Ivan Navarro (born 1972 in Chile) is known internationally for his sculptures in electric light. Prominent among them are his witty versions of Marcel Breuer chairs and coffee tables, built from bright-hued fluorescent tubes, their straight lines matching the angularity of the iconic designs. He has also constructed non-pedigreed subjects—for example, a shopping cart, where the found-object quality of the fluorescent fixtures accords neatly with the image. Such pieces reflect the actual scale of the objects depicted.
Working larger, Navarro represented Chile at the 2009 Venice Biennale with a series of doors employing multicolored neon tubing and two-way mirrors. The doors created a compelling illusion of deep space but could not be entered-except visually. In March of this year, literal scale prevailed again in his aggressively dazzling centerpiece at the Armory Show in New York (Kasmin’s booth). The white neon Armory Fence enclosed a 24-by-36-foot patch of empty floor, ornamental scrollwork forming upper and lower horizontal bands around the multitude of tall white verticals.
Navarro’s recent exhibition (his first at Kasmin, all works 2011), was cryptically titled “Heaven or Las Vegas.” It comprised 11 flat, irregularly shaped, wall-mounted sculptures and one floor piece, each made of white neon and two-way (partially reflective, partially transparent) mirror surrounded by a heavy, dark wood frame. The works are modest in size-generally about 6 inches deep and less than 5 feet in their largest dimension, although one wall piece, a horizontal rectangle, measures almost 10 feet across, and is 10 inches deep. In each wall work, the shape of the frame is traced just inside it by a bright contour of white neon behind a transparent front plane. A second white contour, almost as bright, appears to be physically present as well, but when examined closely, it’s seen to be a reflection. The original neon shape, in concentric repetitions of diminishing size, continues to recede, fading from off-white to a watery green-gray to shadowy black and finally total darkness.
Navarro is not an abstractionist, but these unitary, emblematic objects look abstract. There’s an eight-pointed star, a scoop-sided equilateral triangle, another equilateral triangle with structural complications. Seen in the dark gallery, unlabeled, the pieces didn’t declare their sources. While many bear a single, nearly invisible word engraved in transparent capital letters on the front surface (“DECAY,” “WANT,” “SWAY,” “SURRENDER,” “ABANDON”), the words are poetic, allusive, slightly men- acing-but not informative.
Only when confronted by an imposing two-part floor piece of identical square units, offset from each other, in which the white neon lines are not concentric but vertical, was the viewer compelled to recognize the World Trade Center towers. Each of the other works is also based on the ground plan of a famous skyscraper. The big rectangle represents the Empire State Building. Others include the Flatiron Building, the Grand Gateway (Shanghai), the Lake Point Tower (Chicago), and the Jumeirah Emirates Tower (Dubai).
In the new series, Navarro uses heavy frames to wrench his architectural diagrams from our space into an imaginative one; the interplay of pictorial effects versus literal structure is paradoxical, the relationship of abstraction to image is pleasingly ambiguous, and the scale discrepancy is extreme. While the deep spatial recession represents an ascent within a building’s interior elevation, perceptually, one plunges into a bottomless pit.
Photo: View of Ivan Navarro’s exhibition “Heaven or Las Vegas,” showing four neon-and-mirror sculptures, all 2011; at Paul Kasmin.