javier gatti hernandez: curated by ins exhibition catalogue
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DESCRIPTIONCatalogue accompanying January 27 - March 12, 2011 exhibition
Javier Gatti-HernandezCurated by Simon Critchley and Tom McCarthy of the International Necronautical Society (INS)
January 27 - March 12, 2011
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Theodore S. Berger
Thomas G. Devine
Thomas K.Y. Hsu
Brian D. Starer
Theodore S. Berger, Chair
Irving Sandler, Senior Fellow
Executive Director Jeremy Adams
Development Director Marni Corbett
Programs Director Beatrice Wolert-Weese
Programs Coordinator Ryan Thomas
Gallery Assistant Jessica Gildea
CUE Art Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit forum
for contemporary art and cultural exchange that
provides opportunities and resources for under-
recognized artists. We value the astonishing diversity
of creativity that artists provide and the importance of
their activity in the social context of the city.
CUE provides artists, students, scholars and art
professionals resources at many stages of their careers
and creative lives. Our programs include exhibitions,
publications, professional development seminars,
educational outreach, symposia, readings and
performances. Since 2002, we have operated from
our 4,500 square foot storefront venue in the heart of
New York’s Chelsea Arts District.
CUE exhibiting artists are chosen by their peers who
are themselves selected by a rotating advisory council
from across the country. This pluralistic process
ensures that CUE consistently offers diverse viewpoints
from multiple disciplines of artistic practice.
Simply put, we give artists their CUE to take center
stage in the challenging world of art.
Artist: Javier Gatti-Hernandez
I suffer from a common human condition: I am obsessed with love and death. At the onset of making these works, two things occurred which consumed my thoughts: 1.) A close cousin, both in age and sentiment, died suddenly of a cancer I believed she would overcome, and 2.) a new job made it so that I was estranged from my fiancée for the better part of six months. Both events left me alone and conjuring answers to the question "where are they?"
The figures painted in this series remain partially obscured. They are depictions of the fading memory of two people blurred into one: an amalgam of love and death, an “object of desire.” While this “object” has been a recurring theme in my work, this new series is more specifically a meditation on obscurity: that which lies beyond what we can physically see.
This absence of my cousin and my fiancée became my point of reference, like a horizon line. These paintings have a centralized composition designed to confront the viewer by placing them at the far end of a path toward the subject and what lies beyond. The horizon becomes a point where the natural world which I am able to quantify and the supernatural world begin to dissolve. As a child I’d lay awake and stare at the point where two walls faded into a dark corner and I’d see a man standing in that space watching and waiting for me to fall asleep. This type of childhood hallucination is what I believe to be the source of mythology.
This compulsion to qualify the unknown is what inspires my paintings. Oil paint supplies me with a crude spackle for filling in the gaps between what I know and what I imagine. Oils allow me to start with a loose, abstract concept and build up layers of images whose lines can grow and alter as a tangible idea is realized. It is the medium that provides for me the least amount of resistance in the creation of an image.
Javier Gatti-Hernandez was born in 1978 to Cuban immigrants in Miami, Florida. Growing up in this tropical sprawling suburban landscape, he stood watch as abandoned houses and other structures were consumed, over relatively little time, by avaricious plants and vines. Sparking a young imagination, Gatti-Hernandez began drawing and painting at age eight. Throughout his adolescence he avidly pursued his art, studying under Lee Willig, a local Miami painter and Cooper Union Alumnus, as a supplement to his high school AP Art curriculum. Upon graduating, Gatti-Hernandez was awarded a scholarship to attend The Cooper Union in New York, where he studied painting and began making short films.
In New York, the lush and consumptive vegetation of tropical Miami became a running theme in Gatti-Hernandez’s work, seen in both his paintings and his films. In The Devil is a Cowboy (1999), oil on canvas, three cowboys carry a fourth, shirtless, man with roots growing out of his chest to the shore where a small boat awaits him. In the short experimental film, Dido’s Lament (2000), Gatti-Hernandez combines two Greek myths where Dido’s suicide becomes Daphne’s escape from Apollo’s love by transforming into a laurel tree. In 2008’s Beatrice, Gatti-Hernandez’s first narrative short film, an Official Selection of the Santa Fe Film Festival, his theme of plant life and growth drive the title character toward her life changing epiphany.
In 2007, Gatti-Hernandez left New York for Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he wrote and filmed Beatrice.
Gatti-Hernandez has exhibited his work in various group and two-person shows throughout the country including Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing (2001), The Media Triangle, New York, NY; Domestic Arrivals (2004), White Box Gallery, New York, NY; Faster Sleeper, Bas Fisher International (2006), Miami, FL; and Collect 8: Annual Group Show (2009-2010), Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, NM.
