Go ahead, touch the art at Abraham Cruzvillegas’s Aspen Art Museum show
IF YOU GO …
What: Abraham Cruzvillegas, ‘Hi, how are you, Gonzo?’
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Through Jan. 26; community ‘activations’ on Wednesday evenings
More info: aspenartmuseum.org
Cruzvillegas and the museum are inviting local participants to activate the galleries with events and performances throughout the run of “Hi, how are you, Gonzo?”
The museum is calling for activations “that emphasize community, inclusiveness, learning, play and exchange.” All ideas are welcome. Email proposals to email@example.com
Abraham Cruzvillegas has filled three galleries in the Aspen Art Museum’s lower level with a varied array of cultural flotsam and jetsam from Aspen and Austin — sculptures of found materials, percussion instruments, wood barrels, desks, books, potted plants, beer kegs.
It’s up to viewers to make meaning of it, in a radically interactive approach that will mutate, enliven and reinterpret the artworks over the next three months. Yes, you can touch the artwork. You must for “Hi, how are you, Gonzo?” to work.
“Museums are places where artwork cannot be touched and you have to behave in a particular way — this is different,” Cruzvillegas said last week before the show opened. “People can touch and move things, they can transform the layout of objects, it’s an exceptional experience for them. I’m not asking anything in particular, or for particular kinds of people or events. Anything is possible. There are no mistakes.”
The artist brought three collaborators with him from Mexico City for the exhibition opening on Oct. 17, to do first activations in the space. Those included performance art, sound pieces, craft stations and clay sculpting on the floor. Beyond those, Cruzvillegas is leaving it up to Aspen to bring creative life into the exhibition. He and the museum are calling on locals to propose activations for the space (see infobox “Ideas Welcome”).
“I am trying to open this as an arena for exchanging and sharing, more than proposing any content or meaning on my side,” he said. “I have ideas, but those are mine and they are never the best.”
The show includes works made from found objects at the Aspen and the Contemporary Austin, which co-organized the show and hosted it this summer. The sculptures double as props and furniture for the activations. They’re Frankensteinian things, combinations of odd bits, constructed by museum staff and often tagged by Cruzvillegas himself with his signature graffiti ape.
Regular museum-goers may recognize some repurposed pieces of these sculptures from recent museum shows including the staircase for E.J. Hill’s swing installation in 2018 group show, pieces of the corrugated roof of Shigeru Ban’s temporary schoolhouse in the 2014 “Humanitarian Architecture” show and pieces of the large table that held Judith Scott’s yarn sculptures in 2016.
When the show was up in Austin, activations included skateboarding, performances, interactive workshops and music. Suggestions for Aspen so far have ranged from concerts to ski-tuning. The museum will be partnering with local groups and educators to bring the space to life, and expects to stage activations each Wednesday evening. It also is moving much of its regular programming into the space — its Movies at the Museum series and children’s workshops, for instance — for the length of the exhibition.
Cruzvillegas provided the museums with rough sketches of what he thought the installation might look like, and left it up to their curatorial and installation staffs to find the materials and construct the works.
“I call it a blind date,” he said. “A blind date means you don’t have to stay there forever but you take the risk anyway. We pretend that we might love each other, but you never know. It’s very exciting.”
The approach is in keeping with Cruzvillegas’ long-running experiments with “autoconstrucción,” a brand of conceptual art that aims to take the artist out of the process. The approach was born out of the artist’s childhood in the hardscrabble Ajusco neighborhood of Mexico City, where reusing materials and collaborating to build a community was a necessity.
“I am trying to get rid of myself and my own experiences, who I am, who I think I am and where I come from,” he explained. “Autoconstrucción is about people, communities constructing together, sharing, exchanging. It’s all about togetherness. It’s about being with local communities and learning from local people.”
He is uninterested in prescribing interpretation for any kind of art, and won’t tell locals how to do their part in his show.
“They will construct content or meaning according to their own experience and values,” he said. “It would be naïve of me to propose a unique interpretation.”
Cruzvillegas dug into Aspen history to get a sense of what makes the town tick. He studied the history of Aspen and the Ute tribe, the local wildlife and the counterculture history of the town.
The title of the show is a nod to the cultural polestars of Austin and Aspen, respectively: the recently deceased singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston’s album title and T-shirt slogan “Hi, how are you?” along with Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism and Dr. Gonzo character from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
There’s no direct depiction of these artists in the show, though it was conceived with their spirits in mind.
“Hunter S. Thompson, I admired for a long time because of his political ideas, not because of his self-destruction, even though I’ve destroyed myself in various ways,” he said. “I thought it was important to understand what this ‘Fat City’ means.”
Of course, thinking about connecting to Aspen’s community, Cruzvillegas also knew he needed to incorporate skiing in the work.
Cruzvillegas is not a skier or outdoorsman himself, but he does have experience with ski sculpture.
In the early 2000s, during a residency at Alexander Calder’s studio in the French countryside, Cruzvillegas found a bunch of old skis at a local garage sale and built a sculpture out of them. Traveling back across the Atlantic, he didn’t have a way to travel with the piece, so he destroyed it. When Aspen came calling, he wanted to give it a second life.
“I thought people in Aspen would recognize the object as something familiar here — not necessarily as art, but now it is part of an exhibition in a museum. It’s something I tried to use as a link, with a possible understanding of the history of Aspen.”
On the museum’s exterior wall, the ski sculpture — constructed from 12 alpine skis — juts over the sidewalk on Hyman Avenue (this week it has been appropriately piled with snow from the early autumn storms).
One of the galleries inside also is filled with a functional table (yes, you can sit) made from found materials. Books like Lawrence Wright’s “God Save Texas” and Daniel Hernandez’s “Down and Delirious in Mexico City” hang suspended above it, like a child’s mobile, on strings from that dangle from a web of skis and snowboards.
The artist’s works on the gallery walls are slightly more conventional. Those include several of Cruzvillegas’ “blind self-portraits,” for which he takes ephemera from his daily life — ATM receipts, invitations, business cards, correspondence, napkins, sugar packets, newspaper clippings — and then paints them and pins them on the wall to form massive, mostly monochromatic collage pieces. They are overpowering in their immensity — one in the Aspen show traverses a corner and runs across two walls – and in the overwhelming number of small, forgettable moments they represent.
“They are blind self-portraits because they include information about my everyday life,” he said. “But people cannot see them, so there is complicity — an act of faith that I am using material that describes my life.”
Cruzvillegas also has painted graffiti-styled apes on gallery walls and on some of the sculptures, as well as in the bathrooms and corridors of the building.
“Those again are self-portraits,” he said, noting he’s been fascinated since childhood with the animals’ ability to use their hands to make tools as humans do. “These ape drawings represent my ability to use my hands. I try to pay homage to the very nature of us as animals.”
He also has included one overtly political work: a projection on a wall displaying statistics related to U.S. authorities detaining “unaccompanied alien children (0-17 years)” on the Mexican border since 2012.
The show is the third solo exhibition at the museum from Cruzvillegas’ Mexico City cohort, following his mentor Gabriel Oroszco and collaborator Gabriel Kuri (both in 2014). The trio have worked together since the 1980s and led a new wave of contemporary art in Mexico. But Cruzvillegas waved off any idea that he and his friends are working toward a common artistic purpose.
“We are a family but we have very different focuses,” he said. “We are contradictory and unstable and delirious and stupid and wise. We are different, that’s why we are family. We can accept diversity as our richness.”
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