Thomas Glassford

18 February, 2010 - 28 March, 2010

Thomas Glassford ́s engagement with abstraction creates a productive dialogue with the interests of the founder of the Museo Experimental El Eco, Mathias Goeritz. Both artists have worked in diverse scales, moving easily between monumental projects that compete with architecture and domestic-scale objects that reference painting. In their work, both artists also share an attraction to geometric forms, gold and reflective materials, as well as to the erotic shapes of organic gourds. They have each addition- ally worked during periods in Mexico when formal abstraction has often been of minor cultural focus.

Goeritz was critiqued in the 1950s by the muralists for seeking, through his promotion of abstraction, to teach bourgeois values to artists in Mexico. Intriguingly, it is through questions of class that Glassford ́s work specifically constrasts with that of his Modernist predecessor, revealing his own complex and con- temporary relationship to the history of abstraction, one informed by Post-Conceptual and Neo-Pop perspectives. Far from the utopian avant-garde interests of Goeritz, Glassford specifically addresses the materialist Modernism of the 1960s and the 1970s. His particular use of industrial metals and plastics, as well as his chromatic choices, reference this period. It was in these years that Modernism reached a state of both extreme decadence and democratization, when geometric abstraction became ubiquitous and appeared in both high and low cultural contexts, from museums to strip clubs.

The installation produced by Glassford for El Eco signals a new direction in his work, while it continues to address questions of decadence, class and the transfiguration of industrial materials into aesthetic objects. For this project, Glassford created a lush, futurist garden within the enclosed space of the museum. Gold, grid structures were positioned across the main gallery, made from metal scaffolding materials. This construction—which recalled those of playgrounds, the primary structures of “jungle-gyms” or “monkey bars”—served as supports for an invasion of a simulated “jungle” of organic forms: large acrylic leaves and a mass of transparent tubes filled with liquid. These alien elements were all produced in the same florescent green color,
in materials that attracted light and appeared to glow. The composition of this structure invited the viewer to spend time within the exhibition space and to move under, over and through the series of enclosures it created.

With his play between the organic and the industrial, where the repeated straight lines of grids contrasted with the curves of leaves and root structures, the artist evokes earlier historic periods. His enclosed grid spaces recall Victorian greenhouses; interior gardens built by the newly rich industrial classes, designed to sustain an array of imported tropical plants. Simulating the pleasure gardens of the Middle East or India, they signified wealth, luxury and industry. Glassford ́s installation additionally recalled the shapes and patterns of Art Nouveau, the turn of the century artistic movement that looked to reconcile industrial materials with organic forms. However, the artificial colors of this piece, combined with its reflective and glowing surfaces, also opened it to science fiction narratives. These forms speak to a future world nostalgic for nature, only able to simulate it artificially.

Natural forms have repeatedly appeared in Glassford ́s oeuvre. These include his early works, where he explored alterations to the gourd shape using various materials, as well as the starbursts of his Aster light pieces, or the landscape formats of his monochromatic Partituras (Scores). This installation however, marks a particularly new and direct turn by the artist to the natural world, where the grids serve as a transition from a static modernism toward the entropic futurism described by these leaves and roots. With its lyrical forms and reflective surfaces, this installation challenged the weight and angled lines of the Modernist building designed by Goeritz. Glassford ́s intervention confronts the spiritual aspirations embodied in Goeritz ́s El Eco, with his own contemporary lament. Like Goeritz ́s architecture, this piece also seeks to rejuvenate lost human feeling, not the emotive spiritualism cultivated by cathedrals, but our primal connection to the forms of the declining natural world.

Tobias Ostrander, curator.

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