Gatti-Hernandez is currently residing in Santa Fe, NM. His exhibition at CUE Art Foundation marks his first solo show in New York City.
Fireflies began to disappear from the cities of Europe and the West in the 1950s along with the evaporation of collective ideologies of social transformation. They disappeared along with the rise of pollution and the collapse of the political and aesthetic imagination. Fireflies are tiny material markers of resistance, the suicide bombers of the insect world. In the opinion of the INS, the question of experimentation in art and politics turns on the survival of fireflies.
Jean-Francois Lyotard curated a famous exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1985 called Les Immateriaux. Fewer people know that he was planning a second show called Résistance, which was never realized because of his untimely death. If Lyotard’s show were ever to be brought into being, as a kind of posthumous exhibition, having a life after death (and someone should do it), then it would have to involve a lot of fireflies. It would be a show about something which is disappearing, or which no longer exists, or which never existed, or which flares up at the frontiers of existence before being extinguished in inexistence. Art, politics and perhaps life itself, in my humble opinion, should be orientated towards that which does not exist.
We might call this the infinite demand of art. What is infinitely demanding is the cultivation of an ethical disposition of commitment towards a possibility as yet unknown and inexistent in the situation, but still powerfully imagined: a supreme fiction, an event, a utopian moment, a firefly. Strictly and even logically speaking, this demand is nothing, that is, nothing in the situation, nothing that exists. It is like the logic of sovereignty in Bataille, which he describes with the formula, ‘impossible, yet there it is’. This is a little like our relation to death: inconceivable in the minds of the living, and yet absolutely certain. We too will pass from existence to inexistence like fireflies.
The infinite demand is a double, me-ontological (from to me on in Greek, that which is not) demand: to see what is in terms of what is not yet, and to see what is not yet in what is. Such is the implication of taking up what I see as a utopian standpoint, the standpoint of inexistence where one seeing all things hos me, as if they were not.
This means embracing a double nihilism, a bracing, affirmative nihilism, both what Walter Benjamin calls ‘the nihilism of world politics’ and trying to focus attention on that which has no existence in such a world politics, indeed in such a world. Politically, the demand exerted on us by the finite context exceeds the content of any finite demand that might be accommodated at the level of government or state. Literally speaking, the infinite demand is nothing, but a massively creative nothing.
Curators: Simon Critchley and Tom McCarthy of
the International Necronautical Society (INS)
Javier Gatti-Hernandez gives us some fireflies. Something flares up in his work— something evanescent, fragile and fleeting —at the edges of existence, and then disappears, like the water into the dark waters of the River Styx. All the faces in these paintings turn away, half-obscured, as if looking for something else, something utterly different and distant, a sovereign moment. If you learn something from his show, then you’ve learnt nothing; and if you learn nothing from his show, then you’ve learnt something.
— Simon Critchley
Simon Critchley is Head Philosopher of the INS and Chair of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. His most recent book is How to Stop Living and Start Worrying (Polity, 2010).
Tom McCarthy was born in 1969. He is known in the art world for the reports, manifestos and media interventions he has made as General Secretary of the International Necronautical Society (INS), a semi-fictitious avant-garde network. He is author of the novels Remainder (Vintage, 2007), Men in Space (Alma Books, 2007) and C (Knopf, 2010), and of the non-fiction book Tintin and the Secret of Literature (Counterpoint, 2008).
ABOUT INS: Founded in 1999 by Tom McCarthy, the International Necronautical Society (INS) spreads itself as both fiction and actuality, often blurring the two. “Famously described as ‘replaying the avant-garde along the faultline of death’” (Art Monthly, London), the INS inhabits and appropriates a variety of art forms and cultural ‘moments’ from the defunct avant-gardes of the last century to the political, corporate and conspiratorial organizations they mimicked. The INS’s manifestos, proclamations, reports, broadcasts, hearings, inspectorates, departments, committees and sub-committees are the vehicles for interventions in the space of art, fiction, philosophy and media. For more information, please visit: www.necronauts.org.
