Confronting Sculpture

August 1, 2008

Mexican reflections: detail from Black Mirror #4: Hypnotism & Necromancy, part of the Lasch installation.

 

Courtesy Nasher Museum of Art

The Nasher Museum of Art's pre-Columbian collection includes more than 3,300 sculptures, many dating from as far back as 200 B.C.E.

In a large-scale installation on view through January 19, "Black Mirror/Espejo Negro," artist Pedro Lasch, assistant professor of the practice of visual arts at Duke and a Mexico City native, brings his own poetic and aesthetic reflections to the collection.

The exhibition couples sculptures chosen from the Nasher's collection with reprints of Spanish paintings from the Colonial period. Each painting is mounted behind a rectangular sheet of black glass. The sculptures, mounted on pedestals, are set facing the paintings, rather than out into the gallery. Viewers can see the sculptures only by looking at their reflections.

The result is a series of what Lasch terms "confrontations," between the pre-Columbian cultures and their Spanish colonizers, and—in part because of the reflective nature of the black glass—between the installation and the viewer.

One such confrontation places a 1607 portrait of Prince Philip IV and Princess Ana of Spain—"two very young children already invested with the visual representation of exclusivity and power," according to Lasch—in conversation with sculptures of a jaguar and a serpent, both symbols of power in pre-Columbian cultures. In another, two red ceramic figures, a kneeling man and a warrior, peer into a darkened "caste painting" of an Indian woman and a light-skinned Spanish man holding a child of mixed blood, with a brown-skinned figure looking up from below.

In the installation's explanatory placards, Lasch makes frequent references to the significance of the black "mirrors." Some references are rather abstract—for example, the idea that Aztecs associated opaque, black obsidian with the god of war, sorcery, and sexual transgression.

Others offer more pointed commentary: Lasch explains how European painters in the 1700s often carried black mirrors with them on forays into the countryside, using the melancholy reflections they provided to study landscapes. He compares this practice to colonization, globalization, and the "treatment of particular peoples as part of the natural landscape rather than as part of human civilization or culture."