Chronologies at Temistocles 44
Staunch antimodernists used to champion paintings that depict stories (as those by Immendorf and Fischl) if only to antagonize the late formalists’ so-called “anti-theatrical” posture. “Narrativity” has since been unhappily linked to “content” in its yet unhappier quarrel with “form”. Chronologies, a tight international exhibition of recent narrative works, refrained from playing the role of the postmodern contrarian. The allure of these stylistically hybrid pieces derived less from their stories’ subject matter than from the artists’ concern with piecing together artworks by transforming narrative into an element as malleable as paint in an action painting can be.
Both Jeffrey Vallance and the Arce/Abaroa team devised frameworks that allowed their untamed tales to unravel, and both included themselves as conditions affecting their works’ resolution. Valley-Boy Vallance wanted to test himself theImages in the Eyes of the Guadalupe (1994), an alleged paranormal phenomenon associated with the Virgin’s shroud in Mexico City. Enlighted more by the Enquirer than by the Scriptures, Vallance’s less-than-epiphaneous imagination “discovered” in the same patterns not the expected religious settings, but semblances of Elvis, Bob Dylan and Bigfoot, which he cropped and presented in laser prints. The unsettling effect of Images’ blend of cultural disjunctions is akin to that of the mix of interpersonal disjunctions in Marco Arce’s 42 small sequenced paintings with text after a Robbe-Grilletesque “script” by Eduardo Abaroa. Chronic Incompetence (1994) amplified its authorship’s duality by lumping a continually shifting storyline together with pictures that make unexpected stylistic pirouettes. Memorable in this multilayered collaboration are a mock-transcendental diatribe complemented by abstract paintings interrupted by the misleading appearance of Prince Charles, and a comics-style romance giving way to Guston-ish porn.
With similar calculated-yet-unresolved acumen, Cameron Jamie’s Self-Portrait with Bart Simpson (begun 1992) showed the ongoing saga of a chain of commissioned portraits which progressively distort an original portrait of the young Angeleno. The picture of a mother & child, product of Jamie’s last installment of commissions, was processed, among others, through the hands of a local talent who cooks pictures out of pancake dough, the knife of a Styrofoam sculptor and the airbrush of a photograph colorist. At the chapter’s end, a third character appears first in the schematic shape of two accidental dots on a pancake and finally as a well rounded baby’s face to which the photo-retoucher gave full presence.
The pieces by Terence Gower and Marisa Cornejo radicalized “narrativity” to the point where it no longer is relevant to “content”. The Canadian Gower fabricated the tragic tale of an activist gay artist (Untitled(Bashing) 1992-94) around the ungifted hero’s inocuous abstract drawings and make-believe memorabilia. These mock-artworks were only incidentally significant as asides to the fictitious artist’s misadventures and thus laid bare the fact that all pictures are unavoidably narrative at some level– a condition that befit Cornejo’s Fire over the Lake (1994), a criptic autobiography encoded in a compilation of her uneven trials as a fine-arts student.
Chronologies brought together artists from Mexico, the U.S.. and Canada. Such oportune invocation of of the united colors of NAFTA secured it a Rockefeller sponsorship. Better still, the integrationist spirit was also expressed in the exhibition’s demonstrating that the reflexivity of formalist works, the literariness of postmodernism and the cultural comentary of the latest post-coceptualism are not, by definition, incompatible.