July 38 - October 37. Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa

From: Wednesday, 12 April 2017

To: Sunday, 17 September 2017

One of the most significant representatives of nowadays basque context

The exhibition July 38 – October 37 presents the work of Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa (Donostia/San Sebastián, 1963). This artist, who has lived in Paris since the start of 1990, has been gradually building a body of work in which he aims his mordant barbs at ideology, religion, capitalism, education and culture, offering us his insightful and critical view of these and other subjects.

The title of the exhibition is an allusion to a timespan on an imaginary calendar, outside reality, that turns political and revolutionary anniversaries into a somewhat absurd ritual. The exhibition itself focuses on works made by Pérez Agirregoikoa in the last 15 years, while also featuring a number of his earlier pieces that have never been shown before or which the public are less familiar with.

Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa started his career as an artist with painting before going on to explore the possibilities of drawing and the publishing format. Following his fine arts studies between 1983 and 1988 at the University of the Basque Country faculty in Lejona, painting led him to a practice of the medium that was to a degree incredulous and far removed from heroism: ikurriñas (Basque flags) made up of small coloured stickers; geometrical paintings in the manner of Josef Albers cut in half; structures consisting of rhombuses imitating harlequins’ garb; and the like.

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One of Pérez Agirregoikoa’s central themes is the reuse, appropriation and subversion of discourses to do with power and obedience. Lacanian psychoanalysis and political philosophy are also a notable presence. In his work, he uses elementary and understated approaches: painting on paper, text, fabric banners and media such as charcoal and watercolour. Even though his work is easy to read at first glance, behind this legible layer the artist presents us with elaborate comments loaded with irony that speak about our way of life and human behaviour. Behind his impassioned slogans, the artist offers a careful reflection on the codes of representation.

In the Ex-votos series (1993-1994), he reproduces situations that he and his friends have experienced, blending reality, fiction and urban myth. An ex-voto is a type of religious painting or a believer’s expression of thanks following a miracle; the scene illustrated in such a work is an artistic depiction of the fulfilment of this miracle. The combination of the image painted without much skill and the textual comment makes these paintings a form of popular expression and an artistic format suitable for being appropriated with a particular purpose in mind. The singularity of this work lies in the technique, as the artist created it using the drawing program that came installed at that time on a Macintosh Performa 650.

In Lalangue Lavion (2011), Pérez Agirregoikoa made two banners placed like commercial advertisements on the tail of a light aircraft, which flew along the coastline as far as the beaches of San Sebastián one sunny afternoon in summer. The banners read “Marx, I Love U. Will You Marry Me?” and "Il y a un ennemi" (There is an enemy). The entire action was filmed, resulting in a document on video.

This exhibition places special emphasis on the artist’s more recent use of the audio-visual medium, an example being Letra morta / Dead Letter (2104), made for the 2014 São Paulo Biennial. On the outskirts of this city, Pérez Agirregoikoa made a film based on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964). Taking some of the formal and aesthetic elements of the original, Pérez Agirregoikoa rewrote the script to turn the spotlight on a number of versus from the Bible that the Italian director had passed over. These passages—for example, the parable in which the wise investor is rewarded whereas business failure is punished—are, in the artist’s eyes, key to the discursive shaping of Western capitalism.

A newly produced video made especially for this exhibition, entitled Radio(a)phonie (2017), continues this audio-visual path, now turned towards the connections between politics and education. The thread that ties them together is education (and the lack thereof) based on a reading of Plato’s Republic, with a special emphasis on Book VII, and the Allegory of the Cave, with its shadow plays and reflection on the nature of representation, the way we see things and how they are in reality. The scenes, in which a group of teenagers take part, are based on teenage memories and a critical look at the political panorama and the ideologies that dominate our reality today.

Together with these two audio-visual works, Pérez Agirregoikoa presents drawings in media such as charcoal, acrylic and watercolour in what is one of his most more visible hallmarks. In El síndrome Muntadas (2009; The Muntadas Syndrome), a series of 37 charcoal drawings, he offers an acerbic diagnosis of the artistic future in the globalised era, questioning, with a sense of humour, what it means to be ‘a successful artist’ today by addressing his own position in this ‘artistic’ system, as it has been described, and exposing its strategies.

Issues such as re-education, the rejection of the family, authority, culture as a form of taming, a love of one’s master and the consequent giving in to his desire appear in other equally significant drawings. With regard to the last of these subjects, the artist himself has said: “Making others work is very complicated. The master’s word alone will not get others to work; it’s very difficult to make others work. But the master makes a sign, a master signifier, and everyone jumps to it; it is the primordial signifiers in the position of the truth that get the Other working: the fatherland, the party, the company, God… And that is how the world operates. My work is an attempt to understand these things.” These are some of the more recurrent themes that characterise the oeuvre and the career of an artist whose work swings from materialism, anti-idealism and the possible on one side to the wish to make a sensitive and singular contribution to the fact of being an artist on the other.

Brochure of the exhibition 

See the complete version of the video  See more videos 

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