By BANSIE VASVANI, JUN 2014
Cuban born Zilia Sanchez’s first solo exhibition Heroicas Eroticas en Nueva York at Galerie Lelong, New York, stands out not only because she was one of the few women artists making work alongside heavyweight Minimalists of the 1960’s like Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and Carl Andre, but her highly sculpturesque paintings make a distinctive mark.
Developed during the eight years she spent in New York from 1964-72, before settling down in Puerto Rico, Sanchez’s signature style of stretching canvas over hand made wooden armatures gives Minimalism a new dimension. At first glance, Woman, 1965, (of the series the Silence of Eros) appears to adhere to the strictures of this movement with great aplomb. The pared down baby blue and white pastel canvas emphasizes the oval shape that bulges like a womb from its center. Although the painting calls attention to none other than its three-dimensional geometric configuration, it reveals its sensuality despite its formal austerity. Best seen in the semiotic context of her drawing The Signified of the Signifier, 1968, that references fertility and reproduction, one can interpret the “signified” or meaning behind her forms, also known as “signifiers,” as depictions of female sexuality.
Yet this very notion of femininity is explored and presented through a complex conception. In Trojans diptych, 1975, two large panels with semicircular discs are combined to form a circular shape from which three taut evocative structures protrude. However, the viewer’s outright response to the sensuousness of these shapes is controlled through a series of oppositions such as masculinity and femininity, sensuality and rigidity, straight and curved lines that are constantly at play. While the dark grey breast like formations with unmistakable white nipples looms large, the work is paradoxically devoid of an underlying expressive narrative. Sanchez’s paintings are deeply entrenched in the Minimalist realm of order and structure that call foremost attention to the materials and the palpability of the objects.
In an interview Sanchez discusses the importance of balance in her work, and it is clear that symmetry and aesthetics is crucial to her process. Although two perfectly interlocked bow shaped forms that swell and distend in Lunar V, 1973, might suggest human copulation, these sensual contours establish a visual rhythm and beauty in their symmetry. Stripped down to the bare essentials, the two white undulating protrusions set against a sky blue background highlight Sanchez’s emphasis on form, color, and three-dimensional use of space. As the viewer experiences her seemingly simplistic configurations, Sanchez’s revolutionary concept of aestheticism that combines sculpture and painting with her inherent visual contradictions becomes apparent.
If Eva Hesse whose ground breaking sculpture compelled the viewer to see works from a completely new perspective, Sanchez’s Minimalist art initiates a similar point-of-view. While Hesse’s mature sculpture abounds in contradictions such as chaos and order, organic and geometric, absurd and tragic, Sanchez’s contrariness stems from portraying female sexuality through a new unexplored medium and language. Ultimately, even though Hesse was one of the first and most influential artists to question the austere, immobile exactitude of serial Minimalism, both artists imbue their work with a capacity to move, change and vary from the norm. For the octogenarian Cuban artist, her second solo exhibition in the United States makes a strident presence.
Bansie Vasvani is an independent art critic based in New York City. My interest is in covering non-western art and the play of identity politics. I have written for Art Asia Pacific, Modern Art Asia, The Brooklyn Rail, Daily Serving, Art India, Art New England, New York Arts Magazine, and The Culture Trip.view all articles from this author