Perplexing new images from Spain

It is tempting to be generous when reviewing new talent, to settle for a modicum of ability, good intentions, and creative sensibility. This is especially true when reviewing a group show of new talent from a foreign country.

I steeled myself to resist this temptation as I entered the Guggenheim Museum here for its exhibition "New Images from Spain." I needn't have bothered because I liked very much the works of three of the nine artists on view, liked five others moderately well, and disliked only one.

Even so it's a perplexing show. The art on view exhibits many qualities but lacks, with a few exceptions, two crucial ones: identity and authority. There is an overall aura of blandness which even the exceptional pieces cannot quite dispel.

It disturbs me to say that because this is a notably handsome and well-mounted exhibition. I don't doubt for a moment that Margit Rowell who curated it chose the best of what was available. As a show, it leaves very little to be desired. But despite all that, I'm surprised that this is the best Spain's younger generation of artists has to offer.

In her excellent introduction to the exhibition catalog, Ms. Rowell traces the various directions Spanish art has taken since the mid-'50s. She points to Spain's strict political climate to which its artists reacted with varying degrees of detachment or politicization. She writes of that country's cultural isolation: "Information about foreign movements is sparse and secondhand. Foreign art books and periodicals are still largely unavailable today. Exhibitions of artists from abroad are rare. Works by foreign artists are not collected by the few museums of modern art in Spain. And the fragmented information that does exist is disparate and meaningless in a country whose 20 th-century history is parallel to, but separate from, that of the rest of Europe."

She concludes by stating that, even so, the Spanish artist is probably in an enviable position today and that his isolation has freed him from the risk of becoming derivative of the international avant-garde. Because no market exists at home, "the artist is in a position to generate one -- to forge his own criteria and form his own audience and critics."

Perhaps. . . . At any rate, time will tell.

Teresa Gancedo has a modest talent and an exquisite sensibility. These, coupled with a poignant, bitter-sweet attitude toward life, give her paintings a quality of heartbreaking delicacy.

She paints as others would help a wounded bird or comfort a frightened animal. Her paintings are about small things: twigs, feathers, flowers, matches -- life's tiny odds and ends -- which are brought together in squared-off compositions to be viewed as complex assemblages or read as visual poems. There is an extraordinary intimacy about her art which bespeaks great familiarity with life's more subtle secrets. Her paintings alone make attending this exhibition worthwhile.

Sergi Aguilar creates severely geometric sculpture out of stone -- often Black Belgian marble -- which somehow also suggest organic material. These works sit low, are generally dark, and have an aura of absolute inevitability about them, as though the idea for each had finally found its true form.

Zush is the madman of the group, but a marvelously witty and wacky one. His art is part fantastic pictorial imagery and part mysterious calligraphy -- a secret code for a language never intended to be fully understood. It is highly idiosyncratic, derisive, autobiographical -- and great fun.

The other artists, Carmen Calvo, Muntadas (in collaboration with Serran Pagan), Miquel Navarro, Jorge Teixidor, and Dario Villalba have produced works of moderate quality and interest. Of these I found Navarro's constructions and Muntadas's multimedia installation the most interesting.

It's only in Guillermo Perez-Villalta's acrylics that I found elements which disturbed me. His position is post-modern, which in his case means that he challenges the ideals of the avant-garde as well as the traditional conventions of seriousness, originality, order, and good taste.He is disdainful of the very notion that art should reflect heightened sensibilities.

Well and good. That certainly is an acceptable modern position and one from which new forms of art have occasionally emerged. And his statement that "chaos itself, confusion or contradition, are for me fundamental" does not disturb me, although it makes me wonder why he chose art as his career.

What does disturb me is the art itself. It is a hollow and tasteless pastiche of everything under the sun, a rehashing of the surface characteristics of classical, baroque, and modern painting. Its allusions to art's history, masterpieces, problems, and theories are a smoke screen to cover the artist's failure to show creative vision. Only in "The Studio," based on Velasquez's "Las Meninas," and on a Vermeer interior, is there any evidence of pictorial solidity -- enough, at any rate, to suggest he could have been a passable magazine cover illustrator in the old days.

After its closing on May 11, this exhibition travels to the Marion Koogler McNay Institute, San Antonio, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and the Museum of Albuquerque.

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