Maid of Mettle, 2010
Oil on canvas, 24” x 18"
Home Before Dark, 2010
Oil on canvas, 28” x 36"
Oil on panel, 20” x 16"
The Wizard [detail], 2010
Oil on canvas, 28” x 36"
The Wizard, 2010
Oil on canvas, 28” x 36"
May this be Love, 2010
Oil on panel, 20” x 16"
Finding the Dissolve, 2010
Oil on canvas, 32” x 24"
The Fiancée, 2010
Oil on canvas, 28” x 20"
Oil on canvas, 28” x 20"
Across the River Styx [detail], 2010
Oil on canvas, 36” x 28"
Across the River Styx, 2010
Oil on canvas, 36” x 28"
The Apprentice, 2010
Oil on canvas, 28” x 36"
Javier Gatti-Hernandez was born in 1978 to Cuban immigrants settled in Miami. In place of today’s Herzog & de Meuron parking lots and Zaha Hadid designed art booths, the city then was better known for neglected retiree condos, faded souvenir stands, and a breed of glamour distinctly more louche than luxe. Though contemporary art was scarce in Miami, the city did have a decisive impact on Gatti-Hernandez’s artistic practice. According to his longtime friend and frequent collaborator Naomi Fisher, “It was half Scarface, half newly planned model city. It was a site of immigrant struggle set against a backdrop of tawdry fashion shoots, and none of us fit in. We responded with a punk ethos…Using the language of fashion to subvert fashion stereotypes was the right way to go.” Gatti-Hernandez’s earliest paintings imparted a satirizing and surrealist bent to collisions between glamor and ghettoes, swaggering machismo and delicate dandyism, urban sprawl and ancient marshlands.
The artist moved to New York after high school, earning his BFA from Cooper Union in 2001. In college,
This essay was written as
part of the Young Art
Critics Mentoring Program,
a partnership between
AICA USA (US section of
of Art Critics) and CUE
Art Foundation, which pairs
emerging writers with
AICA mentors to produce
original essays on a specific
exhibiting artist. Please visit
www.aicausa.org for further
information on AICA USA, or
to learn how to participate
in this program. Any quotes
are from interviews with
the author unless otherwise
specified. No part of this
essay may be reproduced
without prior consent
from the author. Elizabeth
Baker and Lilly Wei are
AICA’s Coordinators for this
program this season.
Spectating the Supernatural
By Alex Ross
he began directing experimental short films that teased the divide between the mythic and homespun. Dido’s Lament (2000) conflated Dido’s suicide with Daphne’s transformation against a backdrop of apartment life and art studio drywall. After graduating, he worked as the production manager for the director’s collaborative Panoptic, Inc., where he produced and co-directed work that ranged from commercials for multinational brands to music videos for up-and-coming indie bands. In 2007, the artist relocated to Santa Fe to participate in the New Mexico Filmmaker’s Intensive Director’s Program, where he wrote and directed the short film Beatrice in 2008. On his decision to remain in Santa Fe, he notes, “It’s mostly about being in a quiet place that allows me to look internally; something I always had a hard time doing amid the constant external assaults of New York City.” As the current manager of Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Arts Cinematheque, his introspection contributes to the program’s reputation for theoretical self-awareness. Though it registers no discernible visual impact on his current paintings, the city’s tranquility has also afforded him the time to readopt an art form he had abandoned during his intensive engagement with filmmaking.
According to Gatti-Hernandez, the ten small-scale paintings in his first New York solo exhibition were motivated by two roughly simultaneous personal events: the death of his thirty-four year old female cousin and his engagement to his fiancée. What he terms “a surreal hybrid of these two women” serves as the protagonist of a series of paintings where she and we confront nature and the unknown. Her appearance varies from scene to scene: sometimes she is a red-haired diva in a floral print dress, elsewhere a fey brunette brooding in her denim cutoffs, in others a B-movie starlet overpowered by a frowzy ghost. Situations and narrative cues differ, but in mood his pictures share a seductive, mild-mannered eeriness. Departing from the knowingness of his cinematic work, his first body of paintings in several years projects a sensibility that is profoundly disarming in its unguarded sincerity.
Though Gatti-Hernandez cites Stanley Spencer, Peter Blume, and Ben Shahn as his principal influences – and his paintings do share these artists’ preoccupation with fusing the forthright and fantastical – his works forge dialogues with a welter of historical and contemporary sources. His Miami background and embrace of gothic theatricality invite comparisons to several newly ascendant stars of the Florida art scene. The paintings of Daniel Arsham echo in Gatti-Hernandez’s depictions of oneiric architectures abandoned in forlorn overgrowths; Hernan Bas’ gothicized
Spectating the Supernatural
ephebes would be perfectly at home languishing in Across the River Styx’s stygian grottoes; and, Bakthi Baxter’s scenes of sepulchral romance share clear affinities with Gatti-Hernandez’s swampy dreamscapes. Yet, his crisp outlines, thin paint handling, consistent palette of chilly pastels, and tendency to centralize his compositions contribute to a look more closely allied with American folk art and mid-century illustration.
