(Published in Artnexus, No. 96, Vol 13, 2015)
Lightness of Weight is the title of the latest solo exhibition by Mexican artist José Dávila in New York. The show was presented at the Sean Kelly Gallery from October 24 to December 6, 2014 and coexisted with Generator, the last performative experience by Marina Abramovic at that space.
The exhibition consisted of sculptures, photographs and drawings. They represent a new group of works that, as the title indicates, was conceived from a notion obsessively explored by Dávila: equilibrium; that point that produces the communion of seemingly irreconcilable polarities. Lightness and weight, fragility and strength, absence and presence, appearance and reality are the opposing poles of a scale that Dávila knows exactly how to push, tense and tip in these works.
Upon entering the exhibition, viewers are welcomed by the imposing sculpture titled Look Mickey. Three huge slabs of marble, held together by industrial ratchet straps, form a work in which resistance, weight, gravity and all other factors involved in getting the system to maintain a precise balance between stability and collapse have been precisely calculated. The articulation between the blunt solid marble and the lightness of the ratchet straps underscores the implicit tension of the structure. But its concomitant dichotomies—paradox aside—do not end there, as the naturalness of marble, its polished look and black color also contrast with the synthetic material, the rough texture and deep red of the straps. Named after a work by Roy Lichtenstein, Look Mickey reaffirms Dávila’s vision of the artistic practice, which he personally regards as a continuum, a line of continuity in which previously formulated ideas are revisited as brought to new expressive territories. Dávila is known for his propensity to base his works on authors and movements of art and architecture from earlier generations, such as Minimalism, Conceptualism and Pop Art. In this instance, the assumed reference is an emblematic work by Lichtenstein that marks his transition from abstraction to Pop Art. Lichtenstein’s work was also marked by several transferences, citations and appropriations. Taken from a fictional narrative, Mickey and Donald’s scene is reinterpreted by Lichtenstein in two occasions, the second occurring several years later when it was incorporated into a painting that was also inspired by the work L’Atelier Rouge (The Red Studio) by Henri Matisse. So Dávila’s choice is not accidental, as he knows how to take advantage of the infinite potential of references present in this cultural context, which he elaborates from the perspective of his own vision.
A similar physical situation is explored in the work Joint Effort than the already described is performed in the work Joint Effort in which the weightlessness-weight relationship is offered in its maximum expression through the use of glass as the leading medium. Here, two glass plates are also put into balance. The inherent fragility of this material and its strength contribute to convey a sense of imminent danger before an extreme physical situation.
In the first exhibition area, and presented alongside Look Mickey, there is a series of photographic works that have been manipulated with cuts, a common practice in Dávila’s artistic production. In some of them several persons move or push with great effort something that has been removed from the image. In other photographs, this presence-absence of a visual motif becomes the most important area of the image and leaves no room for any other element. Through this mutilation of visual information the artist radically disrupts the status of representative obviousness that is intrinsic to photography and enters a purely suggestive realm when he reveals an empty, mild and light space where a heavy physical reality once existed. Dávila works within that thin juncture where polarities connect for a moment in their most critical points of opposition.
There are two categorical pairs that through their attraction and op- position are present throughout the entire exhibition. One, already announced in the title, is weightlessness-weight, while the other, equally central to the show, is ephemeral-permanent. The latter generates considerations that point to the transient nature of matter beyond its timeless appearance. Without a doubt, this is an artist who likes to push the boundaries and who knows how to get away with it like few can.
The ability of José Dávila to extract the expressive potential from the intrinsic properties of the materials that he uses, as well as his effective administration of the space, the subtle manner in which he applies textures and colors, as well as his understanding of reality in geometric terms and through cultural references, are some of the values that confirm the sharpness and relevance of this proposal.