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Two Artists Explore the Ruins of the 20th Century at the Hirshhorn
Early 1960's The Grapetree Bay Hotel postcard. Hannau-Robinson Productions. Christianstead, Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Hirshhorn presents a new two-person “Directions” exhibition featuring the work of Cyprien Gaillard (French, b. Paris, 1980) and Mario Garcia Torres (Mexican, b. Monclova, 1975), on view Nov. 10–March 27, 2011. These artists represent a new generation of conceptualists who examine the architectural and artistic “ruins” of the recent past. They use similar materials and forms to create works that investigate the successes and failures of modern history’s idealistic movements. Kristen Hileman, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art, is the guest curator for the project.

Gaillard engages with the built environment, revealing the failure of modernist architecture yet preserving a sense of nostalgia for the utopian thinking often associated with it. “Geographical Analogies” (2006–09) is a selection from Gaillard’s archive of approximately 900 Polaroid photographs depicting decaying buildings in locations from Chernobyl to Detroit. These images are organized in cases constructed of wood and glass that evoke traditional methods of specimen display and offer comparisons between ancient and contemporary ruins. Also included is the three-part video composition “Desniansky Raion” (2007), scored by Gaillard’s musical collaborator, Koudlam. The footage, both shot by the artist and appropriated from the Internet, proves poignant in a montage that includes hand-to-hand combat between rival gangs in Eastern Europe, the demolition of a building outside Paris, and a dizzying helicopter flight around a monolithic compound near Kiev, Ukraine.

Garcia Torres has revisited projects by artists active in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Michael Asher, Robert Barry, Alighiero e Boetti and Daniel Buren. He examines how the structure and significance of their artworks have been affected by the passage of time and the evolving expectations of participants and viewers. “Je ne sais si c’en est la cause” (2009), is Garcia Torres’ meticulously researched meditation on an early mosaic project by Buren that decorates a luxury resort in the Virgin Islands. Incorporated into the room-sized installation are two slide projections juxtaposing images from the heyday of the hotel with current photographs of the structure crumbling and overgrown. Meanwhile, a turntable plays a haunting tune and unspools a spoken-word narrative about the commission Buren would eventually come to disavow and the decline of the site where it is located.

Both Gaillard and Garcia Torres examine idealistic movements of the past to raise the provocative questions of whether the convictions and achievements of today’s artists and architects will prove any more enduring than those of previous generations. Beyond simply evaluating the success of the endeavors, Gaillard and Garcia Torres consider what kind of foundation they provide for today’s visual output and cultural thinking.

The Hirshhorn | Kristen Hileman | Cyprien Gaillard | Mario Garcia Torres |

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