On ViewHauser & Wirth
September 10 – October 31, 2020
Together Forever, the third exhibition of Luchita Hurtado’s work at Hauser & Wirth, is also the artist’s first posthumous show. Hurtado (1920–2020) made art continuously over the course of her eventful life: 99 years marked by three marriages, four children, and a multitude of voyages and relocations. Born in Maiquetía, Venezuela, Hurtado emigrated to New York at age eight, and lived in the Dominican Republic, Virginia, Mexico, the Bay Area, and Chile—travelling widely all the while—before settling between Santa Monica, California, and Taos, New Mexico. At each new juncture of her life, Hurtado had meaningful exchanges and relationships with other well-known artists: Isamu Noguchi, Rufino Tamayo, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Leonora Carrington, and Agnes Martin, to name only a few. Yet many of Hurtado’s peers were unaware that she made art, or did not recognize her vocation as that of an artist. Hurtado’s first solo show in a public institution occurred just over one year ago, at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery.
While Hurtado’s practice was not fully visible to those around her, she remained committed to exploring and picturing herself, as an artist and as a woman, through painting, drawing, and printmaking. Together Forever gathers more than 30 self-portraits—predominantly works on paper—that Hurtado created between 1960 and 2020. These self-portraits are exhibited in thematic subgroups: works focused on countenance, shadows and silhouettes, and “birthing” paintings. Viewed in succession, they read as pages in a diary, with each drawing or painting suggesting a single entry, an assessment of physical and emotional states, made along an extensive timeline. Ultimately, these works narrate an individual’s unity with both her domestic environment and with the natural world—in life and in death.
Having entered the first-floor gallery space, viewers will find themselves flanked by five relatively traditional self-portraits dating from the 1960s and ’70s. These untitled works are sparse and decisive, with features pronounced by swift, searching lines in black or sepia. Yet the artist’s dark irises, arched brows, and closed, bud-like lips attest to complex psychologies with discernable notes of fatigue, acquiescence, and determination. With each repetition of Hurtado’s face, I felt both a growing sense of her earthly presence, and the acknowledgement of my own.
Next, one encounters a selection of works from the 1970s, also untitled, wherein Hurtado captured her shadow: as a singular or doubled entity, coupled with objects and landscapes, or reduced to quivering outlines. Often, the artist’s shadow is intersected by thick diagonal bars—window panes, perhaps, which hint at the architecture around her. In some cases, Hurtado’s shadow incorporates delicate details, such as dangling flower-shaped earrings, or bulky fabric bunched over one shoulder. In Untitled (ca. 1970s), a single, beautifully rendered feather rests atop a cast shadow’s breastbone—an amulet invoking both fauna and atmosphere. Or maybe the feather indicates a self that floats freely, liberated from the constrictions of bones and musculature. Around the cast shadow’s head and neck a slanted rain of eraser marks suggests dappled afternoon light, which underscores the shadow’s shifting, temporally-defined nature.
A smaller, adjoining gallery space contains recent “birthing” paintings (created between 2018 and 2020), in which Hurtado rendered the female body in labor. Most of these paintings were executed from the perspective of a recumbent mother, as she peers expectantly across her breasts and belly toward her crowning infant. At times, Hurtado’s female bodies morph into landscapes; in Birth (2019), for instance, a laboring woman’s smooth curves become windswept sand dunes, her sloped thighs parting to reveal a brilliant sun. In other examples, the female body remains as such, and our attention is given over to the environment that mother and infant inhabit. A particularly soothing acrylic and ink painting, Untitled (Birthing Mother Earth) (2018) shows, beyond the mother’s legs, an aqueous teal-stained world that lulls the arriving baby with rippling waves.
One might think of these self-portraits as representations of Hurtado’s personal child birthing experiences—a reliving of the moments that transformed her into a mother. And in part, this may be true. But when one considers the artist’s age at the time these paintings were made—she was in her late ’90s—it is equally plausible that the “self” in these portraits is the infant, reborn into a new realm: a realm in which woman and nature maintain their intense connection, a place where the body rejoins the earth to establish a new, cosmic relationship. Together Forever.