Article excerpt

"The back of magic" is what writer Diana Evans calls that area of the theater behind the stage where, as she says, the black hat and the rabbit are stored. In the visual arts, it's much the same. To peer behind the scenes of a presentation, addressing the techniques or ideology of the display itself, can have a disenchanting effect--can produce unveilings and enlightenment, exposing the tricks by which works of art present themselves and the mechanisms behind their stories. This show byJoao Penalva was devoted to uncovering this realm, yet hardly appeared intended to do any disenchanting at all. On the contrary: Wc found ourselves in the midst of a collection of fantastical items that have a quite bewildering effect. The series of ""Display Stands," 2010-11, for example, combines photographs of, yes, display stands with narratives written by Penalva himself. The empty stands appear monolithic in their own right, almost like steles or monuments from some distant no-man's-land, and the texts serve to enhance this sense of obscure significance. The stories speak of the locations where the objects were found, their provenance and the history of their creation. But image and text are unrelated, their juxtaposition merely the product of the artisfs combinatory imagination. He directs our attention to the struts and supports propping up art while at the same rime doing everything in his power to shroud its nature in mystery.

This mystificatory approach is taken even further in Monument., 201l a two-slide projection that confronts a found photograph of an enlarger with a text about the photo's possible origins. Three different photographers, Penalva gives us to understand in the short narrative he provides, might have pointed their cameras at this outlandish item, which looks like one of the Surrealists' favorite objects. …


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