Anthony Goicolea has ranged widely among photography, painting, installation and video in the 10 years he has been exhibiting, but one connecting thread has been his inclination to fantasy. So it was perhaps inevitable that the work generated by his first trip, last year, to his ancestral home of Cuba would blend real family history with the freely imagined, and do so across various mediums.
The impressive centerpiece of “Once Removed” was a multigenerational family portrait, Night Sitting (all works 2009). Seemingly based on a variety of formally posed, individual black-and-white photographs, the composite image, rendered in acrylic, graphite and spray paint on Mylar, runs across three panels, such that fragments of some of the figures are repeated from one to the next. Fairy lights hang in the background, and further illumination is provided by film-set spotlights, which are angled slightly outward, as if the real subject of the picture were—in the manner of Las Meninas—in front of the picture. Additional absent subjects are indicated by a pair of black silhouettes; two other figures are shown as negative images.
Various motifs in Night Sitting reappeared throughout the exhibition. The fairy lights could be seen in several digitally constructed photographs that sorrowfully evoke past celebrations: Sitio depicts a clearing in a landscape of tropical palms, in the background of which the lights surround a recently dug grave. The cinder block carried by one of the boys in Night Sitting also recurred. Displacement, a video, shows a figure in a rowboat at night throwing blocks into the water; the gloomy, surrealistic paintings Pedestal 1 (mother) and Pedestal 2 (father) each represent a tower of cinder blocks that supports, respectively, a vitrine and a bell jar containing a bust of the titular parent. Finally, the foliage that obtrudes from the immediate foreground of Night Sitting was also developed in a large installation of real palms and grasses, Transplant (Terrace Garden), which occupied the center of the gallery.
The material heterogeneity of “Once Removed” attested to its considerable ambition. And although the juxtapositions were forced at times, they were often successful, yielding the impression of a powerful, overarching allegory. But Goicolea is not equally successful in every medium. Night Sitting is highly accomplished—it is mournful and magical—and suggests that the artist has fully digested the influence of Peter Doig, whose impact was too obvious in some of Goicolea’s earlier work. His other paintings, though, are merely spooky. The photographs are often awkward and ill-composed, and the installation only betrays a stubborn determination to blend the real and the invented. In too many works, vivid ideas and images are obscured by heavy handling.
Photo: Anthony Goicolea: Night Sitting, 2009, acrylic, graphite and spray paint on Mylar, 3 panels, 81 by 124 inches overall; at Postmasters.