The first solo show of Venezuelan, Caracas-based painter Juan Araújo at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art brings together a series of paintings which carry on the artist’s focus on the afterlife of modernism in Latin America. Starting from the piece La Silla del Diablo (The Devil’s Seat), designed by Alexander Calder as an homage to the devilish entrepreneurship of the Venezuelan architect Carlos Villanueva, Araújo’s paintings read as cut-out reproductions of texts and images from architecture magazines and art history books. Inside these collages of sorts there’s enough space for Le Corbusier, Luis Barragán or Lina Bo Bardi to collapse onto each other.
The precise yet carefree quality of the paintings, allied to the humbleness of the materials (mostly small format pieces of paper, mounted on wood or hung by threads) manage to evade their photographic origin, pointing rather to the circulation as image of their source and their fragility. Marked by a somewhat expected, and therefore hackneyed conjunction of modernism and the tropics, such qualities offer an acute seductiveness to Araújo’s work.
Yet is it not this same expectedness what ends up betraying it? The recollection of the sweet (to some at least) failure of modernism, as well as its renewed life in times of prosperity for Latin America and archeological revision in Europe? At their best, Araújo’s paintings acknowledge the weight of modernism on our imaginary, while also presenting us with an art historical, urban and, perhaps more importantly, psychological necessity for a renegotiation of these objects in Latin America. If so, however, one cannot but feel uneasy about the seductiveness of the gaze, not to mention fetishism, upon these objects. To such an extent that, taking the opposite perspective, Araujo’s paintings feel rather like lush tropical exports served to fulfill the desires of a westernized market – much in the same way that hybridization has become a must for art production from the region. From this perspective then, there is definitely a political and cultural dilemma of codified self-exploitation worth considering here.
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