DENVER — From wall texts to articles, every introduction of artist Eamon Ore-Giron highlights his father’s familial ties to Peru as well as his mother’s roots in Arizona. The notion that he is the offspring of two cultures suggests his art is a visual manifestation of Spanish colonialism and Indigenous origins. The potential limitations of this framework are eroded by Ore-Giron himself in podcasts and interviews in which he generously shares his messy creative process of finding inspiration in a legion of sources: gold, Peruvian public monuments to agrarian reform, murals, mid-century Latin American geometric abstraction, ancient and colonial architecture, Mesoamerican deities, and music are all cited with equal importance, troubling a narrow narrative aimed at easy consumption. What may seem like an unfocused, open structure of investigation is rather an intentional engagement with abstraction from a different point of origin.
The artist’s solo exhibition, Competing with Lightning, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver promises the most expansive presentation of Ore-Giron’s painting practice to date. His early figurative work, with surrealist touches, set the foundations for his unique but disorienting exploration of identity. In “Cookin’ 1” (2002) small clouds scaled to suggest a distant vista shift into the foreground, caressing a woman with corn husk stockings and a pitted sweater of dried cactus wood, who stirs a pot alongside another woman. In “Cookin’ 2” (2002) the scene is generally the same, but the women have exchanged pale skin and yellow hair for caramel features. A number of works from this period present figures with no faces at all, like “Exit Strategy” (2005) and “Praise for the Morning” (2004), or brown faces masked by pale ones, as in the Peruvian Chonguinada Dancers dressed as Spanish nobles in “Dazantes” (2001).
Part of what it means to decolonize is to prioritize and center different perspectives, but how does this happen when the words for artistic techniques or comparable art movements reference Europe in origin and in language, either Spanish or English? How does Ore-Giron disrupt this default shift?
The MCA Denver presentation fast forwards viewers from the 2005 paintings to 2017 to introduce “Talking Shit with Coatlicue,” in which the artist recreates the monumental stone sculpture of an ancient Mexican goddess in Flashe paint on linen. The jarring curatorial choice to skip over a decade of work, in which Ore-Giron traversed many mediums, and transitioned to abstraction, cuts the belly out of this painting, and will likely confuse visitors as to how he arrived at a semi-figurative revision of Coatlicue. The room has all the tension of squabbling siblings.
Conversely, the artistic legacies of the Global South effectively gain leverage in their negotiation with the Western canon in the artist’s recent presentation Non Plus Ultra at Stanford University’s Anderson Collection. The title means “beyond here no further,” a reversal of Spain’s imperial mantra “further beyond.” By bringing objects that reflect the industry and violence of the historic gold trade into the galleries that house his 15-foot paintings he ties labor to creativity. The scale of the linen canvases are mural-like — so large that the viewer will likely become accustomed to feeling small and never quite gain a proper vantage point within the limits of the museum building. In a recent interview with the Modern Art Notes podcast, Ore-Giron spoke at length of his interest in the public art dedicated to miners in the towns around Huancayo, Peru, and how artists like Roberto Burle Marx saw art as a social language and act of citizenship. When Ore-Giron’s work becomes untethered from a single perspective and braids many references into a single object the result is a fantastic, but recognizable, dialect where the viewer can access parts of a whole and must work to make sense of it.
Such familiarity abounds in his series Infinite Regress, which has been ongoing since 2015. The solidity of his forms recalls that of the painter Carmen Herrera. The curve of his lines emphatically evokes María Freire. His circles bend the lines and alter the colors of neighboring forms as if some elements in the painting are persuading others to change. The gold Flashe paint projects into space to build porticos and stairs that shift the weight of the composition, similar to Joaquín Torres-Garcia’s “América Invertida” (1943). Once Ore-Giron’s influences are understood as homegrown in the Americas and not secondary, derivative, or siloed, he tempts you to consider culture as a collective living concept, evolving through influences and destabilizing identity.
Eamon Ore-Giron: Competing with Lightning continues at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (1485 Delgany Street, Denver, Colorado) through May 22. The exhibition was curated by the museum’s Ellen Bruss senior curator Miranda Lash.