Miguel Rothschild / Galería Ruth Benzacar
ArtNexus No.59

by Victoria Verlichak © 2005

Beyond the celestial, between heaven and hell, are Miguel Rothschild’s grace and talent. Rothschild (Buenos Aires, 1963) presented “Celestial” at the Ruth Benzacar gallery. A crossing of languages, these eighteen paintings and collages, photographs, objects, and video, appear as an intriguing course through the banal and the sublime, through the market and religious dogma, through dreams and through that which some call reality.

In the catalogue, María Cecilia Barbetta has chosen to describe the artist as irreverent and as someone who “presents himself as an otherworldly being (…) who flirts with a divine origin.” Capable of listening and transfiguring while attending a dialogue between God and the devil (in Goethe’s Faust,) “it is as if it were suddenly possible for the artist to observe everything, from various skies and perspectives, as though his understanding allowed him to float through spheres that are, for us mere terrestrial beings, utterly unreachabl0e.”

Ambitious and clear-sighted, then, Rothschild consummates in “Celestial” a set of works —with a diversity of reaches, in a diversity of techniques and materials— that traverse linguistic games, take on the physical and the metaphysical, and reveal, occasionally, a political consciousness.

The author’s presence, his audacity and irony, have been a fundamental part of his work from the very beginning. Suffice it to remember “A todas las mujeres que me hicieron sufrir como un perro” (1990) and “Lágrimas asesinas” (2001), his “película in 73 animatics” (a thumb-flipping booklet), where he is the protagonist.

In “Celestial”, the artist himself never appears represented. Here he displays his mastery of a variety of media and his sharpness in presenting the similarities between the supposed opposites of heaven and hell, and the thin line that separates the promise of happiness from the promise of failure. Rothschild plays with a series of assumptions and values that are interwoven in religious teachings, in supermarket stalls as much as in the minds of contemporary society’s actors.

To articulate the universe of “Celestial,” where up close nothing is what it seemed to be from a distance, Rothschild deploys quotations, pre-existing materials, popular culture, and elements from consumer culture. A blue starry night painted on a large canvas, seems to announce a romantic night —except that, instead of stars, those yellow shapes are really price tags. The neon back-lit images we see are not religious scenes from the vitraux of ancient cathedrals, but photographs put together using collages of commercial product wrappers containing the word “paradise” in several languages. Similarly, brand identifiers from cigarettes, matches, and other products, are used in the collages that form the series “Infierno.” The “Arco de triunfo” and the “Torre” are structures that seem to celebrate nothing; they are erected on flimsy cardboard boxes and cans, carrying food product labels, rather than on brick, granite, or durable metals.

Heaven, so coveted and feared, painted in blue with collages of “stars” and “little bubbles” with text, is once again represented in a work that presumably narrates a battle between angels and dragons and is covered in onomatopoeias taken from the world of comic books. These are the same expressions we encounter in the two paint-splashed works in “La noche que vio a las estrellas.”

The photographs, collages, and video work in the series “Paraíso” —a work in progress with a significant humor component— are central to this show. These works seem to point out the hollowing of language, while at the same time inviting us to wonder about the relationship between consumerism and happiness and about the price we pay for our dreams (like the dreams of immigrants who risk it all in order to reach the “paradise” of the central nations.) Like a global flaneûr, Rothschild travels the world collecting objects and products and searching for images, billboards and signs containing the word “paradise,” which he captures in photographs and in a video titled “Another Day in Paradise,” which uses for its soundtrack the song of the same name.

In parallel to “Celestial” in Buenos Aires, the Argentinean artist paid tribute to the utopian expressionistic visions of the interwar period in “Experience Utopia,” in the show Künster.Archive with Christian Boltanski, Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, Hans Winkler and others, at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, the city where he lives and works