Art in General // November 2-December 21, 2013
Modern Painters, March 2014
“I’ve never been able to separate fiction from reality: If you can think something up and people can feel through it, then there is a reality to that,” says Magid in a recent Brooklyn Rail interview. Indeed, her project-based works enact scenarios and contain narrative twists that are downright novelistic—often culminating in books penned by the artist herself. In the past, Magid has forged surprising relationships with mostly male officials while infiltrating airtight bureaucratic structures (the New York Police Department, the Dutch secret service). These situations find her constructing and deconstructing a Mata Hari–type posture, eliciting information through a combination of feminine wiles and steely analysis.
The works on view in “Woman with Sombrero,” stemming from Magid’s research on Mexican modernist architect Luis Barragán (1902–1988), present a new kind of relationship with authority. Here, the artist triangulates herself between the late architect and the architectural historian Federica Zanco, who directs the Barragan Foundation in Switzerland. As the story goes, Magid became fascinated by Barragán after a visit to his estate. She quickly gained access to his personal library and archive in Mexico City. His professional archive, however—rechristened the nonprofit Barragan Foundation and owned by the Swiss design corporation Vitra—denied Magid’s requests to visit. The works on view trace this gap in Magid’s research, romanticizing Zanco and questioning how an artist’s legacy becomes corporate property in the process.
Replicas of Barragán’s furniture begin to tell the tale. On a substantial double lectern near the show’s entrance, two iPads under protective casing face each other. One shows Magid’s letter requesting Zanco’s participation in the exhibition, and the other displays the Barragan Foundation director’s elegant refusal via e-mail. Nearby, another handsome pine lectern exhibits pictures of women with horses from the architect’s personal archive. On opposite sides of a dividing wall, much like the one
that neatly cleaved Barragán’s personal and professional archives at the time of his death, hang framed versions of his handwritten “alphabet” and a pencil-and-pen drawing of the VitraFutura and Futura fonts. And on a
re-created bedside table of Barragán’s design, Magid shows copies of books the architect owned and sent to women he met, in which she has meticulously re-created his underlines and notes. (A handwritten card
explains that Climates was removed and sent to Zanco “as a gift from Jill Magid.”)
Dearest Federica, 2013, a slide projection of 80 portraits of women accompanied by an audio piece on headphones, forms the stunning conceptual and literal centerpiece. The intimate photographs, reproduced from Barragán’s archive, appear to be art-directed by him. In the voiceover-style narrative plucked from his letters, Magid’s voice demands that the recipient (Zanco herself) position herself in the slides’ poses, from those of a sultry 1930s femme fatale to a coy schoolgirl. The exhausting repertory of female gender performance recited by Magid speaks to the heart of her practice, one aligned with a feminist impetus of scrutinizing existing power structures and the barriers erected by the
internalization of authority and subservience. Inhabiting Barragán’s complicated persona—as an arguable female fetishist practicing modernism at the height of colonialist discrimination—Magid sets herself the task of creating stranger-than-reality fiction from a closed book. The first chapter is tantalizing; we can only eagerly anticipate the next installment.