19 April 2015

What's up for six more days, v. XVI

Brian Maguire, Erika
Seeing Brian Maguire's painterly dispatches from Cuidad Juárez in person (514 w26th St, til April 25) not only allows one to take in the large scale paintings but throws in a screening of the 80-minute documentary Blood Rising, co-produced by and featuring Maguire (pdf). Blood Rising is a good name for the overall mood of the paintings, as they are angry, strident, and unambiguous, depicting the unrelenting violence afflicting the corrupt, gang-infested border city. Attention was first paid in the English language press to the 'feminocidio' of Juárez when Charles Bowden published an account of the post-NAFTA urban landscape in the December, 1996 issue of Harper's (pdf) in cooperation with local photographers, which led to the book Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future which made a strong impression on me upon its release.

Molly Malloy, who has collaborated with Bowden, has offered the rejoinder after years of research that although Bowden, as intended, appropriately brought attention to the increasing violence in the city, by her count females were not a proportionately high percentage of the victims,* stating in an interview last year, "It’s almost like we’re fetishizing these dead women. To always be looking back at these women as if their bodies are this kind of sacrificial host—I find that to be troubling, in terms of our culture and our focus on life and death and what it means. In other words, if you’re constantly focusing on women as if they’re this symbol for suffering, you never move beyond that particular death to look at the social conditions that gave that kind of life, and that kind of death, for so, so many people." Malloy states in that interview "the violence associated with organized crime escalated" in 2008, and that "Nothing has been done to address the economic suffering that came from [the North American Free Trade Agreement]. Nothing has been done to address the issues of drug trafficking, and why it’s so appealing for people in Juárez to become a part of these criminal enterprises. No one has really created a public school system in Juárez that serves all of the children that need to be going to school rather than working in factories or joining gangs." Maguire reports a higher percentage of female victims than Malloy: 1,400 since 1994 out of a total of over 5,000, and joins others in describing a distinct phenomenon of legal impunity for the perps of feminicidio.

Several years before Bowden's article in Harper's, Roberto Bolaño developed a sustained, obsessive interest in the femicides that he intended from the start to be central to an upcoming novel. Any intention to link the murders to social and economic factors was an non-starter for Bolaño, whose mind was firmly planted in crime genre conventions. "[Sergio] González Rodríguez [reporter and reviewer for a Carlos Monsiváis-edited publication] told Bolaño how his findings suggested that the killings in Juárez were connected to the local police and politicians and to the mercenary gangs maintained by the drug cartels. The police don't seriously investigate the murders, he explained, because they're badly trained, or they're misogynists, or they've made deals that allow the narcos to operate with impunity.

"So there's no serial killer? González Rodríguez recalls Bolaño asked him... This revelation, González Rodríguez says, disconcerted Bolaño. By then, the writer had already devised an elaborate, ingenious structure for his novel, a structure that in some ways depends on the idea of a single serial killer."

Bolaño proceeded to fill 300 pages with graphic forensic details of murders of women, suggesting at one point that the murderer is Benno von Archimboldi, a novelist hailed by several literary critics in another section of the book, who symbolizes the effect created by the 16thC painter Giuseppe Arcimboldi when forms of vegetation combine to form a human face at a distance, similar to Salvador Dali's "paranoiac-critical method" and the garbage that forms Art History figures in the work of Vik Muniz, who refers to the 'magic' that takes place when seemingly unrelated objects take on a different form when stepping back. Revisions prevented by Bolaño's death leave us with the genre-induced intent of this portrait more than its refinement and realization, but the inaccurate, merciless caricature of Mexicans written in Spain and signed, conveniently, with a Chilean name, intentionally oblivious to the underlying social and political causes of the crimes, helped make 2666 a rousing success amongst Anglophone critics who would never praise the novels of, say, Monsiváis, too close for comfort to the actual people and their struggles.

Maguire moved to Juárez around the time of 2666's publication and got an NGO to introduce him to the victims' families on the condition that he teach their children, which led to the practice, chronicled in the documentary, of presenting portraits of the victims to their families. For whatever reason, the gallery show contains none of these portraits, but does include five large canvases of severed heads and limbs of male victims left dramatically by drug cartels. The deference given these cartels inspired the 2015 canvas Cash, a portrait of wads hung opposite the screening of Blood Rising, and the 2014 3x4 meter Police Graduation 2012 (Juárez) (above), as well as a lithograph series with the image of academy recruits giving a Nazi salute without the irony imbued on the gesture by Kiefer early in his career, while spare acrylic strokes and selective coloring remind me of Daniel Richter a decade ago, especially Richter's works on paper. Whatever the influences, Maguire's skill as a representational painter is evidenced in acrylics like Cardona Bridge (Juárez), depicting what appears to be real Mexican eagle on a sculptural pedastal.

If you want to see a film of birds flying without the tragic symbolism, Etel Adnan's birds and other scenes of nature are screened next door at Lelong 528 w26th til May 8, along with two ink and watercolor accordion books (below) and various pastels.

At 547 w25th Cheim & Reid has abstract paintings by Bill Jensen, who paints with Piri' Miri Muli's favorite artist film, Andrei Rublev, running, canvases full of references to Michelangelo's Last Judgement and Chinese poetry anthologies, til May 9.

Also up til the 25th are seven white sculptures of polyurethane resin by Janine Antoni that combine internal and external body parts at 531 West 24th Street.

* I recall in Zacatecas a young Mexican woman talking about how her friends wanted to move to Juárez and what a 'fun' city it was, at which time a chorus of gringo men recited what they had heard of the feminocidio which she downplayed, realizing then the mythological divide over the murders.

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