Liliana Porter finds art in empty spaces

RHINEBECK, NY – The art world has made a recent effort to spotlight older artists who weren’t fairly rocked the first time around, but that’s not an effort that applies to Liliana Porter .

Argentine by birth, Ms. Porter, 79, had an artistic reputation soon after arriving in the New York City area in 1964, becoming the founder of the influential New York Graphic Workshop.

She has never been a household name – the demands of teaching art full-time at Queens College for 15 years may have been a factor – but she hasn’t struggled to be recognized either. There was a consistent market for his work, aided by his initial choice of inexpensive serial media.

“I’ve always sold, because I was an engraver in the beginning,” said Ms. Porter, who was showing her packed workshop in an old barn here in the Hudson Valley.

The studio is located just behind the house where she lives with his wife and frequent collaborator, artist Ana Tiscornia. Ms. Tiscornia worked nearby and sometimes intervened on request.

Several shelves and a cabinet were filled with hundreds of dolls, action figures and toys of the type that are frequently found in the weird and slightly surreal scenes of Ms. Porter. They come in many forms, including photography, painting, and set design.

Ms. Porter’s work is part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Reina Sofía in Madrid, and for those who wish to retrace the arc of her career, it is also the subject of a solo stand at Art Basel, the Swiss fair which takes place until Sunday.

The Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco exhibits nine of his works from the late 1960s and early 1970s, most of which are pencil-on-paper photographic prints. “Untitled (hand with paper)” (1973), for example, shows a hand with open palms surrounded by abundant white space, a sober but powerful image typical of his work.

Although the objects and scenes she depicts have grown more colorful and whimsical over the years, the basic pictorial strategy in much of her work has remained the same: take a small subject and wrap it in a little. of things, a movement that paradoxically attracts attention.

It’s an effect similar to how a whisper makes people bend down to hear more.

“Empty space is where things happen,” Ms. Porter said. “When things are small but surrounded by a lot of space, you have to approach them.”

More recent work in other media, such as his photograph “Blue Eyes” (2000), takes a similar approach. It represents a small figurine of a girl looking in a mirror, in a sea of ​​empty space.

“His work has a certain degree of comedy,” said Franklin Sirmans, director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami. “It’s impassive. It shocks you at the simplicity, and then the humor comes in. ”Le Pérez acquired his work for his collection, and Ms. Porter has lectured there.

Mr. Sirmans attributed his aesthetic to his training in printmaking. “It gave it rules and a structure,” he said.

In her studio, Mrs. Porter stood up and looked for a moment at a large painting that had just been completed. A small ship was attached to the canvas, adrift in a wave-shaped splash of blue paint, with rubbish like a toy-sized chair affixed to one side.

The image evokes “the splendor of disaster,” Ms. Porter said, adding, “I like partial explanations of things. It kind of makes you wonder why.

Tobias Ostrander, Assistant Curator of Latin American Art for the British Tate Museums, in 2009 organized an exhibition of Ms. Porter’s work at the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City.

“It poses big philosophical questions,” Ostrander said. “His work is about human search for meaning – what does it mean to be alive?

Mr Ostrander added: “One might despair of not knowing, but instead she laughs.”

Born in Buenos Aires, Ms. Porter attended art school before moving to Mexico for three years because her father, a film and theater director, worked there. (She inherited an interest in the theater and went on to conduct plays with Ms. Tiscornia in Buenos Aires and New York.)

Ms. Porter returned to Argentina to complete her art studies, then moved to New York. The apparent reason for her visit was the 1964 World’s Fair. Instead of going to Paris afterwards as planned, “I stayed,” she says, and it wasn’t because of the charms of the Unisphere. “It was the Metropolitan Museum.”

A student in printmaking at the Pratt Graphic Arts Center, she met the Uruguayan artist Luis Camnitzer. They got married (and later divorced, and she had a second marriage to Alan Weiner, which also ended in divorce). With the Argentinian painter Luis Felipe Noé, Mrs. Porter and Mr. Camnitzer founded the New York Graphic Workshop as a collective.

The fact that the founders of the studio were Latin American gave them a perspective on the elaborate and pristine works of minimalism, one of the dominant American art movements of the time.

“All these super expensive items, that was something that couldn’t happen in our countries, that would be absurd,” Ms. Porter said.

The workshop, which lasted until 1970, gave a timely twist of conceptual art to prints. One of Ms Porter’s contributions was a 1969 “mail art”: she sent in a blank sheet of paper with an instruction to recipients: “Crumple and throw away.” “

It has enjoyed strong institutional support over the decades. In 1973, the Museum of Modern Art invited him to create a project room; she showed spare serigraphs of hooks and nails, alongside real hooks and nails in the walls.

In 1980, Ms. Porter was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a retrospective, not yet scheduled, is still in preparation at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires.

As she watched this show in her hometown, Ms Porter reflected a bit on the fact that her story didn’t quite fit the late-career notoriety pattern.

“It’s interesting, some artists still have a problem and get famous later in life, at 70 or something,” she said.

His own trajectory has been more stable, although a little more private and mysterious, much like his art.

“There is a mixture of the funny and the dramatic,” Ms. Porter said of her work. “I like it when contradictory things happen simultaneously.”

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