- Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” 1995.
In no better way than Guillermo Kuitca's art do my beats — theater and art — overlap. Kuitca, whose show Everything is at the Hirshhorn until Jan. 16, has an extensive background in the theater. In the 80's, he felt constricted by the medium of painting, so he set out to follow and learn from the German choreographer Pina Bausch. Soon after, he staged his first performance, Nobody Forgets Anything, and painted a series with the same name. Kuitca's early works are arranged like dioramas: The viewer peers into the frame, which acts as a proscenium. Inside are the three walls of the stage, and furniture — tiny compared to the scale of the theater — arranged as if it were on an austere set. It's tilted precariously towards us in a rake.
- Guillermo Kuitca, “El mar dulce,” 1986.
Beds are a common motif in Kuitca's work, as is the image of a baby carriage rolling down the stairs, from Battleship Potemkin. In some of his proscenium paintings, Kuitca puts his baby carriage descending down a stage trap door's stairs. But the set is eerily empty, as though we've arrived too late for the performance - and often disheveled, like the aftermath of a fight scene that has just taken place.
But halfway through the exhibition, there's a big scene change. Kuitca switches perspective: Instead of looking in at the stage, he turns his attention to the audience. Once again, the theater is empty, and there's a different sort of disorder to quell, as Kuitca smashes the seating plans of major opera houses to smithereens, or melts them into liquid. Fascinated but dissatisfied with order and place, Kuitca has meticulously collaged the seats and tiers as they explode, much like his dissected maps and constellations. The trajectory of the fragmented seats echoes the way that sound vibrates and moves through a concert hall.
- Guillermo Kuitca, “Mozart-Da Ponte I,” 1995.
But whether we're on stage or in the seats, we're a part of Kuitca's drama. "The drama in the painting is not in the painting, it's in the situation of being in front of a painting," Kuitca said in an interview with the Buffalo News. "That's why I think it's so theatrical, because you need to be there. So maybe that's a real link between paintings and theater."
Being there is a tenet important to theater too, and one that grows even more important as it must compete with other mediums. It's something that's been discussed on these pages before, in regard to participation and tradition. Just as theater demands an audience, so too does Kuitca.
- Guillermo Kuitca, “Teatro Rojo,” 2004.