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The Pain of Others: Alfredo Jaar

Writing on the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, in a review for The Guardian seven years ago, Adrian Searle spoke of a surface that “gives the world it reflects (and swallows) a kind of hard, filmic chill, draining things of their warmth.” He added; “As much as the mirror reflects, it projects an atmosphere.” I invoke the work of Gonzalez-Torres not only because of the direct connection to mirrors in his and Alfredo Jaar’s work (as surfaces that reflect and project) but also as a way to think about a specific kind of minimalist frame found in both practices — one that does not empty out meaning but rather sees content and form as being two sides of the same coin. On the occasion of the publication of Glenn Ligon’s ‘Encounters and Collisions’ Gonzalez-Torres spoke of this relationship, pointing to how forms gather meaning from their historical moment. He was adamant that “the minimalist exercise of the object being very pure and very clean is only one way to deal with the form.”

Alfredo Jaar’s recent solo exhibition at Goodman Gallery, ‘The Geometry of Solitude’, might at first glance seem very pure and very clean but underneath the surface lies tension and unease. In a recent interview, Jaar tells me he thinks of his work as “critical minimalism” that engages form. Why critical minimalism? “Because when minimalism started in the 60s and 70s, I was fascinated. But I was fascinated by the fact that this was the most turbulent decade of my generation. It was the student protests in 1968. It was the Vietnam War. It was the killing of Martin Luther King. It was the Civil Rights Movement. It was crazy. Minimalists were coming out with these beautiful cubes. And so, I thought it was extraordinary, but at the same time, I thought something was missing. As a young architect, I thought I would like to create some kind of critical minimalism where I put back the meaning into the very simple forms,” he explains.

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