David Lamelas “With a life of its own” at Malba, Buenos Aires
Curators: Kristina Newhouse and María José Herrera
Malba presents Con vida propia, [With a Life of Its Own], a solo exhibition dedicated to the work of Argentine artist David Lamelas (Buenos Aires, 1946), a pioneer of conceptual art and one of the great protagonists in the 1960s Argentine art scene. Internationally recognized from the start of his career, Lamelas won a prize at the São Paulo Biennial (1967), represented Argentina at the Venice Biennale (1968) and participated at the Kassel Documenta (1972 and 2017). He has worked in the pop idiom, in conceptualism and media art, in a career that spans more than fifty years.
This exhibition brings together a set of photographs, films, sculptures, videos, performances and installations created from 1964 to the present, which offer a thorough survey of the work of this trail-blazing, multifaceted artist. Several of these pieces come from such major public and private collections as Tate Modern, Lacma Museum, the Pinault Collection, Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía and Malba, among others.
Curated by Kristina Newhouse and María José Herrera, the show has been organized in collaboration with the University Art Museum (UAM) of California State University at Long Beach (CSULB). It was initially presented in the United States in 2017, as part of the project “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” a series of exhibitions devoted to exploring the relations between Latin American art and the city of Los Angeles.
Throughout his production, Lamelas has explored a great range of media. He was able to apply the intellectual tools he developed in his beginnings in Buenos Aires in the various contexts he lived in: his ideas immediately fit in with those current among artists in London, Paris or Los Angeles. In the words of María José Herrera: “Often, the historical accounts about Lamelas that come out of Europe and the United States take stock of the artist’s contribution to conceptualism as if they were dealing with a native of Europe or the United States. In fact, you have to stress that the intellectual framework for his practice arose in Argentina, at a truly exceptional moment in its recent history.”
An Artist of His Time
The exhibition at Malba is organized into two large sets of works. On the left are his pieces connected to architecture and situational sculpture; on the right are those related with the communications media and the moving image, film and photography.
On entering the gallery, the viewer will be struck at once by the work Espacio modificado [Modified Space] (1966-2018), a project Lamelas sketched out in 1966 for the Galería Lirolay in Buenos Aires –today, it belongs to the Getty Archives–, but which could never be executed before now. It grapples with notions of emptiness and fullness in space, and is halfway between installation and a sculptural architecture.
His handling of three-dimensional space and preexisting architecture can likewise be seen in Conexión de tres espacios [Connection of Three Spaces] (1966). In Lamelas’s words: “The basic concept was to create a work which would not be perceived straight out as a whole, but instead as fragments of information.” In order to be completed, the installation needs to have the viewer move about; its effect is created by physical and mental experience.
Of a pop stamp, like some of his other early pieces made around the legendary Instituto Torcuato Di Tella (ITDT), el Súper Elástico [Super-Elastic] (1965) is inspired by the comic-book hero Plastic Man, whose super-power consisted in his ability to stretch his body and take on any form whatsoever. With this piece Lamelas took as far as he could the relation between traditional pictorial space the picture plane, and exhibition per se.
The experimentation with popular culture and Pop’s non-academic languages led to “media art.” In Latin America avant-garde artists experimented with the mass media as a way to encourage internationalization and come up with new conceptions of time and space. Television, newspapers and ad campaigns were the main materials of this new art, which shed the object character of works in order to “dematerialize.” Media artists seized on the modes of production of communication to present a critical alternative, through an analysis of the effects of the mass media.
In this context, Lamelas presented the work Situación de tiempo [Time Situation] (1967) at the Torcuato De Tella Institute. This installation opens up a space of reflection on “television time,” on the way in which technologies involve us in their peculiar form of handling time and space. Lined up in a gallery, 17 identical TV sets are tuned to channels broadcasting nothing, transmitting no other signal than electromagnetic noise. The author invites the public to “stay for the eight hours the exhibition is open in order to take active part in time.” “Away from home, in the museum space, the TV set turned into a Duchampian readymade,” Herrera notes, adding: “The time situation constitutes a precedent for the genre of video art, given the abstract, self-referential and openly reflective language it uses.”
