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Everybody Get Together 

Argentinian writer Fernanda Laguna debuts first U.S. solo exhibition of visual art at the ICA.

click to enlarge Fernanda Laguna: As Everybody at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University

David Hale

Fernanda Laguna: As Everybody at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University

In the second-floor gallery of the Institute for Contemporary Art, paintings adorn the walls in a scattershot fashion.

Between a few of the works, someone has written verses of poetry in pencil on the white walls. Perhaps the same person has drawn some frames with hearts, castles, butterflies and flowers. Holes have been cut in paintings, exposing the wall underneath. Other canvases have been tagged with smiley faces drawn in permanent marker.

Has some vandal been unleashed upon the work of Argentinian artist Fernanda Laguna? Dominic Willsdon, curator of this collection of Laguna’s work, assures otherwise.

“This is not good curating, to have this too near to the side,” says Willsdon, pointing out a painting that is a few inches from the edge of a wall. “That’s not what they teach you in curating school.”

But that’s precisely the point. In embracing Laguna’s playful, surrealist-influenced works, Willsdon, the executive director, has curated the show, “Fernanda Laguna: As Everybody,” to fit the artist. In the first American solo exhibition of Laguna’s work, black amorphous blobs appear romantic, primitive crafts and knick-knacks share space with sophisticated paintings, and some works are bounded by frames made of wicker and drawn in pencil.

click to enlarge DAVID HALE
  • David Hale

Laguna, an artist, writer and poet who sometimes uses the pen name Dalia Rosetti, is a bit of a cult figure in Argentina. During an economic depression in the country in 1999, she founded the art space and publishing imprint Belleza y Felicidad, which became central to the grassroots artistic community. She was also instrumental in the formation of Ni Una Menos – Not One [Woman] Less – a fourth-wave feminist movement that campaigns against gender-based violence and has since swept across South America.

Though better known as a pioneer of queer and feminist writing, Laguna has curated more than 200 showings of her visual art, some of which is now in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles, and the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires.

Willsdon says he was attracted to curate an exhibit of Laguna’s more recent work because of its “convergence of pop culture trash aesthetic with … the art traditions that have moved through South America over 100 years,” such as surrealism and abstraction.

“I find myself continually interested in artists that bring value to things we don’t think have value, whether it’s cultures in the world that we think of as [being lower] value than our own, or it’s a youth culture among us,” Willsdon says of the first show he’s curated at the institute.

Sharing space alongside a painting series titled “Abstract Shapes That Look Like Something,” are works that embrace kitsch and folk art styles, including the use of shells, bows and other tchotchkes.

“There’s a sort of faux-naive artistic personality behind this, and it sort of lines up in the way in which her aesthetic identity was forged when she was really young,” Willsdon says. “She’s actually kind of celebrating the obsessions and loves of adolescent girls.”

The exhibit includes the video “This or This,” where Laguna shows off different works in her studio as if her audience were an international curator. Willsdon describes it as something of a comedy performance that touches on the challenges some artists face in trying to break into the English-speaking world.

“It’s sort of a riff on curating, but also … about her being relatively excluded from this sort of circuit of contemporary art,” he says.

One room of the installation is dedicated to archiving memorabilia from the Ni Una Menos social movement. Titled “Mareadas en la Marea – High on the Tide” – the items are a collection of visual and material items that share an aesthetic continuity with Laguna’s work, even though they were made by other people.

In consideration of America’s current dramatically shifting political and cultural climate, Willsdon says it’s the ICA’s mission to remind people of their connection with other parts of the globe.

“Too often in this country you can see people closing in on themselves, closing in on their own cultures, and it seems to me that contemporary art is one of those things that can keep your head up and keep you alert to what’s going on in other places.”

“Fernanda Laguna: As Everybody” runs through Jan. 10 at the Institute for Contemporary Art, 601 W. Broad St. For information, visit icavcu.org or call 804-828-2823.

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