The elevator opens onto a dark, shrouded foyer. A few steps in and one encounters quite unexpectedly the large, gloomy front room of Argentine artist Adrián Villar Rojas’s first solo exhibition, Two Suns, at the Marian Goodman Gallery, New York. Fitted with an unusual mosaic floor of worn blue, gray, and brown tiles, the exhibition draws our attention to Rojas’s ongoing concern with entropy, the past, and the passage of time literally from the ground up.
“I’m very interested in the floor we walk on,” Rojas explains as we peruse the empty space. Laid out in elaborately construed patterns, tiles of different hues of blue and gray surround large, square patches of decrepit brown ones. The artist fabricates the tiles in a factory in Argentina, where he resides. Made from different combinations of clay, cement, and mud, each tile, painstakingly pressed with everyday objects collected from Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and Argentina, covers every inch of the gallery. Pebbles, sand, leaves, a tiny iPod, remnants of a beehive, cigarette butts, bits of glass, meat bones, charcoal, and the Argentinian peso are visible amongst vast shreds of decay. Dead butterflies found in New York adorn a strip of blue-dusk tiles. Time comes to a standstill amidst this anthropological lesson as one tries to examine the ceramic stoneware that is deliberately obscured by gray curtains and windows that block out all but a few carefully orchestrated streams of natural light.
The tiles notably deviate from Rojas’s previous staggering sculptures of a disintegrating elephant, or his futuristic sci-fi inspired structures, or even his most recent array of large animals referencing Noah’s Ark at the current Istanbul Biennial. Still, the refuse collected from locations all over the world continue Rojas’s preoccupation with history and evolution. Here, litter, dirt, and dust take us back to consider the origins of our genesis — from where we came, and to which we will return.
The play of light guides our experience of this site-specific work. The dark, somber front gallery contributes to one’s feeling of atrophy, but a journey through a desolate corridor veiled with gray curtains leads to a comparatively well-lit back gallery covered with sapphire blue, pewter, and slate-gray tiles, studded with plastic bags, crushed metal, coke cans, rope, rubber tires, scraps of paper, and shells. Placed strategically at the center of the sobering blue hues, a large, supine replica of Michelangelo’s “David” lies horizontally over two vertical columns.
“What could be a good way of getting into trouble?” Rojas ponders as we stand examining a multitude of cracks on the cement-and-clay figure. The sleeping statue of David deliberately resists presenting the figure as a grand hero of Renaissance art. His glaring eyes and smooth, upright marble physique were meant to intimidate and defend the civil liberties of 16th-century Rome. But for Rojas, this provocative gesture of misrepresenting David through his weak posture and fractured frame in the mecca of the art world is two-fold: On the one hand, it is meant to invoke criticism and perhaps the artist’s failure to have a successful first solo exhibition in New York. “You can commit mistakes,” he says, as he points to the over-sized figure, fallen from its traditional glory. But, on the other hand, Rojas’s decision to diminish a historically revered idol is in keeping with his philosophy that, “There are no scales of value, but commitment to a deep state of detachment and distance, which is also reflected in the use of time.”
Driven by a desire to remove time from its historical trajectory, Rojas aims to create works that lie outside of any category. Time in the Rojas universe is finite, determined by the site-specificity of his works and his choice of degradable organic materials. Seen in this context, the reclining David purports new and challenging ways of viewing the Renaissance figurehead before he turns to rubble. Rojas has described his purpose as “The decision to exile myself from this time, because I felt there was no longer anything to think of regarding art.”
By embracing a philosophy that seems to release him from what he considers to be the strictures of time, Rojas’s creative energy remains unfettered and gives him the latitude to conjure all kinds of shapes and forms. Hence, Two Suns, as his show is aptly named, refers to the artist’s ideological belief that works emerge, energize change, and eventually disintegrate. For, in the end, the statue of David, like the floor tiles, and many other site-specific works that are meant to decompose, will be demolished and turned to dust. Only then will Rojas begin to create light-bearing, thought-provoking “suns” anew.
Adrián Villar Rojas: Two Suns continues at Marian Goodman Gallery (24 West 57th Street #4, Midtown West, Manhattan) through October 10.