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Human, So Human / Illusionist, So, Illusionist

Hunter Braithwaite

Installation view of Angela Valella's "Human, So Human."

Angela Valella
Marcos Valella
February 5 – March 30, 2014

A question we should probably ask ourselves in this community is “what is art for?” Can it do more than generate tourist dollars, gentrify neighborhoods, and validate socialites? Is asking anything at all asking too much? Could art be considered therapeutic? If so, what are its consolations? What about as a pedagogical tool? Ok, well what does it teach us? Hidden in a nondescript compound of art and novacaine run by orthodontist Arturo Mosquera, the context and content of two exhibitions allows the viewer to consider what art can and cannot do.

Respectively, Human, So Human and Illusionist, So, Illusionist are exhibitions by Angela Valella and her son Marcos. Her title riffs off Nietzsche; his, hers. Inside the placid waiting room, which is kind of a project space for the main gallery next door, Marcos installed seven paintings on the peach walls. The two closest to the door are endless swirls of colored ballpoint pin with dabs of paint coagulating in some of the formed negative space. The gestures of the lines connect to the other five, which use a sullied palate and the same hypnotic gesture. The paintings are controlled, on autopilot. They feel automatic. One imagines Valella’s wrist rotating more than they imagine his mind at work. The painter has tried to distance himself. His choices don’t make paintings, but they do. This waiting room isn’t a gallery, but it is.

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One of Marcos’ Paintings

You have to think about what makes a painting. Is it paint, gesture/performance, or context? Valella’s paintings have long skirted the first two while remaining firmly loyal in the third. In a white cube, these paintings are nimble, understated and adroit; they retreat from the viewer both physically and conceptually. But we aren’t in a white cube, we’re in an orthodontist’s waiting room, and his politeness verges on innocuousness. It’s as if Kandinsky’s synesthesia was set off by elevator muzak. Whatever the consolations of this type of painting, they are overwhelmed by its placement within the realm of the actually therapeutic.

Next door, in a house converted to a gallery, Angela Valella presents two installations. The first is an impressive contraption made out of a table, two projectors, two sources of sound, and several different levels of a colored plexiglass. From the front of the gallery, the viewer sees a ghostly projection of dark rectangles arranging themselves on the sculptural screen. Modernist shards of Schoenberg come from a speaker somewhere, as do recorded growls from the early modern city. As the viewer walks around the tableau, they see that the other projector, facing the other way, emits an image of black pigment floating in white liquid. At once, the piece is a lecture about the relationship between twentieth-century art and the city, a sculptural cinemascape, and a poem about the creative cycle.

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Angela Valella, It’s better to be an art work. Two wooden tables, lamp with tripod, group of collages, Dimensions Variable. 2014

In a back room, her “It’s better to be an artwork” features two wooden table with pages ripped from an old book and then collaged with transparencies of photographs Valella took of the television screen. A bright light shines down onto the composition, presenting it as a suspect to be interrogated, or at least looked at for more than a few seconds. Asking the viewer to spend time with a work of art isn’t asking a lot, but it does engage studying, and with that, a model of traditional education. Pair that with how this this allusion-rife exhibition behaves like a refresher course for modernism, and you have something fairly pedagogical. Thankfully, it is open-ended enough to avoid didacticism. The success of many recent practices—research-based, vitrine-housed—depend upon the increased erudition of the viewer, and as such, they often appear as little more than Ted talks or powerpoints. It’s nice to have Valella hint at all of this, but finally shy away. While I enjoy the artistic practices of both Valellas, Angela’s exhibition was more solvent. I blame this on the peach walls and the comfortable seating of the waiting room. Regardless of motivation, art needs to be in charge of its context. If this is ever possible, we’ll see.

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