Initially conceived as a retrospective, Barreras Blandas quickly took on different proportions and became a show entirely dedicated to new work. And like anything in the Costa Rican artist’s singular approach, this latest exhibition promises to take us beyond museums walls, spilling over into the surrounding space and starting a dialogue with the city around it.
In the exhibition titled, Barreras Blandas [Soft Barriers], Federico Herrero presents an installation incorporating painting, sculpture, and works on paper. The compilation of works references a possible transition from painting as a “flat” medium towards sculpture. Through a series of elements, the installation unravels an immersive experience where visitors navigate artworks: for the artist, this implies activating a sensorial awareness among the audience. In sum, Barreras Blandas presents the notion of painting as an independent system, in relation to the natural landscape and urban structures.
Forms appear to jump from one surface to another, occasionally turning themselves into solid volumes. Some artworks are made with molded cement, which possess a relation with architectural structures; in some occasions, they also become everyday elements, like furniture that recalibrates our perception of these objects. The exhibition creates a world in constant flux, where an understanding of our perspective is constantly negotiated.
The essence of form, and its many translations to painting or volumes, is conceptualized within the grouping of works in room 1. By creating an ample horizon, El Mar [The Sea] imposes a figurative framework upon the multiple volumes present in the room. Among them, El mejor verano de mi vida [The best summer of my life] —designed to scale in reference to the iconic Ojo de Agua waterpark jumping board— activates itself through an artistic intervention and different sensations generated by paintings surrounding the sculpture. Triangular volumes, possibly interpreted as shark fins, emerge from the surface and blend with their surroundings, rendering into the two-dimensional plane of painting. Works on papers like Bandera (las nubes), respond to the strong vibration of colors and interdisciplinary nature of the room.
Herrero’s visual language reconciles formal abstraction with slightly figurative elements. In room 2, his different formal vocabularies find a meeting point, where spatial and temporal perceptions of the works connect the forms. The Muertos [Speed Bumps] not only divide room 2 through a gestural barrier, but also guide spectators between a shark fin inside a tropical storm, and curvilinear lines traced on monotypes. Other volumes gain new meanings, as they disguise from their original representation: the jumping board. These sculptures find altered interpretations as decorative and utilitarian furniture with modernist or neo-concrete nuances. Each volume is unpredictably intervened, emphasizing how modifications might not be evident the viewer, yet are essential for the artwork and constantly stimulated by the surrounding visual vocabulary.
Barreras Blandas institutes a relationship between painting and space. For Herrero, painting is not a flat surface: it coexists with a structure of vibrations and sounds, which is activated through the senses. One can see how volumes emerge from the ground in both rooms, and forms translating onto the surface, by alluding to speed bumps and also creating a figurative eco of shark fins swimming in the ocean. Similarly, local icons and monuments, like Ojo de Agua’s jumping board, create an aesthetic structure that constantly informs the exhibition; it explores transformations of paintings into volumes and produces a unique spatial musicality.
The exhibition opened June 11, 2020 at the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica.
Federico Herrero (b. 1978, San Jose, Costa Rica) has exhibited widely internationally, with solo exhibitions and public installations in São Paulo, Brazil; San Francisco, CA; Dusseldorf, Germany; Kanazawa, Japan; Tokyo, Japan; Mexico City, Mexico; Freiburg, Germany; and London, UK. Recent major institutional projects include Tempo aberto, Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, São Paulo (2019); Open Envelope, Witte de With, Rotterdam, the Netherlands (2018); and Alphabet, a site-specific installation for the atrium of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2018). Herrero was the recipient of the Young Artist’s Prize at the 49th Venice Biennale (2001) and his work is in the permanent collection of numerous institutions including the Tate Modern, London, UK; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain; and the Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY. Herrero is also the founder of Despacio, a contemporary art space in his native San Jose, which is an important force in the continued development of Central America’s artistic voice. He lives and works in San Jose, Costa Rica.