There is another big-name exhibition besides “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic” at the Phoenix Art Museum this fall. By all means, see the spectacular Wiley show in the Marley Gallery, then walk up the stairs to the Harnett Gallery to see “Horacio Zabala: Mapping the Monochrome,” featuring one of the most important Conceptual artists to emerge in Argentina in the late 20th century. The show is part of the museum’s continuing effort to showcase Latin American art, and although the pieces require a higher degree of viewer engagement, as Conceptual pieces do, it is well worth the effort.
I enjoyed a sneak peek at “Mapping the Monochrome” the day before its opening on October 19, 2016, and even better, had a chance to speak with Zabala, who was in Phoenix to oversee the installation. An architect before he concentrated on art in the 1970s, Zabala was just returning from a tour of Taliesin West when we did a short walk-through of the show.
About half of the space is dedicated to Zabala’s earlier works, many of which turn the concept of road maps and atlas pages on their head while commenting on Argentina’s political upheavals of the time. Various paper documents hang on the wall as mere objects onto which Zabala places large monochrome squares of red, blue, black or other colors, obscuring the information. In some cases, the colors are stamped on, as if to censor the information. In more “aggressive” pieces, Zabala says, the maps are partially burned. The idea is for viewers to dismiss the remoteness and sterility of such objects and instead focus on the lived reality that the documents represent.
The other half of the space looks at Zabala’s current work, mostly his conversations with all things mathematical, scientific, linguistic and logical. It may seem surprising for an artist to incorporate such left-brain devices into his practice, but again, Zabala wants the viewer to see beyond the common associations that we make with symbols such as commas, parentheses and equal signs. It’s better to think of them as glyphs that lead to enlarged realizations about time, space and relationships, even about social and political issues. The symbols offer a “visual syntax,” as one essayist has noted in the Phoenix Art Museum-produced catalog Horacio Zabala: Purity Is in the Mix.
But if we want to purely enjoy the whimsy of pulling together symbols and monochrome blocks into curious sequences, that’s OK too. As Zabala explains, his artistic practice is as much the conception, drafting and preparation as it is the finished pieces.
“Mapping the Monochrome” includes two site-specific installations, as well as a wall dedicated to Zabala’s take on Arizona, employing his signature impositions of color blocks but this time onto state tourist maps.
Here is a short excerpt from the walk-through with Zabala. We are looking at a manipulated map of Arizona, maps of cities where he has lived, and a wall piece where the symbols end with the infinity sign:
The Zabala show continues until March 12, 2017, while the Wiley show leaves on January 8, 2017. For those who enjoy the museum’s dedication to fashion as art, the 400-piece show of clothing and accessories called “Emphatics” opens November 6 and runs through January 16.
Images are courtesy of the Phoenix Art Museum. Here are the full credit lines as you follow along in the slideshow:
Horacio Zabala, Revisar/Censurar (To Inspect/To Censor), 1974. Ink and pencil on 5 printed maps. Courtesy of the artist and Henrique Faria, New York and Buenos Aires.
Horacio Zabala, Anteproyectos de hipótesis II (Draft Sketches for Hypotheses II) (detail), 2010-2011. Pencil and acrylic on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Henrique Faria, New York and Buenos Aires, and Estudio Giménez-Duhau.
Horacio Zabala, Hacha (Axe), 1972-1998. Iron ax, printed map, wood base. Courtesy of the artist and Henrique Faria, New York and Buenos Aires, and Estudio Giménez-Duhau.
Horacio Zabala, Seis imágenes del fragmento 30 (Argentina) III (Six Images of the Fragment 30 (Argentina) III), 1973. Burnt printed maps and ink on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Henrique Faria, New York and Buenos Aires.
Horacio Zabala, Hipótesis para cuatro monocromos, un signo de equivalencia y paréntesis (Hypothesis for Four Monochromes, an Equal Sign and Parentheses), 2013. Acrylic on canvas, enamel on wood. Courtesy of the artist and Henrique Faria, New York and Buenos Aires, and Estudio Giménez-Duhau.
Horacio Zabala, Hipótesis para Phoenix (Hypothesis for Phoenix), 2016. Acrylic on wall, enamel paint on wood. Photo by Deborah Ross.