Each Friday, our writers review a few choice New York gallery openings from the night before.
Richard Misrach, Wall, Los Indios, Texas (El Muro, Los Indios, Texas), 2015. Pigment print mounted to dibond, 60 x 80
by Elinor Case-Pethica, Staff writer
Currently on view at Pace MacGill Gallery’s 25th street location is Border Cantos, a collaborative body of work created by photographer Richard Misrach, and composer/sculptor Guillermo Galindo. Misrach and Galindo have been working together to produce their multimedia installations tackling the humanitarian issue of militarization along the Texas/Mexico border ever since a chance encounter at an event in 2011 made them aware of each other’s work.
Richard Misrach’s photographs are stunning. The large-format prints, 60"x80", have a gorgeous sense of light—Misrach coaxes sultry cool tones out of the border’s parched landscape, with a backdrop of powdery and subtle pinks in skies that seem pulled straight from the Hudson River School. His images alternate between portraying the wall as an organic element of the landscape, and as a stark, disjointed imposition upon it. This contrast is set up in the immediate approach into the gallery; one photo shows a sweeping romantic view of the mountains and a long dusty road, while its companion is an isolated segment of fence, surrounded by tire tracks and an oppressive white fog. Smaller-format photographs also appear in series organized by subject type—abandoned car tire drags, for instance, or used shooting range targets.
Misrach, Wall, East of Nogales, 2015, pigment print mounted to dibond, 60"x 79 1/8"
Guillermo Galindo’s work takes the forms of found object sculpture and experimental music. The line between his two mediums is a blurred one; Guillermo composes his music based on the sonic ranges of the musical devices he hand-makes from items found at the border. The show’s sculptural content spans from the monumental Ángel exterminador, a contorted iron section of the border wall hanging from a massive wooden structure, to small display cases containing detritus such as a crinkled packet of Ruffles and a well-worn sneaker. Many of Galindo’s sculptures suggest possible mechanical functions, notably Zapatello/ Zapatello, built from an old tire, a jaw bone, and discarded boot, that seems to echo da Vinci’s Martello a Camme.
The show’s emphasis on using and documenting found objects from the border serves to underscore the baffling politics of mobility. The artists are able to traverse the border in order to create this work—even the forgotten belongings have made the journey from the desolate border wall all the way to Pace Gallery’s prime real estate in Chelsea. Yet where are the people? They are absent even from the photographs—in the two instances where figures appear, they are shown through gaps in the wall. The wall separates the photographed space from the gallery space visually, and, of course, literally.
Misrach, Backpack (Mochilla)
The show as a whole manages to side step many of its potential pitfalls by addressing the tension inherent in talking about immigration issues from within the comfort of the art world. The line between advocacy and exploitation is dangerously slim (Ai Wei Wei’s photographic self-portrait, mimicking the iconic photo of a drowned Syrian child on the beach springs to mind). Border Cantos avoids a sensationalistic and profiteering reading, thanks to its deft curatorial approach to representing both the the solidity and porousness of borders.
Moving through the show requires the viewer to cross a series of metaphorical boundaries. This is made most stark and powerful in the installation of the piece Three Methods for Scaling the Wall/Tres Métodos Para Escalar el Muro. The work is displayed on a temporary wall that reaches only three quarters of the way to the gallery ceiling and has a collection of thrown-together ladders made from sticks, blankets, and scrapwood. Circulation through the show requires walking around this pristinely white stand-in for the border wall; doing so throws into sharp relief the contrast between the easy movement of the gallery-goer versus the labored crossing of the migrant. The show’s finest moments are these—when the comparison between the physical movement of the gallery-goer and that of the migrant are made unavoidable. Border Cantos show offers readings of the border wall as a permeable structure that is built by the psychological experiences of fear and desire as much as it is by steel. It will be on view at Pace MacGill, 510 West 25th street, until August 18th.
Misrach, Three Methods for Scaling the Wall (Tres Métodos para Escalar el Muro), 2015