Mireya Lafuente, Up-to-the-Minute a Long Time Ago

THE DAILY PIC: The Chilean artist died in 1976, but would suit Brooklyn today.


THE DAILY PIC (#1572): At any given moment, the vast majority of artists, no matter their talent, are likely to disappear into history’s maw. The maker of today’s painting is a perfect example. The canvas has all the hallmarks of fashionable 21st-century work: It’s palimpsestuous and lightly surreal; it hovers half-way between drawing and painting and also between abstraction and representation; it alludes to nature and the environment without falling into cozy animal painting; it creates a sense of space but without resorting to clichés of horizon line or perspective; its not afraid of acid and garish color but is also willing to risk the decorative.

And I know for a fact that, despite its perfect positioning for our times, this painting has a maker who is almost certain to remain an unknown. That’s because Mireya Lafuente died in 1976, already with only modest recognition, at the age of 71 in her native Santiago, Chile. That was 18 years after creating today’s Daily Pic, which she did at a moment when she moved in elite cultural circles that included the great Chilean writers Gabriel Mistral and Pablo Neruda.

I came across the work of Lafuente through the New York art historian Alexander Nagel, who happens to be her grandson and has lately been showing a roomful of her surviving pictures to interested viewers.

Artists like Lafuente pose a great and useful challenge to any art lover: With zero name recognition and roots in a time and place unknown to most critics and historians, they throw us back upon our own devices. They force us to imagine a context in which they make sense and to grapple with what – and how – their art might mean.

It’s not simply playful to propose Lafuente’s 1958 painting as contemporary work. All art, after all, belongs as much to the moment of its viewing as of its making. When that making moment is almost lost, as in the case of Lafuente’s canvas, we have no choice but to bring the work into our own time, and see what it does for us.

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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