Media art also anticipated many of the lines that would be worked upon internationally by conceptual art. In 1968, after taking part in the Venice Biennale, Lamelas put down roots in London and immediately found himself in tune with the most advanced trends in Europe and their leading exponents: Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren and Joseph Beuys, among others.
Works like Los Angeles Friends (Larger tan [= than — trans.] Life) (1976) shows not only the bonds of friendship he established with other colleagues, but also reveal how closely his discourse coincided with that of other artists who viewed art as a matter of everyday experience.
Film and Experimentation
Continuing his investigations on time, Lamelas began to work on films with methods taken from the nouveau roman, in particular, the break with the linearity of traditional narrative. “It is through cinema that Lamelas felt more closely associated with conceptual art in those years. (…) From the end of the 1960s, cinema and photography were turned, for Lamelas, into his chief media for ‘codifying’ representation, a canonical aspect of conceptualism,” Herrera explains.
In 1969 he began to work on Time as Activity, a series of recordings of situations and urban environments in which are interwoven documentary footage in filmi or video together with photographs and texts. In the exhibition, one can see Time as Activity Buenos Aires (2010), composed of three photographs of the Argentine capital and “Interview” with Marguerite Duras (1970), an interview with the French writer presented –following the same logic– through a 16 mm film, ten photographs, and ten pages of text.
If Marguerite Duras plays a role as an icon of French culture, rock stars epitomize, for Lamelas, English culture: in the photo series Rock Star (Character Appropriation) (1974) he uses the codes of rock photography, adopting the conventional postures, gestures, lighting and camera angles of this “genre.” In turn, another series of photos, The Violent Tapes of 1975 (1975) –part of the Malba Collection and exhibited in Verboamérica-– exposes the form in which the structures of cinematographic language condition our deciphering of images. On the other hand, in Los Angeles Friends (Larger than Life) (1976), Lamelas re-elaborates the idea of series, in this instance, replacing photo images with pencil portraits of artists of the U.S. West Coast he socialized with.
On the esplanade of the front stairs of the museum, we are also presenting a new version of the work Señalamiento de tres objetos [Designation of Three Objects] (1968), first created in London’s Hyde Park. On the basis of this installation, David Lamelas has devised a new performance under the title Conversaciones sobre el tema del día [Conversations on the Topic of the Day] (2018), in which he personally invites a friend or acquaintance to start up a conversation about one of the cover articles of a local periodical. The performance will take place on the esplanade for the first four weeks of the exhibition.
Con vida propia is David Lamelas’s second exhibition at Malba. In 2006, the museum presented Lo super-real. Obras 1969-1984 [The Super-Real: Works, 1969-1984], curated by Inés Katzenstein, as part of a series of homages which, from the end of the ’90s, reevaluated the work of the Argentine artist in his original setting.
As part of the exhibition we will be projecting in the auditorium the 16-mm film The Invention of Dr. Morel (2000) and the video Scheherazade (1980), written and directed together with Hildegarde Duane. In The Invention of Dr. Morel, inspired by the short novel La invención de Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, Lamelas reflects on the relation between different moments in time and the awareness of temporality: the past that forms us, the present in which we are, and the future into which we project ourselves.
Scheherazade refers to the protagonist of The Thousand and One Nights: a bride-to-be who tells one tale after another to her prospective husband, the bloodthirsty king Shahryār, to stave off her execution and prolong her life. In the end, the king falls in love with Scheherazade, who becomes queen. Lamelas and Duane’s video begins with two characters, each of whom is getting ready for an interview: a wealthy sheik from “a Mid-East country,” represented by Lamelas, and a journalist, played by Duane. The actors stay in character from start to finish, on a course that takes them from aggression to a romantic encounter in a swimming pool.
at Malba, Buenos Aires
until 11 June 2018