Gatti-Hernandez has indicated that his suppression of overt painterly activity arises from a resolution to emphasize his image’s sense of familiarity – squeezing credibility into their occasionally incredible scenarios. Addressing the possibility that viewers will mistake his work’s advertently homespun appearance for naiveté, he replies, “I have no real business adding to the modernist history of painting as painting.” Instead, his focus lies in crafting strangely resonant narratives that fall loosely into three categories: spectators of nature, spectators of supernature, and unpeopled landscapes that bridge the divide between the two.
In The Fiancée (2010), we find the series’ lead actress in a stiff, wrist-crossed pose. Frozen dead-center, she stands lap-deep in water against an aggressive backdrop of needle palms. Their meticulously rendered, exploding green fronds echo in her dress – a veritable painting within a painting whose pattern abstracts their spurred points into a vast network of darting lines rendered in a sanguinary hue. As is often the case in Gatti-Hernandez’s latest works, her face is blocked from view – obscured here by an impossible tangle of wind-whipped hair. Undercutting the image’s formality, this is exactly the sort of small but delightfully unexpected move that exemplifies the artist’s at once moody and modest quirks.
Gatti-Hernandez’s paintings often return to his own videos for inspiration. Daphne (2010) resumes his preoccupation with the myth explored in his film Dido’s Lament, but departs from the latter’s compulsory low-budget aesthetic. Against a backdrop of windswept grasses rendered in anxious, darting strokes and the haphazardly arrayed trusses of an unfinished home, the series’ protagonist is swathed in a salmon shaded Yves Saint Laurent kimono dress whose floral print aestheticizes nature’s profusion. With an appearance that merges the cartoonish and couture, it evokes nothing so much as what would have been had Grace Coddington styled Nancy Drew instead of Vogue. Moreover, it holds a deeper pathos than its highly stylized lines might at first suggest – its emotionality especially evident in the painter’s decision to depict a taut formation of vines and
fronds sprouting from the sitter’s head. In an unnatural merger with the luxuriant landscape that decorates her, her body is haunted by its debt to nature. Although the sitter’s glamorous severity resembles that of Gatti-Hernandez’s fiancée, her deliquescence into nature points to his cousin’s death.
The chronology of Gatti-Hernandez’s current body of work both begins and ends with the depiction of unpopulated landscapes. Colliding an august romanticism evocative of Caspar David Friedrich and Albert Bierstadt with a campy, illustrative verve, Maid of Mettle (2010) offers an inventive salvo. Saturated with murky resonance, the painting leads the eye beyond a moonlit diving platform and out towards a stream of kaleidoscopically-hued lightning forked into the darkness of a lake’s distance. The works reach their terminus in the rigorously controlled painterly dynamics of May this be Love (2010), a tightly-cropped and dramatically foreshortened composition dominated by a rose-hued waterfall crashing into a river’s whitewater. Appropriate to the series’ closure, the artist revels here in the controlled agitation of frothy splatters and turbulent washes signaling release. Registering liminality equally in its subject matter and its execution, the painting presents an inextricable dichotomy signaling both an end and a new beginning. Despite his unsettling facility in probing the darkness of our present moment, Gatti-Hernandez’s own future appears very bright indeed.
The writer, ALEX ROSS, is a critic and curator based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has written regularly for THE Magazine, Visual Art Source, and The Huffington Post, and his essays have appeared in several exhibition catalogues. He has spoken on art criticism and curatorial practices at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design as well as SITE Santa Fe. He is currently director of LewAllen Projects.
The mentor, ALEXI WORTH, is a painter who has written about art for The New Yorker, Artforum, ARTnews, Slate, Bomb, T Magazine and other publications. He is represented by DC Moore Gallery.
CUE Art Foundation’s operations and programs are made possible with the generous support of foundations, corporations, government agencies, individuals, and its members.
Major program support is provided by:
Accademia Charitable Foundation Inc.
The Viking Foundation
The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Inc.
The Greenwall Foundation
The Greenwich Collection Inc.
Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation
The Joan Mitchell Foundation
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
National Endowment for the Arts
New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
New York State Council on the Arts (a State agency)
William Talbot Hillman Foundation
The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Trust
The Koret Foundation
The Hyde and Watson Foundation
Finding the Dissolve [detail], 2010
Oil on canvas, 32” x 24"
All artwork © Javier Gatti-Hernandez
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