Spanish Young Art: The New Generation

Blue Star LAB, San Antonio

Alexander Freeman

Carles Congost, La Mala Pintura (still), 2008; single channel video on DVD; 10 minutes; courtesy the artist

Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Pegasus Dance (still), 2008; digital video; 15 minutes; courtesy the artist

Curated by Tania Tapia Paz, Spanish Young Art: The New Generation at Blue Star LAB—Blue Star Contemporary Art Center’s new satellite space in downtown San Antonio—features the work of Javier Arce, Cristina Cañas, Óscar Carrasco, Carles Congost, Ángel Hernández Tuset, Cristina Lucas, Pablo Pérez Sanmartín and Fernando Sánchez Castillo. Tapia Paz showcases these artists, all born between 1970 and 1980, as exemplary models of a reinvigorated Spanish art. Producing works that aim for the stature of Spanish masterpieces found in art history books is no small task, yet these “young” artists successfully place themselves in an international contemporary artistic discourse by reexamining their homeland’s political and artistic legacies.

In the front of the gallery, artist/designer Pablo Pérez Sanmartín’s corner tableau Untitled (Democracy Rules) (2006) features a fabricated fast-food sign emblazoned with a cartoonish, puffy-cheeked box of French fries and ketchup-red bubble text. The glowing sign stands behind a pile of empty French fry containers, their emptiness a pessimistic contrast to the containers’ clean corporate design and cartoon logo. The work appears as a sarcastic argument that Spain’s 1970s transition from the Franco dictatorship to its current democracy resulted in overconsumption and wastefulness.

Food and politics also play roles in Fernando Sánchez Castillo’s reimagined still-life photograph Bodegón (2009). Depicting the shallow tabletop space found in traditional seventeenth-century still lifes, Castillo exchanges culinary items for customized weapons used by rioters. A baseball bat, Molotov cocktails, bricks and potatoes pierced with nails comprise the buffet in this beautifully executed color photograph. Similarly, Castillo’s notable video Pegasus Dance (2008) presents two water-gun trucks—commonly used to disperse rioters—performing a graceful dance in a vacant shoreline parking lot. In both works, Castillo deftly subverts tradition through overt juxtapositions of civic instability and fine art.

No work exemplifies this group’s awareness of the conflict between tradition and progress more than Carles Congost’s La Mala Pintura (2008). This humorous video, filmed in a low-budget horror movie aesthetic, shows a conservative and middle-aged Spanish curator’s descent into hell, where he makes a pact with the devil to revive Spanish art with classical ideals. Subsequently, a demonic book and paintings grow sharp teeth and start a rampage, violently dismembering “bad” painters and curators until a young artist working on a computer summons Walter Benjamin’s ghost, who stops the bloodshed by reducing the curator to a digital reproduction. La Mala Pintura, and this exhibition as a whole, make the case that progressive artists and curators will overcome the traditionalists, both inside and outside of Spain, who value the country’s art foremost for its past. Both innovative and impressively executed, the works in this show are prepared to deflect the fury of any demonically or otherwise possessed curator.

Alexander Freeman is education curator at Artpace San Antonio.

This show will be on view through February 5, 2011.

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