Buenos Aires Herald Sunday, July 4, 2004
By Alina Tortosa
For the Herald
Energy as the key to life and creativeness, energy as the means to material and intellectual survival, is the backbone and the key to the work by Victor Grippo. Grippo / Una retrospectiva. Obras 1971 – 2001, a partial retrospective of the work by this artist, that opened last week at the Malba – the Buenos Aires Latin American Art Museum- illustrates for the visitor this criteria.
His work was exhibited and admired world wide as one of the valuable contributions to XX c. thinking and aesthetics. A quiet, modest man, who was sure of himself, not to be deviated or deterred from what he thought best and from what he wanted to do, and who, at the same time, was surprised to draw to himself the attention and admiration he drew. This combination of unworldliness and strength, nurtured by knowledge and erudition, places him among one of the most interesting minds we have come across in the art world
He studied painting and sculpture in Junín, province of Buenos Aires, where he was born in 1936 of Italian immigrant parents. The atmosphere in his own home and of his native provincial town provided the feedback and support he needed to develop his intellectual and creative capacities. His father, a builder, introduced him as a child to moulding through plaster, an element he would use often in his work, and his mother and his sisters, who drew for pleasure, introduced him to drawing.
At the age of 17 he moved to La Plata to study Chemistry and Design at the La Plata National University. A deep understanding of the essential values of these two disciplines laid the foundations for his work as an artist: a sense of purpose and a sense of economy, a feeling for the spare, run through the body of his work.
After an exhibition of his paintings at the Lirolay gallery in 1966, Grippo realized he wanted to go beyond paint on canvas to refer to basic human needs, such as work and survival. This took him to look for other materials and to a different way of showing his work. His scientific experience led him to explore the link between science and art. He thought of potatoes when looking for a medium easily found in daily life in large quantities that would represent energy and the transmission of energy. He also found in simple, well used domestic tables, or in tables used for the different crafts, a medium and support for his aesthetic essays on labour.
Potatoes and tables, the modest media that have become the clue to his work as we know it, again and again rightly described as conceptual, are also emotional choices that refer to his early home life.
Through his Analogies of the 1970s, beautifully installed in the current exhibition at the Malba, Grippo proved that potatoes, if wired with zinc and copper electrodes, transmit electric energy.
The tables in the show are the support and context for the tools and elements used in manual professions, they are sensual and poetic installation that suggest rather than illustrate a way of life. Tables are also the surfaces on which words are written, words as the sustaining substance that burrows into our consciousness and irrigates our gestures and our beliefs.
Life-Death-Resurrection (1980) has been impeccably reproduced as the sense of this piece relates to a biological development that must take place during the show. Beautiful geometric metal figures were again filled with wet beans. The beans ferment and grow eventually into plants that will break through the neat metal structure. A wonderful metaphor: art, design, craftsmanship are means to an end, but life itself is the mediator. This work is an article of faith on the inevitability of evolution, on the beauty and the joy of creation through a process that goes from the whole to the decadent to growth.
Because of his knowledge of chemistry and because of his strong metaphysical and poetical leanings, Grippo chose to address the composition of his work and to address the equilibrium between basic needs and aesthetics, between the material and the spiritual, the ordinary and the extraordinary through alchemy to transform the nature of matter. Alchemy is the non scientific predecessor of chemistry. It was held in great respect in the Middle Ages as one of the means to transform base metals into gold, to discover a life-prolonging elixir, a universal cure for disease and a universal solvent.
This conception of alchemy implies that the material elements that go into the making of a work of art are transformed, through the mediation of the artist, into a presence imbued with sacramental value beyond its components. This criteria of his gives us an inkling of the deep respect in which he held his own work.
A comprehensive catalogue has been published for the occasion with introductions by Eduardo F. Costantini, president of the Costantini Foundation and by Marcelo Pacheco, curator in chief, with texts by Ana Longoni and Adriana Lauría, Argentine art historians, by Lilian Llanes, Cuban curator, who showed Grippo’s work in the Fifth La Havana Biennial in 1994, by Guy Brett, English art historian, on the artist’s visit to England in 1996, when he went with his wife, Nidia Olmos, to prepare for the show the following year at the St Ives Tate,by Angeline Scherf, French curator, Director of the Musée de Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and by Justo Pastor Mellado, Chilean curator. There is an extensive and well documented reproduction of works by the artist and photographs. The bibliography includes texts by the artist, texts by third parties and press articles. The texts and information on the work are translated into English.
(Grippo / Una retrospectiva. Obras 1971 – 2001, Malba / Colección Constantini, Figueroa Alcorta Avenue 3415. Until September 6).
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