Continuing through January 25, 2020
Art is the transmutation of dead matter into life, or its simulacrum. Sometimes, as in our current climate of disillusionment and distrust, it’s an exercise in the denial of such ambitious self-delusion. Damiàn Ortega’s “Estridentòpolis” is a selection of sculptures and weavings fabricated from Kraft paper (used for paper bags and butcher paper), cement bags, styrofoam and wood. These are the materials of construction and commerce, which the artist turns into a critique of global capitalism. The title derives from Estridentismo, or, stridency, a Mexican avant-garde movement from the utopian 1920s, which advocated the modernization of that proud but backward culture. As with all utopias, the results failed to live up to the promise.
Ortega’s woven collages are minimalist abstractions with a conceptual subtext; his paper suit is an homage to the protective gear fashioned onsite by workers at constructions sites in the building boom of the 1960s, when there was apparently no Mexican version of OSHA. Most striking are the seven large figure sculptures based on identifiable, iconic buildings (and labeled with credit to the original architects): the Empire State Building, Habitat 67 in Montreal, the Chrysler Building, Taipei 101, etc. Sporting the heads of animals — donkey, dog, alligator, bull, rhino — these therianthropic architectural deities metaphorically conjoin the aforementioned utopianism with the realities of the natural world. Are these conceptual effigies (based on the Mexican papier-mâché Judas figure tradition) our version of the paintings and prints of Roman ruins subsiding into the romantic naturalism of Piranesi and Hubert Robert? And will the current mandatory skepticism save us from ruin?