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Focus: Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle

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By Mariya Strauss

Google the name Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, and you will find variety: a shimmering, multifaceted artistic voice which speaks about the present human moment in every imaginable medium. The artist’s work which is currently on view at the Art Institute, contained within the spiral stairwell right in front of the gigantic portrait of Chairman Mao, quietly slips from my earlier grasp of what Manglano-Ovalle does. A two-story, suspended wire frame suggests an organic lump of something. The hollow, networkish structure has an architectural feel. The accompanying text tells us that this is a model of an “iceberg formation recently observed off the coast of Newfoundland,” apparently abstracted into a computer rendering and then realized in three dimensions as something between a serious geography hobbyist’s model and an oversized toy.

What interests me here is the calm yet insistent presence of contradictions in the work. Manglano-Ovalle went to SAIC, but he also knows something about architecture, having worked closely with architects in exhibitions and at his current teaching job at UIC. Models are something we make before we make the real thing. Yet here is a model, scale unknown, of an organic object which already exists in nature. So it is as if the artist is playing God, deciding to model a new iceberg for the North Atlantic. But wait–does it actually exist? Aren’t icebergs, like clouds, constantly changing their shape, breaking and reforming? So the thing being modeled or memorialized in this sculpture may not ever have had this exact shape, and, if so, only briefly. And why would Manglano-Ovalle use the computer model, a notoriously anti-aesthetic medium, to render something as formally beautiful as an iceberg? Why smooth those craggy shapes? Hanging quietly in its sunlit stairwell, the empty wire-frame sculpture withheld answers all of these questions. Somehow, I think the artist would be pleased.

View at The Art Institute of Chicago; through May 14

Photo by Julia Hechtman, Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
The artist in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, recording sound with a parabolic disc with stereo-micorphone.

March 2005

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