Artists are often the most obsessive collectors, and examples of artist collections abound: from Andy Warhol’s cookie jars and ‘time capsules’, to Martin Parr’s Soviet space dog memorabilia and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s medical instruments. Sometimes these collections serve as reference material or talismans, providing insight into the artist’s psyche and processes. Other times they make their way directly into the work, as is the case in ‘Quimera’ (Chimera), Wilson Díaz’s exhibition at Museo Tamayo, which presents the Colombian artist’s vinyl record collection alongside his oil and watercolour paintings.
Occupying a single room on the museum’s lower floor, Díaz’s eponymous installation is a tidy display of records interspersed with paintings on two adjacent walls, and a large-scale double-sided watercolour hanging in the middle of the room like a quattrocento altarpiece. The show extends outside the institution, into the urban greenery of Chapultepec park, with two paintings propped up as billboards – two-dimensional works now in three, thanks to the amplitude of their open-air display.
Díaz first started collecting records in the 1970s, and began consciously compiling them for an art project in 2008. When production costs for vinyl records dropped dramatically in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Colombian state and private corporations began using them to cheaply disseminate information to the population, eliding the messages and methods of the music industry and more conventional propagandists. Though his initial purchases were likely based purely on personal taste, Díaz gradually began to acquire records that relate to the history of Colombia, and the complex connections between Colombian pop culture, state power, private corporations and organized crime. The collection is eclectic, though hardly reflective of Díaz’s musical tastes – his finely attuned selection ranges from a series launched by presidential candidates; to records sponsored by various industries (examples include pharmaceuticals, resins, oil and banking); to those issued by a Cali-based record company that belonged to a drug trafficker in the 1990s.
The installation manages to interrogate Colombia’s history of violent conflict without picturing it. Most of the albums’ cover art is cheerfully nostalgic: white ties, side ponytails, shoulder pads and coloured stripes, all redolent of 1980s and ‘90s fashion. Díaz’s colourful, cartoonish paintings hang alongside: a banana that slipped on a banana peel, an ostensibly Mexican desert scene with a cactus and a scull under the burning sun, comic book monsters – all appearing equally inoffensive. Such pictorial innocence, not devoid of light ridicule, contrasts sharply with media representation of conflict and the desensitization of violence in an age where war is witnessed via Facebook Live. In the large-scale watercolour that hangs in the centre of the room, the military are not fighting drug dealers or Marxist guerillas, but cyborgs and aliens. ‘In 1999, we, iron-men, confronted a terrifying threat for our planet…for the human race’, reads a caption to a painted comic strip on the wall opposite. A soldier appears harmlessly inert, like a cartoon villain.
For his project, Díaz assumes the role not merely of collector, but of archivist and interpreter – in the words of John Akomfrah ‘sifting through the debris and detritus of past events for traces of the phantoms’. He approaches cover art as a hidden index of an era’s socio-political relationships: between singers and drug traffickers, guerillas and local bands, the government and its citizens. Like an archaeologist of Colombia’s recent past, Díaz unearths dusty records from thrift shops in an effort to decode the language of advertising and propaganda, sweetly wrapped in the package of popular music.
Main image: Wilson Díaz, ‘Quimera’, 2017, installation view, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City. Courtesy: Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; photograph: © Agustin Garza