The title of the present show -- Stones Against Diamonds -- is a phrase taken from an essay by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, and refers to Bo Bardiís observation of semi-precious stones being haphazardly mixed with rougher, common materials during the construction of a road in Brazil; for Fragateiro, this striking image becomes a metaphor for the complex and often conflictive amalgam that is Modernism itself, particularly in the Latin America context.
Stones Against Diamonds takes as its point of departure the life and work of the remarkable artistic couple Anni and Josef Albers and their fertile relationship to Latin American craft and culture. German by birth, Anni and Josef Albers met at the Bauhaus, where Josef was a teacher and Anni a student. Fleeing the Nazis in the 1930ís, they resettled in the United States, where each ultimately achieved renown -- Josef as a painter, theorist and educator, and Anni as a textile designer. During this same period they travelled extensively throughout Latin America, sharing a passionate interest in pre-Columbian art and design which they studied, collected and promoted, and which would influence on their own geometrically abstract work -- even as they would in turn exercised an indelible influence on younger artists, including key figures of the 195oís and 60ís such as Robert Rauschenberg, Eva Hesse, Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt.
Given its historical background, as well as its deep aesthetic affinity with her own work, the work of Anni and Josef Albers presents a rich opportunity for Fragateiro to examine the intersecting lines of art and history that defined and determined Modernism in both Europe and Latin America, and that extend to include still-current questions of gender-based, institutional and political power. But at the same time, though this process of historical examination and critique, Fragateiro arrives at a means of creating new artwork of a distinctly contemporary facture.
For instance, Fragateiroís Un camino que no es un camino is inspired by a 1967 tapestry by Anni Albers entitled "El Camino Real". Albersís original tapestry was commissioned for the bar of a new hotel in Mexico City that was designed by Ricardo Legorreta in what was at the time an austerely innovative style. Although Anni Albersís original tapestry no longer exists (its whereabout mysteriously unknown), the preliminary studies for her design have survived, and have become well-known works in and of themselves, particularly a 1967 study in gouache on graph paper.
In Un camino que no es un camino, Fragateiro has taken Albersís design and recast it as a floor sculpture, composed of hundreds of geometrically modular elements made of white concrete, and oriented so as to be slightly askew in relation to the walls and architectural elements of the exhibition space. Thus various acts of translation are at work in Un camino que no es un camino: what was originally a wall-piece has become a floor piece; what was originally taken in at a single glance can now only be apprehended through the viewerís movement through the space; what was originally colorful and palpably soft to the touch has become colorless and hard-edged; what has been lost has been re-made and given presumably more durable form. And thus a hidden history has not only been revealed; it has been repurposed into a new cycle of use.
Fragateiro returns to the work of Anni and Josef Albers in the large-scale wall-piece entitled Continuo, Construido e VariŠvel, although in this case focusing on Josef. Continuo, Construido e VariŠvel takes as its point of departure Josef Albersís 1930 design entitled "Study for Glass Construction - Cathedral" (ca. 1930). In this work, Fragateiro extracts the details of Josef Albersís original design and casts them in nearly 80 small metal pieces that extend in a single line across the length of the gallery wall. Seen individually, each piece resembles a maquette for a building, like variations on a theme; seen from afar, the work coalesces into something that resembles a single line of text, written in a hieroglyphic-like visual language. Where Anni Albersís work was reconstructed by Fragateiro in Un camino que no es un camino, in Continuo, Construido e VariŠvel Fragateiro deconstructs Josef Albersís drawing -- the difference is subtle yet crucial to Fragateiroís fundamental conceptual approach. And yet, despite this basic divergence, each piece still displays Fragateiroís highly developed handling of volume, surface and space.
In addition to these large-scale pieces, in Stones Against Diamonds Fragateiro also presents two sets of more intimate sculptural works, each derived from books. One set is based on the catalogue for Josef Albersís exhibition Homage to the Square, a show organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and that toured among major Latin American cities from 1964 to 1967 (including in BogotŠ in 1965.) In this series, Fragateiro presents five works: four sculptural reconstructions of the images of Albersís paintings as reproduced in the original exhibition catalogue, but constructed out of handmade notebooks that function as modular compositional elements; and a copy of the (exceedingly rare) catalogue itself. In addition, Fragateiro presents two more book-works in which she converts discarded art history books into Minimalist-inflected wall sculptures, one fashioned out of books dealing with Western art, the other out of books on pre-Columbian art.
In these books-work, as in all the work exhibited in Stones Against Diamonds, Fragateiro enacts a transformative process of translation -- translation of materials, of ideas, of stories and of ideologies -- and in so doing creates works of art that succeed in casting a critical eye on art history, even as they extend that very history into the present.
- George Stolz