Rounded metallic gleams of silver swell out of two black canvases, confronting the viewer with an uncanny feeling of desolation. Immediately recognizable as airport baggage claims, Argentinian artist Guillermo Kuitca's Trauerspiel II (2002) investigates the spatial boundaries between apparent opposites: public and private, presence and absence, abstract and representational. Through the overwhelming size of the canvases Kuitca heightens the feeling of dislocation, effectively dissolving the boundary between public and private space. Working on linen, thin layers of paint are built up to produce a stark contrast between luminosity and opacity, causing the repeated silver machine to float above the black background. Trauerspiel (2001), a similar large-scale work from the same canon, is currently part of the Hirshhorn permanent collection.
Kuitca's prolific career encompasses a diverse body of work that encourages viewers not only to contemplate their relationship to the piece in front of them, but also to their place within individual spaces and the larger world. The artist started the baggage claim works in 2000, which are the most representational in his oeuvre depicting the illusion of three-dimensional space, abandoning the flat plane of the architectural Neufert Suite (1998) which uses blueprint symbols to layout various interior places. The ease with which Kuitca maneuvers between abstract and illusory articulations of space can be attributed to his strength as a draftsman; drawing stands out as an important part of Kuitca's creative practice, crystallized here in the crisp delineation of form and color.
The narrative element of the painting is reduced to the title: the German word for tragedy or a 'mourning play.' In an extended nod to the theater, Kuitca replaces the plastic screens of the entrance and exit portals with velvet curtains; one imagines luggage making its appearance stage left, travelling across the thrust stage of the carousels, only to disappear into a void stage right. The year after he painted Trauerspiel II, Kuitca moved from using theatrical elements in his work to placing his work in the theater, designing the sets for Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires where he substituted a baggage carousel for the play's iconic ship.
Kuitca's now-familiar themes of emotional dislocation and spatial disintegration took root in the 1980s, stimulated by his encounter with the avant-garde theater of dancer and choreographer Pia Bausch. However, Trauerspiel II can be considered more closely related to Samuel Beckett than the aesthetics of Bausch. By taking the baggage claim out of the airport, Kuitca, like the acclaimed writer, removes "all but the essentials," leaving the viewer entangled in a Beckett-like limbo, entrenched in modern loneliness. (A. Gontarski, quoted in Guillermo Kuitca: obras 1982-2002, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Buenos Aires, 2003, p. 262).
Entering the art scene as a prodigious young talent, Guillermo Kuitca has pushed the boundaries of painting over the past four decades. At the age of thirteen, Kuitca held his first gallery show in Buenos Aires and built an international reputation by the early 1990s, participating in Documenta IX (1992). He exhibited in both the Arsenale and Argentine Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. The artist's largest United States retrospective, Guillermo Kuitca: Everything, travelled to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Miami Art Museum, Walker Art Center, and Albright-Knox Art Gallery from 2009 to 2010.