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Paintings are beautiful objects not necessarily prized for their practicality and usefulness. For La Bourgeoisie, the New York–based artist Alejandra Seeber turns this notion on its head for her second exhibition at Virgil de Voldère Gallery, using her canvases and stretchers not to decorate walls but to build them. While Seeber’s imagery has often investigated the elusive meaning and mysterious qualities of unpopulated interior spaces, here she activates an interior by constructing a dwelling with an architectural combination of her paintings.
While recently in Argentina, her home country, Seeber traveled by car through the slums of Buenos Aires—known as the villas miserias—to a glass shop, where she was working on a sculpture. Along the way she observed dilapidated houses made of cardboard, wood, tin, plastic, and other discarded materials. For Argentinians building homes in these shantytowns, do-it-yourself is not an aesthetic—it’s a necessary way of life, and especially so in the wake of the country’s fiscal crisis nearly ten years ago that widened the gap between rich and poor.
Artists are often uniquely positioned as a medium or catalyst between the world of the elites—those consumers of high fashion, luxury vacations, expensive automobiles, and, of course, fine art—and the life of the lower classes. Ever since Édouard Manet painted street beggars as noble philosophical subjects 150 years ago, artists have dealt with the contradictions of class positions in various ways. But in a commercial gallery in 2010, can painting still faithfully address social issues without resorting to heavy-handed didacticism?
Seeber’s house of paintings, a collection of colliding images, attempts to do just that. While several works have been previously exhibited, many are “extras” that never left the artist’s studio, an approach that echoes the scavengers of the villas miserias. We normally would admire the artist’s quick brush and expressive technique in the paintings, but her gallery installation also encourages us to transcend aesthetics to contemplate on architectural, functional, and political levels
Punctuating the concepts running throughout La Bourgeoisie is a lone painting by the Argentinian-Italian artist Augusto Maurandi, titled Justice, that hangs nearby Seeber’s house. Depicting an old-fashioned weight scale flung against a sky-blue background, with actual chains affixed to the canvas, the work conveys a powerful suggestion that law and decency have been tossed away like unwanted waste, leaving viewers to wonder for whom justice is served.