Buenos Aires Herald Published Sunday, January 28, 2001
Jorge Macchi's art has evolved from primitive forms to conceptual work
By Alina Tortosa
For the Herald
The time has come to assess and trace the development of the work by Jorge Macchi (Buenos Aires, 1963), who won the First Prize of the Premio Banco de la Nación Argentina a las artesvisuales in November 2000. As he basks in the respect and admiration of most of his colleagues and of contemporary art critics, hailed as the ultra neoconceptual figure by Eva Grinstein in La Nación, who baptised the present as the Macchi era, I remembered when Pablo Suárez (Buenos Aires, 1937), an artist who was influential in shaping the criteria of several generations of young artists, used to say of him that he was a happy maker of objects. By which Suárez meant he was a craftsman rather than an artist (an appreciation that was not shared by Jorge López Anaya or Damian Bayon at the time). What happened to the young boy who quietly worked away in wood and paint objects and canvas to become one of the more interesting conceptual artists of his generation?
His first pieces were rough and primitive looking altarpieces in dark wood, retablos,mystical in nature and anthropological in substance. He painted on paper compositions that represented the cupola of European cathedrals that he longed to visit. His work related to a geographical and historical past he felt he belonged to biologically. When I met him in 1986 he was determined in a quiet way. One could sense the strength and a certain assurance under his unassuming manner of who he was and of what he wanted.
In 1989, a French curator, Philippe Cyroulnik, who had come as a member of the jury for the Gunther Prize, given out by Edgar Gunther, a German art collector who then lived in Paris, chose four artists to show in the CREDAC -Centre Regional d'art contemporain- in Ivry-sur-Seine, France. And Macchi, whose work had not been admitted to the Gunther Prize, was one of the four artists Cyroulnik chose to exhibit. It was when he travelled to France in 1991 for the exhibition, together with Roberto Elía, Martín Reyna and Pablo Suárez, that he and Suárez met for the first time. And it was also then, on this first trip and in conversations with Suárez, that he became aware of further possibilities in the making of art beyond the object itself. It was an exhibition by the Israeli artist, Haïm Steinbach, in which Steinbach had chosen manufactured grocery goods and set them on shelves that showed him that some artists had taken Duchamp's attitude towards art further and had adopted the repetition and juxtaposition of seemingly worthless items to explore social and psychological structures.
On that first trip, as he lived in Paris for two years in la Cité des Arts (Beca Braque1993-1994), and later, in other trips, he felt that the work of art as a physical object was dissolving into space, it was losing weight, that it was irrelevant in a wider context unless the architectural parameters in which it would be shown were taken into account. So he worked on pieces that related to the space in which they would be displayed.
In April 1994 he exhibited at the Galerie Jorge Alyskewycz 32 morceaux d'eaux, the decomposition of the River Seine in gouache into 32 fractions, that represented as many bridges, under a long glass that drew a line the length of the gallery. He wanted to transform the liquidity of the river into an illusion of liquidity. The texture of the paint and of the paper were solid, and yet, the illusion was there. We see how he had lightened his work.
In an exhibition shown first at the Casal de Catalunya in Buenos Aires and then in London in 1995, searching south, one of his pieces, a pillow behind lines of tense wire illustrates a pentagram. This reference to music, and later, the need for music, will come up again and again in his work.
His subsequent trips to Europe to exhibit in different cities: Extremely recent works,Rotterdam, 1996, The wondering golfer, Antwerp, The killing tear (in collaboration with Miguel Rothschild), Paris, Incidental music, Essex, in 1998, and others, reinforced his first European impression that work had lost consistency, that it ought to be staged into existence in situ, and was, therefore, ephemerous by nature.
His current work is profoundly influenced by an in depth relationship with the theatre. In 1998 he took part in a Taller de Experimentación Escénica, organised by Fundación Antorchas, together with other other visual artists, writers, musicians, actors and theatre directors. This workshop helped him to understand the fictional character of a work of art. It sparked the energy that caused his work to radiate into different disciplines. What impressed him most about the theatre was that to depend on other people is inevitable. And this working out of everybody's input into a general pattern to achieve a final collaboration suits him well, as it exacts a dynamic attitude from those who participate. Macchi feels that he has found a positive creative energy in the theatre that is not available in the visual arts.
As he strolls about the city he will notice things on which he will work in his studio. He starts by painting them, for he still needs this media to grasp why he was drawn by a certain visual image. This painting of a motif, or photographing it, works as an appropriation that serves him as first base. It is never enough, so he will brood on it until he can work it into a structure that he feels represents the way in which he wants to tell the story. The original motif will develop into an installation or a theatrical setting in which the gaze of the viewer and his sense of apprehension are taken into account. This is how he worked on Publicidad,the theatrical installation that won him the First Prize of the Premio Banco Nación.
Going back full circle, there was more to the happy object maker in the very beginning than mere craftsmanship, for his objects were tainted with a mysterious depth that went far beyond a conventional approach to matter and content. The use of nails imbedded in the wood to draw landscapes or patterns, feathers covering a panel, or the imprint of hen claws imbedded in the support were ominous signs of portents to come.