As an exhibition of contemporary Puerto Rican artists, one might be tempted to hypothesize that Paraíso, on view this month at ltd los angeles, is meant to express a quintessentially Puerto Rican attitude, or perhaps act as homage to the land itself. What’s primarily on display, however, is a state of mind: one shared by quite a few 21st-century contemporary artists, regardless of nationality. In fact, if the artists and curators involved in Paraíso are to be taken at their word, paradise is a land where promises are both made and broken; where familiar objects act in unfamiliar ways; and where the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees.
Take Paraíso’s three opening works: Michael Linares’s Untitled, 2011, a big, blue balloon hovering above several beached strands of triangular, car-lot flags, weighted down by a rock; Linares’s Wait ‘til it grows, 2011, two small coconut trees sprouting straight from the coconuts themselves, burdened by a hammock strung between them that has yet to make it off the ground; and Charles Juhaz-Alvarado’s Del brazo a la garganta: (mimus polyglottos), 2011, a large, handcrafted wooden bulldozer claw that looks like it should be attached to an equally huge wooden bulldozer, but which is actually attached to a vehicle the size of a toy. All three works exist in indeterminate states, with the onus on the viewer to decide whether the balloon is ascending or descending, or whether the hammock will make it off the ground.
This “half-empty or half-full” scenario continues throughout the show, including Jesús “Bubu” Negrón’s video La Promesa, 2003, in which the artist lovingly and exasperatedly drags an empty wheelchair from the airport in Mexico City to Ex-Teresa, an exhibition venue, stopping at multiple bars. Two equally entertaining works by Negrón sit at the registrar’s desk: Mini Colillón Masculino, 2011, and Mini Colillón Femenino, 2011, a set of two giant and crumpled cigarette butts made of hundreds of smaller cigarettes. Here your options include being disgusted by the sculptures’ material or wowed by their whimsy (including lipstick stains to indicate which Colillón is Femenino).
While Paraíso’s visual punning is reminiscent of the Puerto Rican artists Allora and Calzadilla’s entry at this year’s Venice Biennale, its message is more nuanced. The press release for the show makes much of the idea that paradise relates to action, referencing scholar Alan Millard’s description of paradise as a work of cultural memory, as well as Cuban author José Lezama Lima’s book Paradiso, a sprawling tale in which little happens but just about everything is discussed. Whimsy, beauty and tragedy are all there for the taking, but Paraíso reminds us that more often than not, they come as one package, and it’s up to us to decide how we’d like to unwrap it.
Paraíso is on view through August 13, 2011, at ltd los angeles in Los Angeles.