Retrospectives

Shotgun Review

Retrospectives

By Maria Porges September 17, 2015

The elegant, perfectly paced installation of Retrospectives—just the right number of paintings and objects—evokes the hushed adoration that the title invokes. Yet many things about Juan Carlos Quintana’s beautiful yet unsettling paintings make one reconsider just what the artist might really intend. The clusters of cartoony, faintly alarming figures that people Quintana’s canvases suggest a combination of Belgian painter James Ensor’s crowd scenes, Philip Guston’s goofy hooded Klansmen, and the denizens of ’70s “Bad Painting.” Looking closely at these crowds of “barflies, wanna-be-revolutionaries, lackeys, clowns, hobos, hillbillies, zealots, opportunists, and zombies” (the artist’s description), it is clear that we, the art-world audience, are also part of this mob.

Juan Carlos Quintana. Reflections on Exile Part I (Entering the Forest), 2014-15; oil and acrylic on canvas; 84 x 192 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Fischer Gallery, San Francisco.

Quintana, who has described his work as a “pre-post-anti-pro revolutionary gumbo/ajiaco potpourri of image-making that navigates between narratives and abstractions,” is a veritable poster boy for cultural hybridity, having been raised by Cuban exile parents in New Orleans’ mix of African, European, and Native American cultures. The dense, palimpsest-littered surfaces of his paintings suggest the presence of these multiple voices; images added and subtracted, improvised and erased seem to be part of an affectionate, labor-intensive relationship with each canvas, renewed on a daily basis for months before final completion. Titles are sharply humorous references to political (in)correctness of all kinds. Some are about the Cold War; others—Revolutions Are Made to Liberate the Painter from the Humdrum Circumstances of the Canvas (2015), for instance—evoke Communist rhetoric, or, like Soiree for the Nouveau Riche to Show Off Their New Art Collection (2015), or Art Collectors Descending on Unsuspecting Emerging Economies (2015), make fun of the burgeoning Late Capitalism of the present-day art world.

Retrospectives is about the idea of such exhibitions, rather than being one. At the same time, the three sculptural pieces that punctuate the space serve as tiny museums, encasing the artist’s pictures in entrancingly abject vitrines. (All three of these are on wheels; in what could be described as a nightmare scenario for any artist, Quintana has been forced to move his studio five times in five years.) In Art Wishing to Become More Museum Friendly, A Twenty Year Retrospective (2020‒40) (2014‒15), a large painting protrudes comically through the top of the glass case; hidden behind it, there are small works, and yet more hang on the back like sales goods. There is something forlorn, tender, and ferociously funny about the painting folded and (mostly) crammed into the case titled Essays on Cold War Rhetoric: A Retrospective (1949‒89) (2015), and the fact that this painting was in Quintana’s last solo gallery show makes us think about another question that his work deliberately addresses—failure, and how it can be productive, through, among other things, the cannibalization of one’s own (unsold) work. As he muses in a recent interview,1 “And who is to say what is failure and what is success? As an artist you just need to trust and listen to yourself and keep moving forward.”

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Retrospectives is on view at Jack Fischer Gallery, in

San Francisco

, through August 29, 2015.

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