The second part of Teresa Margolles’ Operativo exhibit opened last Friday at the Y Gallery in Jackson Heights; and if the first part veered toward the intellectual, the second part works much more on the visceral level. It consists of a painting called "Pintura de Sangre,"or "Painting In Blood." While Margolles’ previous work has often had a raw, even shocking effect, this painting has a more subdued, abstracted impact.
That is, until you realize that the painting is really a painting in blood. In May of this year Margolles placed a canvas over a pool of blood found in the aftermath of a drug-related killing on a street corner in her hometown of Culiacan, Mexico.
The result is a painting that has a calming effect on the viewer. It looks like a formally abstract painting, with the color and feeling suggesting a soft vitality. "It has a real feeling of being found. But even then you still don't know what it is," said Cecilia Jurado, who curated both parts of the exhibit.
The first part of the exhibit focused on mass media, information and the relationship between people and art. "It was about creating awareness," Jurado said. The second part of the exhibit is "a big comment on the aesthetics of art, the boundaries of the aesthetics of art.”
Margolles has always pushed at art’s boundaries. Her earlier work, such as videos of her washing corpses and an exhibit of a murdered young heroin addict's pierced tongue, had a much more immediate effect on the viewer. "Painting In Blood" is a definitive step in the evolution of Margolles’ art.
"She gets you in formally and conceptually. It's almost a contradiction. She's questioning the formality of the media and how a piece of art can be so beautiful and yet horrendous," Jurado said.
Perhaps it’s this contradiction that gives the viewer a feeling of transcendence. Testing the boundaries of what painting can be, the tension emanating between the work’s violent origins and its visually pleasing aesthetic, created a warped sense of perception.
The painting is a comment on the every day killings in a city mired in drug-related violence. But it also contains the spirit of one anonymous victim whose lifeblood was paint to this canvas.
We do not know about the killing that produced the blood. It could have been any one of the 120 people killed last May in Culiacan — Margolles has a list of the names of the victims that month.
"She wants to move people," Jurado said. "She feels this responsibility to talk about her people. She's the result of everything that happened to her."
But Margolles’ work was not confined to national borders. "Her work is far beyond being Mexican,"Jurado said.
At the bottom center of the painting, Margolles left a small piece of blood-soaked canvas about three-inches below the border of the painting. Giving the painting a more delicate feel, this gesture pointed to the fragile nature of life.
While "Painting in Blood" is a move toward a more subtle, sophisticated type of art by Margolles, it nevertheless produces a powerful effect on the senses. Here art and imagination, life and death are equally represented.
Operativo: Part 2 runs through Sept. 6. The gallery will be closed from Aug. 17 to Sept. 1. For additional information, visit www.ygallery newyork.com.