Exhibition Review: A Luta Continua
By Ilana Jael
Sculpture The Elusive (L'Introuvable) by Marcel Mariën is a fitting one to serve as the cover photo for gallery Hauser and Wirth’s A Luta Continua. As well as setting the scene for the exhibition’s inquisitive, absurdist sensibilities by presenting an unidentified object that evokes the form of glasses while appearing impossible to wear, it highlights the fact that though the displayed works are not united by one artist or theme, there is among them a singularity of vision to be found; the exquisite “vision” of esteemed collector Sylvio Perlstein.
And a feature in the exhibition’s forthcoming catalog in which curator David Rosenberg interviews this maverick reveals a man just as gloriously strange as his amassed treasures. A career jeweler and diamond cutter who, with no formal arts background or expertise, stumbled into collecting as a teenager when he found himself irresistibly driven to purchase a painting after a chance encounter and then made the practice his lifelong passion. Though many of his close to a thousand acquired works boast famous origins, Perlstein didn’t make his purchases based on trends or prestige but instead spared no effort or expense to seek out art that intrigued and unsettled him, what he calls in his native language the “esquito”.
Rosenberg was given the unenviable task of not only whittling down the massive collection that resulted to a somewhat more manageable amount of around 360 works but of arranging them in a cohesive, appealing manner, and the curator’s expert vision proves almost as crucial to the exhibition’s success as Perlstein’s. Implied connections between works shown enhances their effect, such as when Bruce Nauman’s eerie Hanging Heads hover a few feet above the “talking heads” of his video work Good Boy Bad Boy or Irving Penn’s Broken Egg lurks close to Marcel Broodthaer’s similarly eggy The Weight of An Artwork. Another memorable sculpture, Man Ray’s Obstruction, is made up of 63 wooden hangers, and seemingly frames everything around it by serving as a metacommentary on the nature of what has been “hung”.
Along with being represented in sculptural form in a neon red work by Thomas Mulcaire, “A Luta Continua” is written in a loop on the walls of the stairwells that connect the exhibition’s three sprawling floors. A Portugese saying which means “the struggle continues”, it’s an appropriate enough designation for a collection that proves itself a struggle to even behold, let alone describe, ranging in genre from Dada, surrealism and abstraction, to Arte Povera and Nouveau Réalisme and in medium from painting and photography to sculpture and video. Photography is, though, the craft most amply represented, and roaming through the first floor’s “mini-collection” of it is also a walk through its history, featuring the work of greats from Eugene Atget to Robert Mapplethorpe. One alcove is covered completely in pictures from floor to ceiling; the point becomes their sheer, disorienting abundance as much as anything else.
Though themes of eroticism are present throughout the collection, those who endure until the third floor are privy to an even more shocking “explicit room” featuring a realistic Standing Nude sculpture by John De Andrea and a nun’s masturbatory Triumph of The Flesh captured by Andres Serrano. But don’t let such physical displays lead you to mistake Perlstein’s interests as carnal; many equally interesting acquisitions of his perturb just as deeply with only written text. Neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer’s flickering diode Truisms and the subtitular phrases adorning Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Busy going crazy) and Untitled (Speak for yourself) do just as much to awe and befuddle as does James Lee Byars’ phallic Untitled or René Magritte’s pubic and perverse The Rape.
Guests will certainly enjoy an experience abundant and thought provoking enough to rival that offered by most major Manhattan museums, without even facing the burden of an entrance fee. You have until this July 27 to reap the fruits of Perlstein’s lifelong “struggle” for yourself- and given the collection’s breadth and scope, you may even want to leave room in your schedule to allow yourself a few repeat visits. The degree to which his accumulation of oddities is undoubtedly successful proves once and for all that great collection is an art in and of itself.