Vol. 32, No. 9
Jusidman, Yishai, Artforum International
While New York conspired to steal the idea of Modern art from Paris, Mexico’s Europeanized elites complacently hosted Andre Breton and his cronies. Under the Surrealists’ influence, Mexican art lovers abandoned themselves to an Oz-like esthetic realm that, in turn, bolstered local ethnosurrealist figures like Frida Kahlo and Rufino Tamayo. But the poetic dream eventually degenerated into an opiated lethargy, sheltered as it was by the barriers of commercial and cultural protectionism. A timely young generation of Mexican artists is already craving to trade in the market of the global artworld. Diego Toledo, now 29 and with a number of one-person shows to his credit, is among the most promising.
Having begun as a painter, Toledo now works in the currently favored genre of assemblage. Always juxtaposing materials of the most contrasting sensuous qualities, his handsome constructions still display a painter’s fondness for the visual properties of his materials. Suspended within the parallelepiped steel-pipe frame of Detener (To contain, 1993) are six baggy, latex receptacles that overflow with water, fed by an unceasing stream. High-wattage lamps, mounted near the resulting pools’ surfaces, spotlight the fluid undulations visible through the latex, thus fulfilling a definite, yet obscure, function in the mechanism.
Conjoining the antipodal qualities of solidity, malleability, and fluidity in his machinations, Toledo alludes to the physical makeup of living organisms, and suggests that artworks too have a life of their own. Rastra (Trace, 1993) incarnates this idea by dripping muddy waterfrom an elaborated copper-pipe system on long, tilted runways of canvas stretched over wooden supports and tin canals.
Like an alchemist seeking to create vital wholes, Toledo relies on the inherent force of his allegorizing materials. Here, elegant design underscores wholeness as harmonious form. But notwithstanding their pleasing cohesiveness, these artifactual bodies remain too self-absorbed in their recurring internal functions to bother shedding their metaphorical load on the spectator–esthetic vitality does not amount to “beautiful bionics.”
Toledo’s most ambitious undertakings remain haunted by the lyrical poetics plaguing Mexican creativity, which foster the misconception that an artwork’s meaning amounts to whatever it symbolizes. Shown in an adjacent space, Consumidor (Consumer, 1992-93) augurs the overcoming of such a notion. This hanging assemblage is an elongated sticks-and-wire armature about six feet long, shaped somewhat like a haphazardly assembled model submarine. Inside it, a miniature steam engine propels a miniflashlight around an elliptical path. The flashlight projects shadows of the irregular structure onto the darkened room walls, depicting how the continuously oncoming pattern of the structure would look to us if we shrank into the moving flashlight. As our attention alternates between this kinetic contraption and the surrounding light show, we are lured into discovering the bizarre plausibility of some utterly mechanical, nonconscious “seeing. “Consumidor shrewdly engages our natural disposition to put ourselves in the place of others through finding (or imagining) affinities with them. Thus, it becomes more like anorganism, effectively articulating the correspondence of the artwork with living bodies. As Consumidor demonstrates, vitality–political, philosophical, and esthetic–turns out to be a function of interacting with the world, rather than of isolated physico-chemical or high-flying poetic processes.