Robert Miller Gallery, New York, USA
Octavio Paz once called the culture south of the border ‘a mosaic, a broken mirror’. Mexican artist Julio Galan’s latest show, ‘El Oro Poderoso’, is full of the sort of narcissism that might be called mythic. With an expert eye for unsettling kitsch, Galan lets his beastly little id run riot, settling with equal comfort into the attitudes of both boy and girl, like an unsupervised child in a wardrobe.
‘The Powerful Gold’, the show’s title in English, reveals a great deal about Galan’s ambitious goal. Taking risks with every collaged canvas, Galan trades in a flux of kitschy figures, from Chinese postcard landscapes to Red Lobster marine, via plastic sharks, tearful roses, blood-gushing Christs and mounted trophies. The paintings’ Churrigeresque effects occasionally find themselves at loose ends, but at other times the open-ended nature of Galan’s works points to the hidden meanings that lie beneath the many surfaces. Splendido (Splendid, all works 1997), a diptych portraying the Greco-Roman order of a classical urn on the right and a naked man (Galan of course) pissing blood into the same urn on the left, clues you in immediately to Galan’s brand of fun though the mantilla buried in his neck and the feather poking out of his arse imply a violence not exclusively directed towards artistic tradition.
Besides being an egotist, Galan is also, in popular parlance, ‘queer as a three dollar bill’ a fact rarely lost on anyone, since it is made so evident in the sado-masochism of paintings like Splendido. Low Fat Cherries, in another instance, features paint-splattered, cut-up Polaroids of Galan’s naked lower body in various blue-boy poses, stuck unceremoniously onto a still life of a bunch of cherries; perversely connecting what for Galan and many others is the dislocation between representation and self-image.
But sexual identity, thank the great black She-Mother in the sky, is not the only game in town for Galan. His porous imagination and reckless intuition encompass Christianity, Buddhism, personal and collective history, and art from the Hellenes to the Surrealists to the present if only for his own self-serving purposes. The message in the end as seen clearly in his self-portraits as Christ, Capital Amour and Algo después de ti (Something After You) is that Galan is the message. The somersaults and cart-wheels his attention-grabbing body and psyche perform hold you fascinated both by their accomplishment and the horror of their mutability. Independent of much Postmodern bravura, this is still territory into which we like our artists to cross before we do.
Unsurprisingly, the latest catalogue of Galan’s work is full of pictures of himself. In one, dressed in an elegant suit and tie, he plants an open-mouthed kiss on a ventriloquist’s doll. In another, the child Julio poses as a geisha with a silk kimono and a pair of chopsticks sustaining a delicate coif. It was probably pictures like this that led Ernest Hemmingway to commit suicide.