Carlos Amorales

Museo Amparo

Alison Hearst

Carlos Amorales, Black Cloud, 2007; black paper cutouts; dimensions variable; collection of Diane and Bruce Halle; Carlos Varillas/Fundación Amparo

Dark Mirror, 2008; resin; 15 ¾ x 157 ½ x 98 3/7 inches; Rocío and Boris Hirmas Collection; Carlos Varillas/Fundación Amparo

Housing a vast collection of pre-Columbian objects, Puebla’s Museo Amparo offers a provocative context for Vivir por fuera de la casa de uno (Living on the outside of one’s own home), Carlos Amorales’ exhibition of videos, sculptures and installations. Several of Amorales’ early works that question artistic authorship and ownership complement four new works—Treinta y cuatro enunciados para reordenar, Herramientas de trabajo, La hora nacional and Incorruptibles—that were created during a residency at the Amparo and address the museum’s methods of display. As a whole, the exhibition probes the subjective nature of museums, in particular their reliance on historical narratives and nationalist frameworks. Institutional critique may be considered an exhausted strategy, but Amorales’ investigations come off as fresh and solicitous.

The exhibition’s opening gesture, Treinta y cuatro enunciados para reordenar (Thirty-four Statements to Restructure), presents thirty-four poster-size black panels featuring punched-out phrases such as “to create drama around undramatic objects” and “to choose 10 figures at random, arranging them logically.” The installation challenges assumptions of museological authority and aptly highlights how museum display can reduce an object’s original meaning to the experience of an incongruous curio.

Two particularly engaging works, Dark Mirror Sculpture and Incorruptibles, demonstrate how museum contextualization can not only reify but also undermine power. Dark Mirror Sculpture is a large, black bird formed by shards of shattered resin. Birds, such as the quetzal, often signified dominion in pre-Columbian imagery, and the resin resembles obsidian, a material of status in Mayan culture. Amorales’ bird, however, is rendered inert through its fragmentary nature and physical and temporal isolation in the museum—much like, as Amorales suggests, how the Amparo’s pre-Columbian works function within its collection. Incorruptibles arranges hundreds of identical aluminum eagle heads like a path of fallen dominoes to signify the decapitation of power. Incorruptibles operates analogously to a 1972 installment of Marcel Broodthaers’ Musée d’Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles, which incapacitated the imperialistic symbolism of the eagle by exhibiting (and leveling) 266 eagle objects ranging in significance.

Amorales’ correctives also frequently attempt to instill new vigor into the museum. The film La hora nacional (The National Hour) shows replicas of the Amparo’s pre-Columbian objects dipped in luminously colored paint, reminding viewers that similar colors originally ornamented the now-faded artifacts. El estudio por la ventana (The Studio by the Window)—a sprawling, graphite wall drawing featuring thousands of traced, overlapping birds—has an immediacy that counters the detachment and preciousness of the neighboring vitrine-encased pre-Columbian works. Finally, the remarkable Black Cloud, situated at the end of the exhibition in a formal sitting area nicknamed “the Rockefeller Room,” manifests an overwhelming swarm of 6,000 black-paper moths. The moths obscure and consume the room’s pristine sofas, precious tables and prized sculptures, creating an ambivalent image of life in this otherwise lifeless space. The artist also slyly added another element to this installation: locked glass doors. Visitors are left peering into a life-size vitrine—a clever reminder that this reception room, reserved for elite museum functions, regularly presents its own static narrative.

Alison Hearst is the Curatorial Research Assistant at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and a co-founder of Subtext Projects.

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