OSCAR MUNOZ at YYZ (401 Richmond West, #140, 416-598-4546) and the Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art (#141, 416-591-0357), to March 1. Rating: NNNN
Oscar Munoz’s art confronts the troubled legacy of South America.
A native of Cali, Colombia, he makes fleeting images in a style that is both poetically stark and evocative. His broad range of work in print, video and installation is the subject of a retrospective in two adjacent venues, YYZ and the Prefix Institute next door.
Muñoz’s choice of materials has become decidedly more elemental over his 30-year career. He often uses water, air, glass, stone, sunlight and paper. Coffee, cigarettes and sugar cubes also appear; the artist employs our most common associations and daily rituals as a means to bring the transitory nature of memory and time into sharp relief.
In Re/trato (Portrait), he videotapes his hand rapidly painting faces with water on sun-scorched pavement. The faces evaporate in less than a minute, and no face ever has a chance to be seen as a whole.
The effect is sublimely conceptual as well as political, referencing the tens of thousands of individuals who have “disappeared” without a trace in the last 50 years of Latin America’s grisly political turmoil.
Ambulatorio, or Walking Wounded, features a layer of cracked safety glass covering a large aerial photograph of Cali, laid out on the floor like pavement. Walking on the glass surface, with its sinister associations with aerial surveillance and shattered storefronts, we feel implicated in Cali’s notorious history of drug-fuelled violence. The piece is also a rumination on how we remember and reconstruct the cities we live in.
The 12 works at Prefix Institute give a broader retrospective view, and include self-portraits suspended in water, images on polished steel that are only visible when fogged with human breath and portraits of the recently deceased painted in water on sun-warmed tombstones.
It’s an overview of work that is sober and compelling.