Welcome Back

Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere

Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA

February 3—March 27, 2016


I’m back to the page, after a mini hiatus filled with holidays and rapid changes and many months of not really going to museums.  The end of a year is always majorly reflective for me, filled with hours of sleepy contemplation and a fair amount of looking backward, but it’s been good lately to move forward and focus on what’s ahead, and to start filling my eyes and head with art and exhibitions again.

I went to the ICA in Philadelphia on a sunny Saturday, and was completely blown away by the collaborations I saw there created by artists Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere.  I went to the show without having any idea about who they are or what they make, and I managed to accidentally work my way through the show backwards instead of forwards (whoops), though I actually think that this ended up working in my favor, in a very unexpected way.

I accessed the show from the ramp space and made my way up to the second floor from there, instead of utilizing the steps in the front.  Because this was backwards, I didn’t start this exhibition with explanatory wall text, the printed material that described the thematic content in more detail, or even the proper spelling of the artists’ names.  Instead, I stumbled into a dark room with a large video screen and was immediately confronted by a masked character in a suit, walking nonchalantly on screen around a city that looked suspiciously similar to Philadelphia.

I was immediately drawn in by this video, and even sat down to watch all of it, from start to finish, which took a pretty decent chunk of time.  If you know me, and if you’ve seen shows with me, you’ll know that this is pretty out of the ordinary for me and I can typically only watch video pieces for a few minutes before I want to move on and look at something else.  This piece, entitled Memory of a Time Twice Lived, featured a layered narrative that connected seemingly disparate scenes and characters in a winding loop that revealed itself only by sitting with the piece, and spending time with it.

I don’t want to ruin anything, so just trust that this video somehow managed to combine La Jetee, the Wagner Free Institute of Science, musicians, accordions, a masked figure posing in front of Philadelphia’s Rocky statue, a T-shirt featuring a Mexican wrestler named El Santo, Mexican museums filled with memorabilia, and a bunch of murals in a convincing, poignant, and thought provoking way.

Everything connected somehow, and it was super entertaining to figure out how, and the artists masterfully refrained from revealing all to you at once, showing rather than telling, dropping in a character or scene and choosing to wait until later to tell you why.  The slow reveal is something this pair does very well, and they have an impressive ability to encourage a viewer to take their time and pay attention (even when their view is a restless, antsy ball of energy that wants to rush ahead all and look at all the art at once, like me).

Another room in this exhibition that made a deep impression on me was also dark, and had three screens on opposing walls, and circular couches on wheels that you could move around and share with strangers.  When I first walked into this room, I saw a blonde singer performing with an orchestra for a few fleeting moments, then applause, then nothing.  I caught the seconds right before the end, but was intrigued, so I sat and watched two additional videos just so I could see the beginning of the first.  The orchestra video was called The War Song, and it featured the Norwegian Radio Orchestra covering a Culture Club song that was rearranged by a composer.  The piece ultimately offered reflections on awards for peace during times of war, combining the orchestra that performs at Nobel Peace Prize celebrations with a cultural moment that is rife with war and instability, and a really beautiful and jarring performance, all at the same time.

In the end I think the strength of this work was present in these juxtapositions, the lenses and filters that cultural artifacts and experiences passed through, offering a measured reflection that built upon itself and could therefore offer a rich experience.  For me, it was the perfect show to experience after coming up for air following a phase of massive reflection – a show that caused me to stop, think, and linger in a space that was unfamiliar rather than revisited, exterior from me but then becoming personal, a history that folded in on itself.  Repurposed, recomposed, refigured, rewritten, at times exuberant, at times haunting.