ARTISTS PAKSA AND ZABALA: ‘Analogies & Differences’
Margarita Paksa and Horacio Zabala: ‘Analogies & Differences’
By Holland Cotter
This show pairs small-scale work, mostly on paper, by two Argentine artists little seen in New York. Each grew up in Buenos Aires during years of civic trauma; each has packed responses to a deadly era into the art.
Margarita Paksa graduated from art school in 1955 and participated in the pro-democracy protests that brought down the rule of Juan Perón that year. A core member of the art world vanguard, she experimented, critically, with variations on Minimalism, Conceptual art and performance, and with sexual and topical content that led to police censorship and a brief imprisonment.
In 1968 she began working with labor unions and helped conceive the famous Tucumán Arde (“Tucumán Is Burning”) protests against government oppression of rural workers. At the beginning of the 1970s, she became a cultural organizer in slum neighborhoods near Buenos Aires, returning to art full time in 1976, when state terrorism under a military dictatorship — this was the period of the disappearances — was taking its toll on artists.
The language-based work in the show spans the years from 1967 to 1978 and is notable for its graphic forthrightness. The words justice, liberty and violence, in Spanish, are viewed as if through a rifle’s sight, their letters fractured by magnification; in some pieces, the sight itself is trained on a city map.
Horacio Zabala, who was born in 1943 and studied architecture, was also swept up in the activist zeal of the avant-garde, and most of his work in the show dates from the early 1970s. In a pencil drawing, he proposes three fanciful designs for prisons, one underwater, one underground, the third perched high atop a column.
In another piece he obliterates a printed image of the South American continent with a repeated rubber-stamped word: censorship. And in a third, dated 1972, a single rubber-stamped phrase, “Art is a Jail,” fills a sheet of paper. From a distance, the piece looks like a swatch of patterned fabric; the phrase itself suggests that under conditions of repression, art not only reveals its intrinsic limits, but is also forced to restrict itself further, to the business of resistance.
The work by both artists in the show does have limits. The small pieces are souvenirs of an important period in their art, but by no means fully represent two long, very different, highly diversified careers that have taken many unexpected directions. With luck, future exhibitions will start to fill out those larger pictures. Meanwhile, Henrique Faria offers welcome and rewarding introductions.
The New York Times
Published: May 27, 2010