Cecilia Vicuña liberates body and earth in her new Guggenheim retrospective

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“Spin Spin Triangulene” features several striking, site-specific quipus that occupy the cul-de-sac gallery on the museum’s second floor. The exhibition leads to a unique performance by Vicuña on August 31 titled, Ex-termination Living Quipu (2022), commissioned by the Guggenheim Latin American Circle. The performance reflects Vicuña’s long-standing decolonial practice of holding a healing ceremony for the Earth. The public can participate in the construction of a quipu to express their love for the land, the sea and others.

“Socialism should be warm and erotic,” Vicuña writes in one of the exhibition’s “thought bays,” areas where two paintings are paired together to develop an idea. A table, chairs and large plants occupy these spaces to give the public a place to pause and reflect. In the middle of the exhibition, we encounter the artist’s portrait of Karl Marx from 1972. He appears standing in a flower garden; his head is disproportionately larger than his frame. A series of illicit images of women surround Marx, including two women in coitus and a woman showing her garter and breasts towards us.

The eroticism of the work betrays the almost childish two-dimensional palette and brushwork also found in the painting. Vicuña’s portrait of Marx is paired with a more subdued 1986 autumn-toned portrait of María Sabina, an Oaxacan curandera (shamnic healer) and oral poet of Mazatec descent. Sabina’s intensely spiritual practice contrasts sharply with Marx’s written practice. However, Vicuña recognizes that both are necessary for socialist liberation, but with an added dose of sex.

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