The secret behind the gift

Generosity floats in the air of Alejandro Cesarco‘s first solo exhibition in Argentina. His subtle works, sometimes only shaped by very simple gestures, never shout; rather, they insinuate as if delivering an intimate secret. His show at Ignacio Liprandi gallery is filled with secrets, revelations, questions and gifts.

With a gift, the giver does not merely give an object to someone, but also part of himself. The act creates a social bond with the recipient, contributing to an economy of affections. Gift-giving has played an important role in the visual arts of the last few decades, ever since the eruption of Conceptual Art in the 1960s. In an art where attitudes became forms, it became crucial to establish new forms of relationships — not only among works but mainly between people. Alejandro Cesarco’s works function in that way — making bridges, building relations.

Entitled Why Work?, the exhibition co-curated by Inés Katzenstein and Fabio Kacero functions as a kind of mini-retrospective of the last ten years of work by this Uruguay-born but New York resident artist. Cesarco currently represents Uruguay in the 54° Biennale di Venezia. Divided into three rooms and organized by three concepts — to gift, to read, to dedicate — the works are introduced by a work from 2008 that goes by the same name as the show. With texts by Theodor Adorno, Roland Barthes, Oscar Wilde and Cesarco himself, a framed print functions as the index of an imaginary, non-existent book that compiles ideas about work, leisure and its utopias.

Flowers - Alejandro Cesarco

Flowers - Alejandro Cesarco. Photo by Ariel Authier

The first room, To gift, presents three artworks — or perhaps better said, three different kinds of gifts. Two photographs from Cesarco’s Flowers series hang on one of the walls. In 2003, the artist sent a bouquet of flowers to a group of people accompanied by a card with the following text: “This sculpture by Alejandro Cesarco is sponsored by Socrates Sculpture Park.” A performance for a public of one, as the artist likes to say, these bouquets were sent to a very select group of women from New York’s art world that included Yoko Ono, Elizabeth Peyton, Yvonne Rainer, Louise Lawler and Andrea Fraser among others. Just by accepting this gift, the women became a part of the relational politics of this artwork — the perfect mix between devotion and implication.

Why Work? booklets - Alejandro Cesarco

Why Work? booklets - Alejandro Cesarco. Photo by Ariel Authier

In front of those pictures, a showcase displays Top 20 (2001-2008), a series of CDs with a list of themes and printed material that Cesarco sent to his friends every year with the twenty songs he heard the most during that time. They function as a personal collection of moods and as remembrances. On the floor inside a small cardboard box lies a gift for visitors to the show — a small booklet produced specifically for this exhibition. The booklet is also entitled Why Work? and contains a fascinating dialogue between the two curators and the artist about the connections between art, work, doing or not doing something — the relationships of production with reproduction and literature with the visual arts.

Methodology - Alejandro Cesarco. Photo by Ariel Authier

Methodology - Alejandro Cesarco. Photo by Ariel Authier

In the middle of the second room of the exhibition, To read), a screen supported by a tripod projects the dialogue of a couple. The construction supporting this video, Methodology, seems as fragile as the characters in it — two lovers who seem to be on the edge of a breakup. In a low voice, sometimes almost a whisper, the man and the woman face each other and speak as if everything they say had already been pronounced, but not fully understood. It’s a broken dialogue of inner reflections, disguised as a collection of external citations. At one point the woman quotes: “And, once again, their conversation about love becomes a conversation about writing,” to which one might add, also about reading, about misunderstandings.

The film portrays a relationship structured by a mystery, by the silences of the language, by what can and cannot be said. This idea of the secret as a narrative structure appears in the novel Los adioses (The Goodbyes) by Juan Carlos Onetti, one of the books mentioned in this film, which happens to be one of the subjects of another of the works in the exhibition.

Methodology - Alejandro Cesarco. Film clip

Methodology - Alejandro Cesarco. Film clip

The Gift and The Retribution (2011) consists of a diptych of two actual size, framed photographic reproductions of the covers of two books: Los Adioses by Onetti and Poemas de amor (Love Poems) by Idea Vilariño. The secret here — one that can’t be seen but which can be inferred — is that these books have cross dedications: the one from Onetti to Vilariño and the one from Vilariño is dedicated to Onetti. Again, Cesarco presents the relationship between a couple (they were lovers), but only gives a visual enigma of its construction. He does not explain it nor try to understand it, but rather translates the couple’s affection into pictures.

The Gift and The Retribution - Alejandro Cesarco.

The Gift and The Retribution - Alejandro Cesarco. Photo by Ariel Authier

In the same room where another diptych hangs (entitled To dedicate), two books lie on a table. The black one is an English version of Vilariño’s book that the artist made back in 2004. But Cesarco’s translation is not a normal one for a poetry book. Rather he translated it literally, word by word, against every rule in the translator’s manual. This book functions more as an appropriation, a visual act instead of a literary operation. Next to it, a gray book entitled Dedications (2003) reproduces and contains all the dedications from Cesarco’s library. Here, contrary to what happens in The Gift and The Retribution, the book assembles those inscriptions without indicating where they came from, from which book, or from which author. It just gives its addressee — its first and ideal public. Fabio Kacero reworked this idea and produced a piece that also appears in the show, standing above these books on the wall. It’s a series of twelve torn pages from books that works as a sort of dedication to the dedications — an appropriation of Cesarco’s appropriations.

Dedications and Love Poems books - Alejandro Cesarco.

Dedications and Love Poems books - Alejandro Cesarco. Photo by Ariel Authier

Memory and remembrance also play a key role in Fade Out (2002) — the continuous projection of a single slide depicting a young smiling woman. Projected near floor level, the image keeps fading out, losing its colors and its shapes due to the flickering of the light and the heat of the projector. The suggestion is that it will eventually disappear completely, melting into white light. But, as happens with all the works by this romantic conceptualist, even when that loss completes, something, probably in the shape of an enchanting gift, will remain somewhere in my head.

Fade Out - Alejandro Cesarco.

Fade Out - Alejandro Cesarco. Photo by Ariel Authier


Alejandro Cesarco

Why Work?

Through August 5th

Ignacio Liprandi Arte Contemporáneo
Avenida de Mayo 1480 – 3rd floor Izq.

Monday – Friday, 11 AM- 8 PM


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