The pandemic has caused a worldwide surge in domestic violence. Abuse has become a new common sense for victims who have few options.
All the elegantly crafted figures are headless, with 17 hanging from the ceiling, filling many of the galleries that hold them. Visitors are encouraged to walk slowly between the swaying sculptures, inspect individual designs and communicate with the spirit they embody. The experience is enveloping and a little creepy.
Perez Garcia has made more than 30 statues since the beginning of last year. Most of Philips’s are in shades of white, beige, or roses. The two are dusty black. They are adorned with nails, pins, studs and other metal decorations, hair and film negatives. Many have prominent thorns that sometimes stick out or come off. (The artists say these symbolize strength.) Some sculptures have molded relief letters that spell the single word “silencio,” “invisible,” or simply “no.” It contains.
The numbers represent a kind of thorny sexuality. The chest is highlighted by an array of sharp metal objects, or in some cases replaced by a set of anguish faces.
Two of the figures have a partial set of teeth in the crotch. 17 bodies are like battlefields. Still, the molded paper mannequins are also delicate, with open areas where light flows and tattered filigree. Often, the contours of the body are fused with film-like garments that are fixed in place but appear to undulate. Two figures are self-supporting, one perches on a basket-like framework that contains a pile of heads. This mountain can be read as evidence of a crime, like a room full of the corpses of a wife killed by Bluebeard in French folk tales. Still, the head looks peaceful, as if waiting to be restored to a legitimate place on the torso.
This ambiguity is characteristic of Perez Garcia characters. She identifies them as victims, but also describes them as “survivors.” The contrast between soft-made paper and hard-edged metal means the twin nature of fragility and indomitable spirit, destruction and durability. The sculpture is faint, but it certainly has strength.
“Restos-Traces” is the latest installation in the Philips “Intersections” series, where contemporary artists react to and relate to the museum’s permanent collection. The Perez Garcia sculpture was not invented in dialogue with any particular artwork, as it was created before the potential of the Philips show arose. However, the artist later chose to display two of her museum works with her.
One is Francis Bacon’s cruel expressionist “figure for landscape”. This is a distressed 1952 painting that has long destabilized the museum’s traditional contemplative atmosphere. The other is French artist Annette Messager’s 1989-90 “My Little Effies”, which was acquired in 2014 and is not typical of Philips holdings. A set of 13 plush toys, combined with a small close-up photo of a body part and a framed text that tells a variety of emotions. These crowds hang on the wall via a long cord.
Like the fuselage of “Restos-Traces,” Messager’s mixed media work feels intimate and isolated. Both are built from spiritual archetypes and objects actually found, but still exciting and personal. They contain traces of real life.
Malta Perez Garcia: Restos-Trace
The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW. phillipscollection.org.
Admission fee: Admission to the first floor of the museum with the installation is free.