Miguel Aguirre

New York

at Y Gallery


Peruvian-born, Barcelona-based painter Miguel Aguirre has spent the past 20 years painting images taken from the world news. For his recent solo show “Gone with the wind . . . ,” however, he turned his attention to Hollywood fictions. Of the exhibition’s three parts, one is a set of eight landscapes based on shots from movies included on the American Film Institute’s top 100 list. Each oil painting is on a rectangular canvas (approximately 18 by 26 inches) with horizontal or vertical black margins that create a filmstrip effect.

The paintings can be pegged to their respective films not through characters—no people are depicted in this series—but through key landmarks. Kansas, ca. 1939 (all works 2010) shows Dorothy’s farmhouse and the oncoming tornado in The Wizard of Oz. San Francisco, 1957 captures a view from Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate bridge. This is where, in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Kim Novak’s character jumps into San Francisco Bay and is saved by the neurotic detective played by Jimmy Stewart. Without the recognizable figures or indication of any action, the setting takes on an innocuous sweetness enhanced by Aguirre’s palette of grays and pastels.

Aguirre handles the paint flatly in these landscapes. At its best—such as in Deserts of the Gulf Coast, Florida, the 30’s (based on Citizen Kane)—the result is a dreamy out-of-focus quality. But in Casablanca, ca. 1941, the technique dulls the light from the airport control tower and the building loses the presence it has in the film.

On the gallery wall opposite the landscapes hung five portraits of superheroes, each titled after the actor who portrayed the character most famously or most recently: Christian Bale is a portrait of a brooding Batman; Christopher Reeve is Superman. Each is a disembodied head on a white background. The title conceit becomes particularly interesting with Aguirre’s depictions of two fully masked characters: Spiderman and Ironman reveal no characteristics that would allow one to identify the actors, but a viewer aware of popular films likely has already assumed (correctly) that the works are called Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr.

Central to “Gone with the wind . . . ” is a large landscape based on the news story that formed the basis of Truman Capote’s classic In Cold Blood, of which there have been a number of film interpretations. Holcomb, November 1959 (according to McGrath) is a wide shot of the farmhouse where the murders took place, as seen in the Douglas McGrath film Infamous.A field of impressionistic flowers occupies the foreground. Exhibited among the other film-inspired paintings, Holcomb bridges the space between Aguirre’s earlier paintings and the present ones, between nonfiction and fiction. With paintings based on true, sensational stories as well as imagined narratives, Aguirre’s work encourages the viewer to consider how much the evening news can feel like a movie and, conversely, how an iconic film world can exist in American cultural memory just like any “real” place.

Photo: Miguel Aguirre: Holcomb, November 1959 (according to McGrath), from the “Dramatization” series, 2010, oil on canvas, 381⁄8 by 571⁄2 inches; at Y Gallery.