Rodrigo Valenzuela in Visual Art Source 10.30.19

Rodrigo Valenzuela
Upfor Gallery, Portland, Oregon
Recommendation by Gabe Scott

Continuing through November 2, 2019

Chilean-born, Los Angeles-based Rodrigo Valenzuela unveils “PRESENT,” the latter of a two-part exhibition, “PAST / PRESENT.” While “PAST” served as a mini-retrospective of the artist’s work over a five year period, it also provided a jumping-off point for “PRESENT,” a new photographic series that expands the thematic scope and vision of his studio constructions and spatial arrangements. 

A number of constants are present throughout, starting with Valenzuela’s examination of narratives surrounding the global working class, cultural migration and social challenges that arise from immigration. There are some clear references to specific movements in 20th-century art history, notably for this project Surrealism and Latin American brutalist architecture. Valenzuela displays a keen understanding of the social criticisms of those moments in their respective contexts. From a purely compositional standpoint, the use of polystyrene packaging and other byproducts of hyper-capitalism and global consumerism are brilliant. The abstract, vaguely referential monuments or totemic structures are sited as not just “performances for the camera,” but as part of a fixed equation. Cast in concrete and clay, the objects are not fastened to one another in any way. The perfect balance achieved in terms of weight and organization is a testament to the artist’s sensitivity to both form and function. 

The imagery itself provides an intriguing challenge when it comes to both the visual language of each object and their context within the show. Notably, the contrast among them has been dialed back substantially, which contributes to the bombed-out look. This contributes to a sense that they exist as a series of documentary photographs that represent a puzzling cultural discovery. It adds up to something of an archeological exploration of a fallen civilization that has been returned to us thanks to an aesthetic wrinkle in time.