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Mario García Torres: Je ne sais si c’en est la cause, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, and Some Reference Materials / MATRIX 227

February 22, 2009 - May 17, 2009

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The Grapetree Bay Hotel, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, December 2006. Photo: Mario García Torres. Courtesy of the artist; Jan Mot, Brussels; and White Cube, London.

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Mario García Torres looks to recent history, in both its anecdotal and official articulations, to make connections between the present moment and artists who, in García Torres’s words, “were fundamentally trying to legitimatize a different way of conceiving art.” García Torres communes with earlier generations of artists—particularly conceptual artists—through various means, repeating or reperforming their original gestures, obsessively researching and representing documentation of their work, and in some cases engendering imaginary conversations with deceased artists. He approaches historical episodes with a deeply subjective sense of the documentary. Each of his acts functions as an appropriation of sorts, reframing and refocusing another artist’s work through his own lens to open up a dialogue across time and space relative to the status of art objects and experiences, and the function of memory and anecdote as surrogates in their absence.

García Torres’s work illuminates past projects and rescues them from obscurity in the service of metaphorical poetics. In one piece, animating the character of Alan Smithee, the fictional “auteur” credited with failed films from which the original creator’s name has been removed, he comments upon the absent author and the significance of failure in the creative arc of a biography. Another project recreates the artist Martin Kippenberger’s attempt to establish a modern art museum on the Greek island of Syros as a space of artists and ideas without the objects they might create, reimagining the museum itself as a space of absence. García Torres’s interest is not solely in reconstructing obscure episodes, but in the operations of memory, mythmaking, and anecdote on “quieter, almost cameo-like narratives from the recent past” that have not been solidified, canonized, classified, and codified by art history.

For his MATRIX exhibition, García Torres is producing a new work concerning the conceptual artist Daniel Buren, famous for his stripe paintings. As the story goes, Buren undertook a series of murals at the Grapetree Bay Hotel in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, at the invitation of one of the resort’s original owners. He made several works during a residency in 1960, and returned again in 1965 to complete a second set of mosaic murals. The first group was figurative in nature, depicting island leisure and sports activities in a style that bears the influence of both European modernist masters such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso and Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, whose work Buren studied in Mexico in previous years. In the second set of murals Buren experimented with abstraction, inching toward his mature form. Occurring early in his career, and evincing important shifts in style, these works have taken on the status of lore within his oeuvre. Buren acknowledges that the remote location of the resort hotel provided the context for him to “virginize” himself, purging outside influences. Because of the remoteness and strangeness of the murals’ location, the discussion surrounding them is derived from documentation, by people who have likely never seen the work in person—not unlike other ephemeral or performative conceptual works whose position in history is anecdotally achieved.

García Torres narrates the history of the project through the reframing of fragments—objects culled during his research, a tropically inflected pop song composed of one of Buren’s letters, slideshows of the murals in situ, now in ruins. His project supplants certainty about the facts of the work’s existence, based on static documentation, with the complexity of a larger narrative, concerning the artist’s doubt and frustration in the making of the work and the aftermath as the hotel’s failure and the entropy of nature conspire in the murals’ eventual undoing. García Torres’s subjective documentary approach presents this work not as an isolated instance in Buren’s career, but as inextricably tied to questions about European influence in the Americas, and how the context of landscape and tourism informs these proto-conceptual works.

Elizabeth Thomas
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator

The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis.

Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Jane and Jeffrey Green, Maryellen and Frank Herringer, Wanda Kownacki and John Holton, Charles and Naomie Kremer, Lenore Pereira and Richard Niles, Paul L. Wattis III and Anne Wattis, and other generous supporters.