Alejandro Cesarco: Loyalties and Betrayals

28 February – 4 April 2015, Murray Guy, New York

By Laura McLean-Ferris

Mirrored Portrait, 2015, 16mm film transferred to digital, colour, silent, 3 min 50 sec. Courtesy Murray Guy, New York

There’s a pastel drawing by Ed Ruscha, in which a blue smudgy background leaves the words ‘Some pretty eyes and some electric bills’ standing out in white block caps. To my mind the prettiest words in that sentence are ‘electric bills’. Any fool can tell you about pretty eyes, but during this period (the work is from 1976) Ruscha was subtly retooling associations with beauty and glamour by placing it within banal situations, and pragmatic tedium, using language referring to traffic jams and ‘pay nothing till April’. I sense that Alejandro Cesarco, who opens his exhibition Loyalties and Betrayals with Words with Ruscha (2014), has a different idea of Ruscha’s use of banality. Two photographs of a gallery wall text introducing a fictional Ruscha retrospective, this work emphasises banality and boredom as possible avant-garde strategies: ‘The metaphysical of his work, always hovering like tomorrow’s flowers just beyond perception, resists the interpretative skills one cannot help exercising.’ (Pretty Eyes, Electric Bills is one of the Ruscha titles Cesarco mentions in this text.)

Each photograph pictures this wall text from a slightly different angle, I suppose to introduce issues relating to unseen gaps, interstices, lost spaces and so on. Such themes are taken up in a silent 16mm film, Mirrored Portrait (2015), transferred to video, which shows Cesarco’s first photography teacher, Panta Astiazarán, whom the former had not seen in 16 years, taking a portrait of Cesarco in a café. The unseen years between them, which is the real subject of the film, are a gulf, and the emphasis here is on fathoming this great gap in time, rather than any resultant photographic portrait (which is not shown). Several images of Cesarco’s studio floor are entitled A Portrait of the Artist Approaching Forty (I–III) (2013), and show grey-scaled pockmarks, dents and clean floors that have been worn, scuffed and dirtied – an apparent metaphor for the ageing artist. Emphasising an exhibition that is already blanched of colour, the two long walls at Murray Guy are painted with long panoramic rectangles of different shades of grey – one putty, one columbine.

Allegory, or, The Perils of the Present Tense (2015) is the artist’s newest videowork, and it is composed of contemplative footage of pale-hued roses, rainy streets, paper blowing in the wind and a pretty woman looking pained and thoughtful as she flicks through a series of books and plays with her hair. She notably studies catalogue reproductions of On Kawara’s Date Paintings (from 1965 on) and Roni Horn’s photographic portrait series You are the Weather (1994–5) and is seen reading Alberto Moravia’s Contempt (1954). Such shots are punctuated by intertitles of infuriating pretention that don’t speak to the everyday as such, but rather to a contemplative, philosophical language of the poetic: ‘Beauty as the promise of happiness’, or ‘To see into is to think back’. In the intertitles of the videos, Cesarco describes quotations as ‘fresh wounds’. Really? Where’s the blood? The banality here is not of a transformative kind, but just plain boring: a poetic world that’s all pretty eyes, and no electric bills. 

This article was first published in the May 2015 issue.