Santiago Cucullu @ Green Gallery East

“The Outhouse: Santiago Cucullu,” Green Gallery East Milwaukee, April 30-June 12 2011. Green Gallery East, Milwaukee. Photo Courtesy of Green Gallery. Click photo for link to more installation shots.

A few weeks ago I saw Santiago Cucullu’s awesome exhibition at Green Gallery East in Milwaukee.  Today when I finally had some time to write about it, I was disappointed to find that the show entitled “The Outhouse” has already closed. Cucullu’s explosive installation has haunted me ever since seeing it. Talking about the exhibit with this Milwaukee-based artist who shows all over the world gave me a lot to think about.

Green Gallery East

Cucullu’s show was the occasion for my first visit to Green Gallery East. The building is a super-minimal repurposing of a 1950s or 1960s pizza parlor with a huge plate-glass window. Architecturally, this small white modernist structure with its blank green rectangular sign stands out dramatically against the neighboring backdrop of larger brick buildings. Looking through Green Gallery East’s website archive, and that of its sibling Green Gallery West, it is clear that these galleries are an important hub for contemporary art in the region. My point: if you are interested in contemporary art, check out Green Gallery East and Green Gallery West. Really, do it.

I’ve been following Cucullu’s work since 2003 when I first came across it in the Walker Art Center exhibition When Latitudes Become Forms.

Cucullu’s 2003 installation at the Walker Art Center.

In the past, Cucullu’s subjects where often drawn from history or were appropriated from mass media or popular culture.  At Green Gallery his references are drawn from things and people he has seen firsthand in the course of his daily life. For example, adhered to one wall of the gallery walls is a large gray vinyl abstraction that looks like a human heart to me.  It is actually an abstracted reworking of a photo of a girl dancing that Cucullu shot at the Outhouse, a house with a punk nightclub in its basement.

Cucullu, Wyannie Look-Alike Punk Girl Dancing at the Outhouse, Green Gallery East, photo curtesy of Green Gallery East.

Cucullu’s current work is in a sense determinedly self-centered though not egoistic. It aims to draw directly from the artist’s idiosyncratic experiences—the spatial temporal coordinates of his daily life—and to represent these things in a way that enacts or at least suggests the possibility of, or potential for, transformation.

At once excessive and understated, Cucullu’s large wall painting is the piece that has really stayed with me. It is so beautifully explosive yet so simple.  Cucullu heaved balloons filled with red paint against gallery walls stenciled with tape in the shape of a fence.  Once the paint had dried, Cucullu removed the tape to reveal the figure of the fence against the ground of splattered red paint.   It’s impossible to stand before this installation and not think about the artist throwing the balloons. It would have been like watching a punter play a carnival game.  Standing at a distance from the wall, concentrating, Cucullu would have carefully aimed and then thrown. A mix of chance and skill, the resulting wall splatter is a completely unorthodox brand of painting that seems at first to be anti-painting, some sort of critique of the controlled discipline implied by more traditional approaches to the medium. But that isn’t what Cucullu is getting at. He loves painting and isn’t critiquing it.  Rather he is rethinking it.

“The Outhous: Santiago Cucullu,” Green Gallery East, Milwaukee. Photo Courtesy of Green Gallery. Click photo for link to more installation shots.

The paint balloons he uses are inspired by an instance of political street vandalism that caught Cucullu’s attention, a splotch of paint left by a paint balloon thrown at the door of a porn shop, paint wielded by an angry vandal with real world effect.  The title of the wall painting leads to another level of meaning:  The Fence Around the Ladies’ Jail. The reference is to the Milwaukee Women’s Correctional Center, a place Cucullu passes regularly.  The effect of the visual explosiveness of this piece was only enhanced by the flood of associations that came to me after I read the title. The prison fence is superimposed, melded with, the red splattered walls of the gallery, having the effect of confusing our sense of location. He purposefully played the architectural lines formed by the corner of the gallery against the lines of perspective (verticals, horizontals and diagonal orthogonal lines) in his rendering of the fence. It isn’t clear if we are outside the prison fence looking in or inside the prison fence looking out, or if we are in an inmate’s cell or the blood splattered room of a crime scene. In any case, my sense of vertigo standing before this piece lingers long after seeing it.

What do you think about Cucullu’s work? Do we have anything to learn from it? Or does it take painting in a productive or unproductive direction?

For more on this show see Nathaniel Stern’s review in JSOnline.

About Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is the director of galleries and curator of exhibitions at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. She writes the blog "Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes" about visual art in her community.

4 Responses to Santiago Cucullu @ Green Gallery East

  1. Anna says:

    “The Outhouse” is really disturbing, at least to me.

  2. jerry belland says:

    A very interesting post. I wish I could have seen the wall painting

  3. Anna, Can you say more? Does this make for a good art work? When an image is disturbing?

  4. hi ,the exhibition is interesting and pioneer .it is popular and fashion and its from is fresh and its instruture is full . whatever its architecture or the painting on wall ,it is open and full of experimental meaning .it is fit for the spirit of contemporary and full of exploration idea .

    the painting is use the wall and the exhibition is use of the form of old architecture . it is may be daily and fit for the spirit of America and be the main form in modern is fit for the people’imagenation to America and it will be the symbol of consume.
    it is the one part of contemporary and will be the part of cntemporary international view.

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