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  Car and canooe   Canoe  
  I - From the ancient site of Tikal, I moved South by land and water.
Desde el antiguo sitio de Tikal, fui hacia el Sur por tierra y por agua.
  II - Crossing the Petén Itzá lake…
Cruzando el lago Petén Itzá…
  Voiceless Letters: Leandro Katz 1970-2016  
  Berta Sichel  
How come I am thinking of this just now? It is surprising how many mental operations occur when considering how to write about the works of Leandro Katz included in this exhibition. Even more unexpected is that a Boris Groys statement repeatedly rises to the surface, and suddenly becomes the string pulling one across the expanse of A Canoe Trip, the artist’s third solo show at Henrique Faria New York.

Ingeniously, Groys said that in a world suffocated by art information and a ceaseless barrage of art events, the sole way to stimulate the viewer into truly looking at art is to create a search engine as a guide. This search engine basically does one thing: it tells the viewer to “look at this.”1 His idea is a way of forestalling complaints such as Suzanne Perling Hudson’s in her 2002 essay in October, “Beauty and the Status of Contemporary Criticism,” where she claims that contemporary art criticism requires nothing more than “beautiful writing, about beautiful objects, and their beautiful makers.” Because Katz’s body of work guarantees the objective openness of an art based on his own set of conditions, there are no beautiful objects here, but rather a string of articulated ideas uncommitted to any specific medium or style, traversing the artworld with notable independence.

An efficient search engine, or a retrieval engine, would follow Katz’s belief that making art demands a total engagement as well as a dedicated resolve to completing one’s quest. The structure of a travel guide might work well. When on the road people like informed recommendations, and don’t expect to see everything at once; simply by keeping some sights in mind for a later visit, they can mentally design their full journey.

Those who have been following Katz’s career over forty years and are passionate, like I am, about his short and oblique experimental films, his documentaries on recent Latin American history, or his conceptual photographs of Mayan ruins, will find that in this exhibition he is not afraid to challenge his long-time admirers. Once more, Katz wants to show that to him art is a wide subject and open to experimentation, even in the pieces that refer to his film or his attachment to literature. Katz is a poet, and language has always been integrated into his works.

  Unexcavated site   Flores  
  III - … I reached the circular city of Flores.
…llegué a la ciudad circular de Flores.
  IV - Then I followed the ancient Maya road South towards the site of
Luego seguí la antigua ruta Maya al Sur hacia el sitio de Quiriguá.

  A Canoe Trip includes different series of works dating from the 70s to the present. Each series occupies a section of the gallery. In the office space hangs the seven-photo documentation that gives the title to the exhibition, and records a 70s canoe trip through Katz’s most cherished locations, an itinerary of the Mayan ruins. Starting in Tikal, Guatemala, he moved south by land and water. He crossed many places such as the Petén Itzá Lake, arrived at the circular city of Flores, and under a cloud of mosquitoes reached Quiriguá, today a UNESCO archeological site. Each photograph is accompanied by a caption which enumerates the visited sites and functions as a factual record of the journey. In the background we hear a monologue recited by the German poet, critic and scholar of theater, Stefan Brecht, relating a history of documents lost in the murkiness of the river as the pre-Colombian Mayan civilizations sank under colonialism.

Installed in the back room, Transcode is one of the required stops on this tour. Pictures of the Mayan ruins – so magically presented in Katz’s landmark work The Catherwood Project (1985-1993)– were integrated in some of the six assemblages from this series, from the 70s. Shown only once in 1978 at the John Gibson Gallery, New York - at the time a key venue for Conceptual and Land Art- the images and letters represent a radical moment in contemporary artwork, when artists mistrusted traditional categories of painting and sculpture and embraced a wealth of alternative media and strategies. In the same back room, sparking off the ambience with voiceless letters, is a series of works on paper from 1983–85, BBB (Beatrice’s Black Book, pages of encrypted words made for the film Mirror on the Moon, 1992). Despite its non-discursive intent and loose relationship to grammar, this work makes a surprising link to the newest piece in the exhibition: Two Quotes, a language-based installation made by plotted words, needles, and colored strings. The two quotations are superimposed over the fireplace. One is from Hegel: “The owl of Minerva takes flight only when the shades of night are gathering.”2 The other comes from Guy Debord’s appropriation of Hegel: “The greatness of art only begins to appear in the fall of life.”3

  Flood jungle   Idol and altar  
  V - The swollen Motagua River had flooded the site, abandoned since the
last of Sylvanus Morley’s 1932 excavations.
La creciente del Río Motagua había inundado el sitio, abandonado desde
las últimas excavaciones de Sylvanus Morley de 1932.
  VI - Entering Quiriguá under a cloud of mosquitoes, towards the end,…
Entrando Quiriguá bajo una nube de mosquitoes, hacia el fondo,…

  From these samples that rely on scribbles and letters to speak to the viewer, please turn to the next page of your guide; you are now entering the front room. What you probably see first are two painted steel sculptures, Refugios/Shelters (From the Wrath of God) (2012), and their small paper maquettes (1982–2011). The sculptural structures, or three-dimensional objects, are bright and multi- colored, reflecting too on the conditions of painting. Their shapes depict a geometric dwelling where one might take refuge to avoid the wrath of God, or a prototype for some imaginary protection or sanctuary, whether abstract or representational, which meditatively can evoke the contemporary situation of millions without a home. Refugios/Shelters is a concept, a likeness, a possibility, here reconfigured in steel and in cardboard, in different sizes and surface finishes. Just across from Refugios/Shelters, two series of recent works – Libidinal Structure and The Voice, both from 2015 – emphasize the geometric shapes with a curious arrangement of media and form. They are multifaced works employing techniques of drawing, watercolor, and collage, evidence of the artist’s desire for experimentation. Seriality and sequence are the synthesis and the rationale behind these and the other works on view in this room. If seriality and sequence are essential elements that bind the 28 works of the front room, Libidinal Structure’s use of fotonovelas, in pages of sequential storytelling, is a playful take on the idea of seriality. An Italian invention of the 40s in which Sophia Loren first made her name as a model, these weekly publications used photographs of actors instead of drawings to narrate tales of love, jealousy, hatred, and betrayal; a precursor of the soap opera that have kept millions on the edge of their seats.4 Now you can close your guide, think of the places and works you intensely gazed at, and let Leandro Katz’s Canoe Trip navigate you through the waters of imagination. At the end, everything makes so much sense. As Groys says: “contemporary art is radically pluralistic.”5  
  -Berta Sichel©2016  

1 Boris Groys in conversation with Brian Dillon, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” Frieze no.21 (March 2009), 126-31
2 Hegel’s quote: The Philosophy of Right (The owl of Minerva).
3 Guy Debord’s: Negation and Consumption within Culture in Society of Spectacle.
4 The Spaniard Corín Tellado, novelist and author of photo-novels, picture books with text in bubbles, was widely read throughout Spain and Latin America from the 1960s on. Corín Ilustrada sold 750,000 a week at its peak. In the late 1970s, with censorship abolished, she tackled tougher subjects, such as abortion and rape. She expressed boldly feminist views. She also published 26 erotic novels under the name Ada Miller.
5 Groy. Ibd. Introduction.

  Quirigua Dragon  
  VII - …I saw The Dragon covered with lichen and moss, the circular altar
sunken into the mud.
…vi El Dragón cubierto de liquen y musgo, el altar circular hundido en el

  Text by Berta Sichel courtesy of Henrique Faria Fine Art - New York  
  Seven chromogenic prints from color infrared originals - The Getty Museum and The Getty Research Institute Special Collections  
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