November 2008

Iván Navarro and Courtney Smith

G Fine Art

Washington, D.C.

Iván Navarro’s absorbing sculptures often feature tube lights attached to tools or pieces of furniture. They glow brightly, but Navarro has darker intentions, alluding to oppression and torture, as in his native Chile, where Augusto Pinochet’s security forces used electric shocks to torment prisoners in the 1970s and ’80s.

Victor (2008) consists of a metal frame resembling a figure on all fours with fluorescent tubes running through its limbs and scalp like electricity coursing through bones. On its glass-covered back are stacked posters for viewers to take: one side shows an image of a hooded person holding a guitar and standing on top of another hooded figure; the reverse bears a translation of folksinger Víctor Jara’s unfinished poem “Estadio Chile,” a cri de coeur he wrote while captive in a Santiago sports arena after the 1973 military coup. Nearby, a four-minute video re-creates the scene on the poster as a narrator gravely reads Jara’s poem. It would be easy to dismiss the work as bluntly political, and the translation from video to still photo to sculpture is a bit literal. Yet the whole ensemble creates an affecting atmosphere of loss mixed with physical suffering and raises disturbing questions. Has the top figure subdued the other, or is the lower person offering himself as a human stage for the guitar player? Other Navarro pieces, such as Assembly Line (2007), which uses mirrors and fluorescent tubes to create the illusion of infinitely descending rods of light inside a black metal toolbox, show the artist’s more introspective side.

Courtney Smith also reworks familiar objects into sculpture. In Tangram (2008), she sawed up a variety of ordinary tables, drawers, and shutters, and composed them into a sprawling study of textures and colors, a kind of deconstruction of the domestic. Smith and Navarro, who are married, collaborated on Kitchen Sink (2008), a sculpture made of roughly sawed furniture fragments arranged in a large square with an electric light at its center. In a room filled with their individual works, this mash-up felt a bit contrived.

–Roger Atwood