Cano has great fun turning junk into 18th century figures

April 23, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Like a number of other artists these days, Pablo Cano recycles found objects -- junk, more or less -- into artwork. But what Cano also recycles, as his exhibit at Nye Gomez Gallery shows, is the 18th century, and therein lies some of the wit that makes this show a pleasure.

Cano is both a visual and a performance artist. He and writer Giulio V. Blanc have collaborated on a performance work that combines music, Blanc's words and Cano's marionettes (manipulated by Cano and others). In it, four 18th century characters comment on love and other matters: Casanova, Madame de Pompadour, Voltaire and Fragonard. Cano has also made a small stage out of found materials on which the performances are given.

He won't be performing during the Baltimore show (he lives in Miami). That's disappointing when you first encounter the show, which contains not only his marionettes and the stage but wall reliefs and drawings including a number of designs for the

characters' costumes.

But pretty soon you get caught up in the humor of these figures and the visual cleverness that's going on all around. There's enough fun here without the performance. The figure of Casanova, for instance, has a toilet handle where his heart would be -- many would think this notorious libertine a sewer of immorality.

The Marquise de Pompadour has a sort of carriage-shaped lower body, with wheels instead of feet, which may suggest that she was a smooth character, and the fleur-de-lys on its side refers to the French king (she was of course the mistress of Louis XV). Her arms are the glass arms of a candelabra, and those curlicues on her skirt are not only reminiscent of 18th century decoration but also look a little like fish -- for Madame de Pompadour's name was Poisson, French for fish.

This kind of delicious wit-with-a-wink reminds us of the 18th century's reputation for hide-and-seek frivolity. And the idea of bringing back one of the world's most ornamental ages through the use of modern urban junk only adds to the fun. The figure of Fragonard, the great painter, has a body made of a can labeled "automotive paint product," one of many reminders of the differences between the ancien regime and our own age.

Cano plays the game throughout, even when the 18th century is less directly involved. Some of the works here are small wall pieces in which a gallon can with one side cut out acts as a stage on which something takes place. In "Caution" a woman plays the piano while a man looks on and Cupid prepares to shoot him with an arrow. The characters are uttering words (attached to their mouths) to the effect of "Caution: Harmful if swallowed." Love of course, or maybe infatuation, is what's meant.

But don't let me give away all the fun. There's more to be found. Just hope you're there when 18th century music is playing on the radio, as I was. You don't want to look at Cano while you're listening to Wagner.

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