Bogotá is rapidly emerging as a major South American center for visual art, and the refreshingly idiosyncratic Instituto de Visión—founded in 2014 and collectively run by four women—is one of its premier galleries. In 2008, Colombian artist Nicolás Consuegra shot a series of photographs of building facades in Bogotá that bear the fading, even ghostly, names of defunct businesses. One photo, of a former eye-care clinic, ultimately provided the gallery with its name. The new works in Consuegra’s recent show there (all 2016) involve everyday objects that have morphed into novel configurations and taken on new identities.
Two exquisite furniture sculptures, for which Consuegra collaborated with local craftspeople, were standouts. The Death of the Father features a wooden dining table resting on its side, hinting at some domestic upheaval. Three chairs made of the same wood are attached in peculiar positions. One, with an elongated leg touching the ground, balances on one of the table’s legs. Another, with a piece of white cloth draped over its back, juts horizontally from the tabletop and seems to hover in midair. The protruding chairs and assorted chair parts, angled in different directions, suggest an elegant dining room set rendered ungainly and dysfunctional. In The Principle of Work, a tabletop is supported not by legs but by the seats of six chairs standing on the floor. Shooting up from the tabletop, on really long legs, is another table, with six overturned chairs placed on top, as one might find in a restaurant at closing time. The overhead table acts as a mirror image of the bottom one. While stable, this topsy-turvy sculpture seems distinctly precarious, liable to topple at any moment.
The wall piece Myoptic Optics resembles a piece of metal chain-link fencing, but is made of mirrored glass, a much more fragile material. As you look at and through this work, you disconcertingly encounter your own fragmented reflection. Also involving the theme of vision, Unnamed Glance—which was installed along the base of two gallery walls—consists of a row of what appear to be uniform black sunglasses. Close up, the glasses are shown to be sculptures (made of fiberboard) whose parts have been combined in a multiplicity of configurations: two facing pairs are attached at their lenses, others are attached at the temples to form a square, and still others are stacked vertically like the tabletops in The Principle of Work. Placed in a tidy order, these configurations suggest an overall logic similar to that of a script or code, with the work tempting the viewer to try to “read” it.
Part of what makes the Instituto de Visión so distinctive is its “Visionaries” program. Solo exhibitions in the main galleries are often juxtaposed with selections of excellent, if under-known, Latin American artworks from the 1970s and early ’80s, resulting in a welcome cross-generational dialogue. In the back room during Consuegra’s show were black-and-white photographs of Venezuelan Pedro Terán’s wonderful 1970s street actions, including Steps 1;2;3 (1970), in which a footpath of irregular shoe prints, made of painted wood and affixed to an outdoor walkway in London, encouraged pedestrians to walk along an eccentric path, becoming gleeful and contorted participants. Also on view were examples of Mexico-based Colombian Santiago Rebolledo’s photocopy works from the late 1970s and early ’80s—scrappy yet enticing photomontages made from magazine and newspaper clippings, envelopes, stamps, and political posters. Both of these “visionaries” provided an art historical context for Consuegra’s compelling works, which, while not overtly political, manifest consistent tensions—between familiarity and strangeness, stability and precariousness—that feel grounded in Colombian history at a time when the country is struggling to surmount decades of violence and upheaval.