 80s electro-synth soundtrack.

As the winner of this past October’s prestigious Prix Marcel Duchamp, Gaillard essentially has one year to create enough new work to comprise a solo show at the Pompidou in Paris next September. “It’s kind of a, as the French would say, un cadeau empoisonné ,” Gaillard said to me while he was making the final touches to the exhibition. “You’re really glad you have it, but at the same time you’re like, whoaaa!!!”

Mexican artist Mario Garcia Torres’ works tend to delve into the past, and his multimedia work entitled,  Je ne sais si c’en est la cause , is no exception. The piece is a study of mosaic-style murals created in 1960 by the French painter Daniel Buren ("the stripe guy”) for a resort in Saint Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Both the murals and the resort were tragically damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and the place was abandoned for nearly 20 years. Torres investigated the back story, researching archives and traveling to the resort; and his findings, accumulated over several years, are essentially the basis of his artwork. The artist uses two concurrent slideshows, juxtaposing the old and the new. One projection shows the current overgrown, decayed state of the resort, and the other shows vintage images of the hotel. A turntable spins throughout, providing cool lounge music grooves as an island backdrop.

These exhibits play on viewers' natural curiosity about what's disappearing and what's gone. Catch Directions:  Cyprien Gaillard and Mario Garcia Torres at the Hirshhorn before it goes away March 27th.

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