Michael Wilson on Vargas-Suarez Universal. (First Take)

Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Michael Wilson on Vargas-Suarez Universal. (First Take)


THE TROUBLE WITH OUTER SPACE IS THAT EVERYBODY wants a piece. The recent Hollywood remake of Solaris provided further evidence of the subject's enduring pancultural appeal but also an alarming reminder of the heavy traffic plying that terrain. It's a brave artist indeed who's willing to go where so many have gone before, but having been raised in the shadow of NASA'S Houston base, Rafael Vargas-Suarez (aka Vargas-Suarez Universal) isn't held back by such earthbound concerns. Space Station Dystopia: 1939/1964/2001, a mural made for the Queens Museum of Art's "Crossing the Line" in 2001, saw him rework building plans from the World's Fairs held on the same site in 1939 and 1964 into a retro-futuristic trip that reanimated the extraterrestrial milieu.

This past September, Universal mounted his first solo show in New York, at Thomas Erben Gallery. Stardust was another intricate wraparound wall work, an angular mesh of lines again derived from floor plans, this time of 10 Fleet Place (the fortresslike Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed office building), Tate Modern in London, and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It also made reference to microchip design and Mayan ornamentation (the artist was born in Mexico), as well as to the work of Roberto Matta, Wifredo Lam, and Joaquin Torres-Garcia. Stardust was, despite its stark, graphic look, dense with associative layers. Even its seemingly sterile surface proved on closer inspection to be streaked with a mixture of Jagermeister and the artist's own blood--an organic (though, punningly, iron-rich) counterpart to the artificiality of the structures represented. The inky black background imaged once again a state that Universal considers ideal: boundless, gravity-free, accepting of movement in any and all di rections.

Drawing has always been of primary importance to Universal, but his approach to the discipline is a radically expanded one. Since 1996 he has been producing a series of dreamy "automatic" ballpoint abstractions collectively titled "Blueprints." In 1998, he hooked up with two musician friends to record a series of sound tracks to accompany these and other works. …

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