Olga de Amaral
ArtNexus #85 - Arte en Colombia #131
Jun - Aug 2012
Santa Monica, California
Latin American Masters
The exhibit “Boundaries” by Olga de Amaral includes 20 works by the well-known Colombian artist notorious for her life long-devotion to textile art, and her unapologetic use of gold and silver. A visit to an exhibition by Olga Amaral always has at least two attractions. One is the experience of a work that deploys all the aesthetic flair of its lavish materials, the other is the provocative way in which Amaral twists and subverts the proverbial limit between art and craft.
A good referent to understand how Amaral, who back in the late ‘60s helped establish textile art as a viable contemporary practice, deals with this limit is Third Wave Feminism. Rather than renouncing the undervalued activities usually associated with gendered domesticity and the private sphere, Third Wave Feminism aimed (and aims) at elevating these very activities and at shattering the very distinction feminine private/male public.
Olga de Amaral does something similar with textile work and art. She does not forswear the procedural, identitarian and mystical baggage associated with textile work. On the contrary, she freely chooses to incorporate to the world of art and its inquiries a particular kind of knowledge that she has richly studied for decades. This is a knowledge that, oblivious to its subaltern condition, produced systematic abstract composition way before Suprematism, a knowledge that inscribes the concrete and the conceptual in tangible symbols.
“Boundaries” is a carefully selected group of relatively small and bi-dimensional works that offers a microcosmic sampling of Olga de Amaral’s art. The un-crowded museography and the seductive luminosity of the pieces invite the visitor to a succession of close, individualized, enticing encounters that reward long, patient perusal. Each piece has indeed a complex ground level of intertwined cotton, linen, fiber or silk on top of which Amaral lays subtle veils of thin acrylic paint and gold and silver leaf. Each piece offers a different array of light, intricacy and material richness. Let’s look at some of the pieces.
In Montana 29 (2011, fiber, acrylic and parchment 43 ½ x 72 inches) the sharp, pixilated intricacy of cubic beads tickles the dreamy Monet blues and purples that are at the same time an atmospheric impressionistic haze and the abyss of a television screen.
In Luna Magenta (Magenta Moon) (1996 fiber, acrylic and gesso 75 x 39 inches) made of impossibly unattached strands of red and magenta (they seem to float), the playfulness of the Venezuelan kinetic artist Jesús Rafael Soto appears to team up with the mystic chromatic faith of the color field painting practiced by Mark Rothko, and the astronomical devotional reverence of the pre-Columbian civilizations.
Memorias (memories) 4 (2011 fiber, gold leaf, acrylic paint 56 ½ x 58 inches) strikes a very different chord with its crumbling net of straw-like and fuzzy fibers. Instead of shining chromatic flair we see something like the last remnants of an image, a bone- colored absence under the ruthless sun of an Andean Plateau.
Luz Strata, (2007 fiber, gesso and gold leaf 52 ½ x 16 inches). Is it a glitzy garment? A sacred devotional stela? Strata first appears in the field of vision of the visitor as a silky, soft sleeve soaked in an unbearable brilliance. It is only by walking towards it with squinted or closed eyes that one can actually get close enough to see the intricate array of golden knots. It is in this second instance that the work takes on an unexpected solidity.
In fact one has the impression as the work displays its range, as impressionistic haze follows a digital-like systematicity and knotting is followed by pixilation and bone like dryness is followed by gold, that at the core of Amaral’s practice there is a combination of openness and patience, a slow but assured pace that makes the most minute fluctuations of stitch width or paint tone release rich ghostly clues.
The group does bring to mind ancient pre-Columbian textiles but not so much because they look like them (not all of them do) but because like those masterful works, and like Third Wave Feminism, these seem not to fret over the divisions method/idea, object/image and craft/art.