View of the exhibition "Tania Pérez Córdova: Smoke, nearby," 2017, at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

 

In her hugely influential 1977 essay "Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America," Rosalind Krauss identifies a category of contemporary artworks that function as "indexical signs." In plain language, such signs are physical traces of material processes: a photograph, an impression, a cut. Nearly all the forty-seven works in Mexico City-based artist Tania Pérez Córdova's first solo museum exhibition in the United States featured elements—a form cast from a mold, ash flicked from the end of a cigarette, ink leaking from a highlighter into a glass of water—that served as illustrations of Krauss's theory. 

A Person Possessed by Curiosity (2015) was among a number of works that foregrounded traces of the digital financial systems that organize our lives. Pressed into the recessed center of an unglazed slab-clay platter is the imprint of a bank card linked to what a wall text identified as an active Banamex account opened especially for the project. In joining one of the earliest, earthiest mediums with the abstraction of modern credit, Pérez Córdova has produced an unwieldy vehicle for immaterial transactions, substituting a relatively large, cumbersome object for the convenient pocket-size card it immortalizes. 

The works on view conjured narrative fantasies through their evocative juxtapositions and absences, playing with notions of theatricality. Many of them were placed on temporary white walls, whose raw wooden backs were left exposed. More than mere supports, the partitions served a vital role in staging relationships among the show's components. A pair of identical walls joined by wooden ribs spanning the inches-wide gap between them contributed to the delicious tension of the works Portrait of a Woman Unknown and Portrait of a Man Unknown (both 2013/17). Two paintings, executed in the flat, muddy style of an amateur working from a photograph, occupied opposite sides of this divide. One depicted a floral pattern emerging from a dark background; the other showed orange and blue stripes on a deep maroon field. Placards almost hidden on the wooden backs of the walls claimed that the respective patterns referred to the clothing sometimes worn by two regular visitors to the museum, a man a woman who are strangers to each other. 

The mental image of two strangers being drawn to each other through the lure of Pérez Córdova's sculpture is appealing, and speaks to the heady energy radiated by her strongest works. Similarly, the sculpture We Focus on a Woman Facing Sideways (2013/17) entices less with a single, teardrop-shaped Swarovski crystal earring suspended from a thin bronze bar than it does with the idea that somewhere a woman wears its twin. The staged nature of Pérez Córdova's show (underscored by the setlike displays) kindled the furtive hopes of rectifying missed connections, providing deceptively simple tableaux as backdrops for rich conceptual fantasies. In gesturing toward the unseen sources of these objects, Pérez Córdova promised exactly what every seeker of aesthetic pleasures desires: more.