Magdalena's Magic


Characteristics I've always enjoyed about Uruguayan art are its affinity to nature and the use of organic materials to accent that nexus. For the most part, it is both serious and inviting, comfortable and accessible. It is also sufficiently puzzling to elicit questions and varied responses. Nature is one subject that often befuddles even the art criterati.

Enter Magdalena Diaz (Montevideo, 1974-,) a multi-talented mid-career Uruguayan artist who's been working full time in her homeland for over a decade after a stint in Barcelona. Over the years she has learned numerous unique methods of manipulating glass and related materials that go far beyond commonplace melting and blowing.  Entitled "Agua," Diaz's exhibition at the Museo Torres Garcia on Sarandi in Ciudad Vieja runs until the end of September.

md-tall-480We're perplexed that we haven't heard more of Diaz's work in and around the local art circuit. She has her following, but her name isn't nearly as common as many other contemporary Uruguayans. On first glance, this may have something to do with the nature of her marketing approach. Rather than label her glass jewelry as art, she calls it jewelry. Same for her mosaics, wall dividers, decorative pieces and murals. I find this honesty refreshing, especially in a period where there are so many shallow mandates floating around pretending to be art. While some artists call anything from paper clips or clothes hangers art, Diaz calls a bowl a bowl. Her work is all very artistic and certainly more intriguing than many of the vapid pseudo philosophical meanderings found in some of the so-called "cutting-edge" galleries. But naming a spade a spade can present problems in a market where theory rules, contacts regularly trump talent and the movers and shakers like things done one way... theirs. Diaz takes the high road. She never apologizes for calling her production what it is. And yes, it's also all art… whether she wants to be that bold or not.

Fast forward to today and the puzzling venue for her current show. Despite a very short list of previous exhibitions, none of particularly stellar repute, Magdalena Diaz seemed to vault out of nowhere into a solo show occupying the entire top floor of the country's most important museum apart from the MNAV. Did the Torres Garcia curators rightfully grasp the organic, constructivist, material-driven and symbolic connections that Magdalena's work shares with the Southern School and the grand master himself? We hope that's all it was.

It doesn't matter how Diaz arrived. This is no time to be cynical now that she actually has the local art world's attention. The Agua show is noteworthy in its strength and consistency. It is as complete and revealing as any show we've seen (including MNAV) over the past couple of years. The work is mounted to unleash the magical mysteries of Diaz's work up close and personal. Ambient distractions are minimal. Lighting is sparse, but that which is provided bursts from inside the works -- some of grand proportions -- wherein the viewer encounters life represented through the artist's particular use of not only glass but found objects, encapsulated metal, thermo-fused forms, fossils and other organic materials that create complex studies of their own but also serve to protect and previous life-bearing forms from the current real world. With glass art, the blown or shaped forms are normally the visual object and the aesthetic focus. In Diaz's work, glass also serves as the substrate for additional layers of dialog. In a sense, the glass is a starting point. It divides, it spaces, it protects, it isolates. It envelopes the artist's mental and physical collection of anecdotes, memories and reminders.

Unlike many shows where art is viewed through barriers and protectors at far beyond arm's length, Agua is meant to be approached. This is fundamental to the show's success. The closer one focuses, the more intricate these works become, especially with semi-transparent substrates that can bury objects out of sight if the viewers are kept at uncomfortable distances.

Says the artist, "None of us can begin to approach within any authority the complexity and beauty of nature. We can only depict or represent it in our own special way." Despite her powerful forms and delicate touch, Diaz indeed yields to nature's prowess... as any artist should.

We hope that this major exhibition brings Magdalena Diaz the exposure and opportunities her work deserves both on the local circuit and abroad.