Artforum International
December 2000
Vol. 39, No. 4

Marco Arce

Jusidman, Yishai, Artforum International

Suppose the lotto ticket you bought today happens to have the winning number… of yesterday’s draw. Well, you still have a chance, though common sense would suggest otherwise. Marco Arce’s ticket to artistic success–his acute eye and precise hand–would have warranted a prize in yesterday’s art world, but the prevailing pattern calls for winners to be drawn from the disaffected rather than the virtuosi. While young Marco’s innate painterly abilities may seem to have become professional liabilities, he still has a chance and seems to want to stretch it far and wide.

In Arce’s recent seven-year survey, the Mexican painter’s early multipaneled works display narratives of cross-fertilization through omnifarious and often unpredictable stylistic pirouettes. The “Alfonso Michel Series,” 1994, of which thirteen parts were shown here, could be described as a morphing of a painting from the ’30s by the eponymous Mexican metaphysical artist into a funky ’70s Guston. However, Arce’s minuscule oil-on-canvas scenes do not appropriate existing works. Rather, they are resourceful emulations that may recall George Condo’s retro-post-Cubism in a less grandiloquent mode. Arce’s painting becomes an affined medium for Michel’s soul, Guston’s soul, and whatever soulful cocktails result from the combination thereof.

Since moving to New York in 1997, Arce has kept busy picturing an effervescent array of nonpainting expressions in postwar art. In “Versiones de Piero Manzoni,” 1999-2000, a succession of oil paintings and ink drawings invokes the Italian prankster as an agonisticfoil. Most suggestive among these comics-style vignettes is Arce’s translation into paint of a photograph of Manzoni’s Scultura viviente (Living sculpture), 1961. Arce reenacts Manzoni’s rebelliousness precisely by reversing the antipainterliness of his precursor’s model-signing action. Furthermore, the still widespread opinion that painting “stinks” forces an analogy between Arce’s painting strategies and Manzoni’s Merda d’artista, 1961.The paint-as-shit metaphor comes up again in one of Arce’s few large-scale and, fittingly, worst-executed works, Captain Shit, 1999, a dirty brown field in which a well-traveled sailor chews on some pieces of dung.

Ever more excrement is illustrated in “Disolver/Coleccionar” (To dissolve/to collect), 1999. A great many of these 150 small watercolors depict scatologically oriented works by the likes of Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Vito Acconci, the Gutai group, and, again, Manzoni,along with well-known works by Beuys, Nauman, Graham, and others. The cryptophilosophical commentary scribbled into these pictures hints that Arce devised “Disolver/Coleccionar” as an involuted method for digesting all the art which would otherwise motivate him to quit painting. But couldn’t such a banquet provoke indigestion? Indeed, the menu and the recurring Pettibonish slacker-draftsmanship secure the cool factor, but at the expense of substantial painterly concerns and plastic solutions. Insofar as this series must be read as a species of regurgitating process art, Arce’s copro-fantasies could be symptomatic of an increasingly common condition sometimes known as PSC (painter’s sublimated constipation.) With luck this will pass and Arce will assimilate some aesthetic fiber from his recent diet, allowing him to reinvigorate the circulatory and nerve systems that enlivened much of his earlier, unashamedly painterly, wildly virtuosic production.