From the Area. By Roger White
A viewer encountering only the paintings in “From the Area,” Francisco Moreno’s exhibition at the Latino Cultural Center, might come away from the show slightly misled as to what kind of painter Moreno actually is. The seven 97 x 100-inch grisaille interpretations of European Old Master and Impressionist paintings suggest an artist concerned with matters of appropriation and reproduction, and given to a refined brand of lush, painterly elegance.
The former is partially true, and the latter hardly at all. Moreno’s work often involves visual or conceptual reference to other or previous works of art, because to do otherwise would be to deny his default involvement with life in the early 21st-century—a present ruled by the “theological culture of the image,” as philosopher Peter Osborne recently termed it.[i] But the approaches and sensibilities of his various works veer wildly (and deliberately) between incompatible modes of painting, often resulting in jarring aesthetic collisions.
Looking “From the Area” in relation to some other of Moreno’s projects yields a slightly clearer picture. Earlier this fall, the artist presented a body of work called “Slates” at the Erin Cluley Gallery in Dallas. Where his paintings at LCC follow the same guidelines and processes, the works in “Slates” exhibit a bewildering array of materials and procedures. Within “Slates” one finds: color-saturated, highly textured abstractions made by submerging a painting support in a trough of acrylic paint; sleek, fabricated mirrors; brushy, kitschy renderings of unicorns; and grisaille, photo-based portraits of Kanye West. But “Slates” itself seems fairly tame compared to Moreno’s WCD Project, completed in the spring for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s SOLUNA festival. In that installation-slash-performance, a rebuilt and hand-painted Datsun Z sportscar executed donuts in front of a mural-sized, abstracted version of Emanuel Luetze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851).
Moreno is thus an artist who employs a wide range of processes and approaches, using rule-based thinking and serial production to lend provisional coherence to each individual project. “From the Area” can be seen as a particularly becalmed episode within a disjunctive approach to his chosen medium—an extended meditation on one possible way of making a painting.
Here, the artist has centered his investigations on significant works from the permanent collection of the nearby Kimbell Museum in Forth Worth: a Tiepolo oil sketch, a Dutch Golden Age floral still life, a Pisarro plein air painting of a park in London, an early Michelangelo study—Moreno’s choices at first seem drawn at random from a survey of pre-20th century art history. However, his juxtapositions highlight the webs of social, economic, and aesthetic relations in which each work is embedded, situations that often echo themes and structures from his own body of work. Often, too, does cursory research reveal decidedly contemporary concerns at play around these historical works of art.
The Tiepolo sketch, for example, was executed by the artist in advance of a fresco commission at the Santa Maria della Pietà in Venice. The Kimbell website notes that the singing angels of the finished work, The Coronation of the Virgin (1755), would often receive live musical accompaniments courtesy of a choir and orchestra of young girls assembled from the orphanage adjacent to the church—an instance of mixed-media theatricality as over-the-top as Moreno’s own WCD Project. Michelangelo’s Torment of Saint Anthony (c.1487 – 1488), an oil and tempera panel executed by the artist at age thirteen, improvises on the composition of a German woodcut: the questions of originality, reproduction, and the circulation of images that preoccupy artists today were in the air in Renaissance Florence as well.
By enlarging and reproducing these masterworks, what gesture is the artist making? Perhaps the exhibition’s title provides a clue. “From the Area,” nods to the interplay between regionalism and internationalism within art. A museum—an American museum, in particular—secures a city’s national or international prominence via the exchange of local capital for foreign art objects. It brings together objects from disparate times and places that, when amalgamated into a collection and presented to the public, adds to a region’s cultural wealth. The more a work of art is from there, the more prestige it brings to here.
But what does it mean to be an artist “from the area?” Under the logic of cultural capital, “local” is rarely a value-adding modifier to the title of “artist;” the Kimbell collection is geographically vast yet boasts practically no American painters, let alone Texan ones. And while contemporary art institutions don’t necessarily look to Europe for artworks of unimpeachable value, the market centers of New York and Los Angeles often serve a similar function of legitimation.
Moreno, “from the area” of Dallas – Fort Worth, positions himself as simultaneously an insider and an outsider. He is a member of the creative community whose sensibilities have been shaped, in part, by the presence of the Kimbell and other local institutions. At the same time, his locality means that he is potentially, paradoxically, outside the art-institutional circuit of exchange that brings art from there to here. The paintings in “From the Area”—unlicensed reproductions of certified masterpieces—are similarly ambivalent. They seek to inscribe the artist within the art tradition showcased by the Kimbell while also insisting on a degree of difference.
[i] Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (London: Verso
Books, 2013): 24.