To judge from a couple of wonderfully simple metal sculptures, minimalism is alive and well in Latin America, or at least in Argentina. For My Car, Carolina Sardi, yet another Argentinean, summons up the title object with nothing more than a long, thin metal rod and a set of wheels perched on a white rectangular platform and propped against the wall. Libertad, Libertad, Libertad (Freedom, Freedom, Freedom), also by Sardi, uses a stark, six-sided metal structure suspended at about eye level to convey a deeply ambiguous notion of freedom. The bars imply a cage, but they're skewed enough to hint that escape is possible, a suggestion subtly reinforced by the way the piece hangs free to shift in the air currents.
Two other women artists, Karina Chechik of Argentina and María Brito of Cuba, put boxy shapes to good use. Chechik's The Last Dialogue is a sort of triptych of three wooden boxes, the center one containing five glass jars, the other two containing photographs, all three blanketed with passages (in Spanish) from the classic novel Rayuela (Hopscotch) by Julio Cortázar. Brito's Old Cabinet With Jar is just what the title says, with 13 wooden blocks painted with human facial features arrayed on three levels of black shelves inside. Neither artist achieves quite the resonance of, say, Joseph Cornell's famous boxes, but both get surprising mileage out of their pared-down constructions.
Cuban native María Brito created the three-dimensional San Rémy
Cuba's Juan-Si works with more complicated constructions. His Tread Mill starts with a metal box studded with screws and nails, then adds a central image in which an inverted map of Cuba is bordered by strips of squares from a Scrabble board. The piece is finished off with a black metal frame from which a movable wheel extends. On the outside of the wheel are panels reading tener (Spanish for "to have"), while inside are panels reading ser ("to be"); together they neatly encapsulate a range of existential dilemmas.
A similarly ambitious piece is Domestica by Jorge Pineda of the Dominican Republic. The piece consists of nine hinged, wall-mounted, wooden panels, each of which resembles "an aplastero, a paddle-shape apparatus found in Dominican kitchens and used to flatten plantains for frying," according to the catalog. A letter from the title is painted on the outside of each panel, which, when opened, reveals an image inside. Under the O, for example, is a crudely sketched woman's head, painted in black on hot pink, with electrical tape over her mouth. Under the E is another woman's head, her eyes gouged out of the wood. A male torso set against a bright yellow background under the C is likewise mutilated, scissors embedded inchest.
This unsettling piece can be read in a variety of ways, which is part of its fascination. The initial impression that Domestica is a feminist statement gives way to broader interpretations when you come across the panels featuring male imagery; perhaps the work is a commentary on domestic arrangements in general. The catalog informs us that the title also refers to domestic workers and their traditional subservience to the people for whom theywork.
Aside from the ideas it evokes, Domestica is a sneakily clever work that challenges assumptions about the way art should be displayed and perceived. Because its disturbing imagery is concealed behind closed "doors," we're forced to breach the usual space that exists between viewer and art; we literally have to reach into the piece for it to make sense. This subversion of museum protocol alone makes the exhibition worth the price of admission.