Guillermo Kuitca (b. 1961)
Guillermo Kuitca (b. 1961)


Guillermo Kuitca (b. 1961)
titled ‘autorretrato’ (lower center) signed, dated, and titled 'Kuitca, 1986, Autorretrato' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
48 ¾ x 70 ½ in. (123.8 x 179.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1985.
Galería Julia Lublin, Buenos Aires.
Acquired from the above by the present owner (circa mid 1990s).

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Sonia Becce from the artist's studio, for her assistance cataloguing this work.

“There is nothing more contemporary than painting,” Kuitca once reflected. “A painting as a battlefield about what is, what is not, what ought to be, what I like, what I hate, what I love. . . . The state of fear, of excitement, of enthusiasm, of disenchantment, of embarrassment, is all the time.”[1] From the early scenographic space of El mar dulce (1984) to the metaphysical maps and architectural blueprints that followed, Kuitca has persistently probed the phenomenological terrain of painting, ruminating on the ways in which the medium displaces us across space and time. Based in Buenos Aires and an international presence since the 1980s, he has broached the placelessness of the postmodern landscape through a series of interrelated motifs: city streetscapes, conveyor belts, real and imagined genealogical charts, opera house seating plans. Kuitca came into international prominence in 1989 at the São Paulo Bienal; he was included in the Argentine Pavilion and the Arsenale at the Venice Biennale in 2007. Major retrospectives of his work have been organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (2003), four U.S. institutions led by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (2009-11), and the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (2014).

Themes of emotional and spatial dislocation took root in Kuitca’s work during the 1980s, shaped by his travel to Germany and exposure there to the experimental Tanztheater run by the dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch, whose production of Café Müller he had seen in Buenos Aires. “Her influence was so broad that you could hide in it,” he reflected. “She taught us: be something, on stage, even if you’re not in the story.”[2] Bausch’s surreal dance-theater commingled the language of the body and the raw violence of sexual relationships, and Kuitca has acknowledged the influence of her unconventional sets, multiple spatial perspectives, and agonistic characters. “The connection with theater arose in part from that idea of the world as a stage, and also because I was well aware that, at the beginning of the 1980s, the limits of painting—not only my own painting but that of the entire period—were indeed many, and that theater appeared, in contrast, as an inexhaustible universe,” Kuitca explains. “By then I had formulated for myself some kind of elementary axiom by which nothing was possible in painting while, on the contrary, everything was possible in theater.”[3]

“It was about 1981 when I came across this object that was to be a leap forward for me, that was to take me away from my previous work: the bed,” he recalls. “The bed is a territory, it represents origins, it is where we begin and where we end.”[4] Kuitca has plumbed the theatrical and disembodied space of the bed qua stage since the early series Nadie olvida nada (1982), an important touchstone for his later work and the first instance in which the bed is rendered as a site of alienation and absence. The scenography of the bed is further elaborated in El mar dulce and Siete últimas canciones (1986), series that stage an enigmatic human drama against cavernous and disorienting interior spaces steeped in swaths of red pigment. Like other mise-en-scène paintings from this period, the present Autorretrato probes the peculiar psychology of the stage, though with a rare degree of self-referentiality matched only by the contemporary Yo, como… series (1985), in which Kuitca assumed fugitive identities: the angel, the night, the permanent revolution, January 1961.

Naked and self-effacing, the subject of Autorretrato is subsumed by an oblique, Bauschian stage scattered with props—empty and overturned chairs, occupied beds, dropped microphone—and bracketed by three diminutive doorways and an exaggerated trap door. The foreground of the carmine-red stage dissolves in pearlescent puddles of water, an evocation of Bausch’s famously flooded sets. Two characters lie bundled in bed while two others stare awkwardly across adjoining tables, a parallelism echoed by the facing, mirrored walls that cast a prismatic, panoptical gaze. The mood is discomfortingly anticlimactic, laden with the emotional estrangements and incomprehensibility of the postmodern stage. “From the beginning,” Kuitca explains, “it was clear to me that the story, in the anecdotal sense, had been erased, but what was left was a strong sense that we see a scene in which something has already happened.”[5] Metatheater and self-portrait, Autorretrato conveys a private melancholia, at once dramaturgy and exegesis of an alienated and multiplex subject. In its distillation of loneliness and disappointed desire, it may also evoke—as Robert Farris Thompson has observed of Kuitca’s work from this period—the lyrics of Pascual Contursi’s classic Argentine tango, Mi noche triste (1917):

My mirror mists over
with equivalent tears,
because you are gone.
And the lamp in the room
responds to the gloom
by refusing to light
my sad lonely night.[6]

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

1 Guillermo Kuitca, quoted in “Hans-Michael Herzog in Conversation with Guillermo Kuitca,” in Guillermo Kuitca: Das Lied von der Erde (Zurich: Hatje Cantz, 2006), n.p.
2 Kuitca, quoted in Robert Farris Thompson, “Kuitca’s Stagecraft,” Art in America 87, no. 12 (December 1999): 93.
3 Kuitca, quoted in Graciela Speranza, “Conversations with Guillermo Kuitca,” in Guillermo Kuitca: Everything (New York: D.A.P., 2009), 76.
4 Kuitca, quoted in Nicola Gray, “Conversation with Guillermo Kuitca,” Third Text 9, no. 31 (Summer 1995): 32.
5 Kuitca, quoted in Speranza, “Conversations with Guillermo Kuitca,” 76.
6 Oscar del Priore and Irene Amuchástegui, Cien tangos fundamentales (Buenos Aires: Aguilar, 1998): 63, quoted in Thompson, “Kuitca’s Stagecraft,” 95.

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