'Carmen Argote: Filtration System for a Process-based Practice' on view at MCASD Downtown

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'Carmen Argote: Filtration System for a Process-based Practice' on view at MCASD Downtown
Carmen Argote: Filtration System for a Process-based Practice installation view. Photo: Riyo Studio for MCASD.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is presenting a solo exhibition by Los Angeles-based artist Carmen Argote (b. 1981, Guadalajara, MX), on the occasion of a major acquisition of her work. Known for her interdisciplinary practice––which begins with the process of searching, digesting, and conversing with the spaces and places she inhabits––Argote acknowledges herself and her process as part of a larger nexus of collective energies. Titled Carmen Argote: Filtration System for a Process-based Practice, the exhibition features six interwoven series that draw inspiration from Lincoln Park in East Los Angeles through sculpture, drawing, voice recordings, and the artist’s perennial walking practice––the majority of which was created during the past two years of the pandemic and are on view for the first time.

Complementing this presentation, the Museum is presenting two collection based exhibitions at MCASD Downtown’s Jacobs Building. These include: The Reason for the Neutron Bomb, which features powerful works by Chris Burden (1946-2015, United States) and Byron Kim (b. 1961, United States); and Figurative Vocabularies: Selections from the Collection which presents the Museum’s recent painting acquisitions. Following the grand reopening of the La Jolla campus this spring, these summer exhibitions mark the return of MCASD’s joint exhibition program across the Museum’s two locations for the first time in four years. The array of artistic perspectives on view continues the Museum’s celebration of California’s trailblazing artists and cultivation of under-recognized art historical narratives.

Kathryn Kanjo, David C. Copley Director and CEO, comments: “These upcoming exhibitions speak to the Museum’s identity as part of a binational community that fosters a rich dialogue with its history and artists. I am pleased that we will simultaneously be presenting Los Angeles-based Carmen Argote–who extends the thread of strong female voices in this year’s programming–along with Brooklyn-based Byron Kim, who has roots in La Jolla, and Southern California artist Chris Burden, who pioneered performance and conceptual art practices that influenced many other artists on view and in our collection.”

Carmen Argote: Filtration System for a Process-based Practice is presented in MCASD Downtown’s large Farrell Gallery, formerly the baggage building of the historic Santa Fe Depot. The exhibition takes its title from a major sculptural installation by Argote that was originally commissioned by the Hammer Museum for Made in L.A. 2018. Recently acquired by MCASD, the multi-layered installation is a literal and theoretical locus for exhibition, which traces Argote’s playful transgression of boundaries between public and private, self and world, human and animal.

The titular sculptural installation is modeled on a nondescript mound in Eastlake in Lincoln Park that masks the filtration system of the human-made lake. During walks at the park, Argote imagined herself atop the conspicuously concealed equipment, prompting her to recreate the mound inside her studio. Scaled to the artist’s height, the mound became a platform and a site of production—“a studio within the studio.” While perched on the sculpture, Argote produced a series of circular monochromatic paintings on muslin in hues inspired by Lincoln Park and its surrounding environs. In the multistage artwork, the process of digesting and distilling is both literal and metaphorical; instead of the water of Eastlake, Argote extracts and refines her paints and processes.

Jill Dawsey, Senior Curator, comments: “We are thrilled to bring into the collection this pivotal work of Argote’s and to debut it as part of a constellation of related series accomplished during the pandemic. Originating from the artist’s practice of walking, these site-responsive sculptures and works on paper record Argote’s movements through Los Angeles and illuminate shifting bodily boundaries during the COVID-19 period. Argote performs alchemical transformations of common materials, incorporating mediums as diverse as ceramic oxides, pizza boxes, oak galls, T-shirts, citrus fruit, cochineal, and bodily fluids.”

The exhibition debuts Argote’s For Florence (2020), both an action and a wall-bound work on paper, which began with the artist unfurling a 15-foot sheet of cochineal coated paper at the bank of Eastlake. Using a lemon found at a nearby monument to Florence Nightingale, the Victorian-era British nurse and social reformer, Argote squeezed the fruit onto the paper, and added bread crumbs to encourage local ducks and birds to participate by leaving their tracks and droppings. Exemplifying the artist’s use and transformation of ordinary materials, the work is also a dedication to an icon of frontline healthcare. The works on view are a result of Argote metabolizing and transforming her environs and attendant materials, foregrounding their unique properties and histories while acknowledging their place as part of a larger nexus of collective energies.

Also featured are the artist’s Cosmic Backpacks (2021), constructed from folded, grease-spattered pizza boxes sourced during early quarantine; drawings in graphite from the Glove Hand Dog series (2020); Urine Map in Book Form (2022), which meditates on the overlap of public and private space; and Searching for the Willow Pattern (2020), which comprises multiple bolts of stained, raw linen that Argote adorns with variously styled pockets, into which she pours hand-mixed dyes. The textile’s inability to contain the washes dictated both the artwork’s final form and part of its meaning: the fluidity of each material’s history leeches beyond its bounds.

Audio recordings captured during Argote’s walks accompany the works on view in the exhibition, offering insight into Argote’s “process-based practice.”

Featuring pieces from MCASD’s collection, The Reason for the Neutron Bomb presents timely and poignant works by Chris Burden and Byron Kim. Burden’s large-scale installation, which gives this exhibition its title, was created in the midst of the Cold War and comprises 50,000 nickels and 50,000 matchsticks that served to represent the Soviet Union fighting tanks which outnumbered the Western Bloc more than two to one at the time of the artwork’s inaugural exhibition.

Here, it is accompanied by three black-on-black paintings by Byron Kim, who took his inspiration for this series, Pond Lily Over Mushroom Cloud (2015), from the centennial of San Diego‘s Panama California Exposition. The 1915 Exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and included work by Maria Martinez (1884-1980), whose iconic blackware style has been adopted by Kim. In this manner, he creates geometric and organic motifs reminiscent of animals and landscapes but also, perhaps more troublingly, politically resonant imagery like that of the mushroom cloud. In these distinct yet complementary works, Burden and Kim both confront military and ideological warfare by way of abstraction. Through simple visual strategies, Burden’s abstraction indulges in the physical literality of spectacle whereas Kim’s abstract paintings disrupt the perceived distance from nuclear destruction, bringing home the realities of war.

The third exhibition that will soon open at MCASD’s downtown location is Figurative Vocabularies: Selections from the Collection. Featuring a selection of works newly acquired by MCASD, this exhibition will emphasize tendencies in figuration and serve as a counterpoint to Abstract Vocabularies: Selections from the Collection, which was previously presented in Strauss Gallery. These new acquisitions, exhibited for the first time by MCASD, explore diverse modes of representation, depicting human subjects, architectural spaces, and the natural landscape.

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