Luis Cruz Azaceta, "Breakout," Sept. 16-Oct. 17, 1998, at Galeria Ramis Barquet, 41 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y., 10022.
Luis Cruz Azaceta, "Bound," Sept. 16-Oct. 17, 1998, at Mary-Anne Martin/Fine Art, 23 East 73rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10021.
Luis Cruz Azaceta's recent works are, quite simply, about violence. Especially the abstracted, distorted kind that is disseminated through television and newspapers. Azaceta's large combine paintings on board include expressive painted sections along with collaged photographs and sculptural elements like stuffed animals and aluminum studs. Their overall effect is fearsome, and reflects America's weird fascination with mayhem and terror.
Azaceta, a Cuban-born artist who has lived in New York and now makes New Orleans his home, began taking photographs off the television screen several years ago. It turned out to be a particularly rich vein for an artist who for the past 20 years has addressed social issues like urban crime, homelessness and AIDS in his work. The photographs proved to be the catalyst for a series of works dealing with the nasty, evil things people do to each other, both in reality and fiction.
In the monumental, eight-foot-square Real Fiction, Azaceta drew a woodcut-like self-portrait, schematic, even awkward, with his mouth hooked up to a vacuum cleaner nozzle and the back of his skull swelling like a vacuum-cleaner bag. The assemblage's lower half is lined with horizontal rows of metal studs, each serving as a kind of tray that frames rows of photographs shot off the television, images of memorable media tragedies. Further down in the metal trays, a newspaper headline hysterically blurts out the piece's story line: "Toy Gun, Real Tragedy," circling straight back to the apparent oxymoron that is the work's title.
Arguably one of Azaceta's most effective motifs is the crushed and tangled metal stud, a pictorial reference to the terrorist's bomb. The huge Oklahoma 3 is an 8 x 12 foot series of three silver-painted plywood panels covered with crushed metal studs, a clock and several silver-painted teddy bears -- the variety of damage underlining the destructiveness of random, anonymous violence.
In smaller works, Azaceta sets snapshots of the TV screen in rectangular grids, or in long horizontal rows framed by metal studs. Heaven's Gate III is a 36 x 24 inch grid of 36 photos, including images of body bags and tennis shoes from the Heaven's Gate mass suicide, Christian crosses, Roswell-type alien beings and a plunging comet. Bank Robbers III is about 10 inches tall and nine feet long, and pictures body-armored L.A. bank robbers imitating those in the movie Heat in two rows of snapshots, both above and below a series of pictures of an overfed woman with a ho-hum gaze. Did the real thing, one wonders on studying the lady's boredom, not live up to the pizzazz of the movie?
No matter. Azaceta renders the aftermath of violence in a passive, voyeuristic, hyper-real America -- that slim, equivocal territory between watching and enacting our most horrendous wishes. This is work tailor-made for the Clinton years. Anyone for Wag the Dog?
The uptown part of the show, "Bound" at Mary-Anne Martin, displays new oil on wood panels more reminiscent of Azaceta's earlier, less assemblage-like works. While making less use of the metal stud motif, they characteristically incorporate images of boat journeys and portraits of the artist and his wife, the artist Sharon Jacques.
CHRISTIAN VIVEROS-FAUNÉ is a writer and independent curator living in New York.