Look closely. There are clues hidden among the colors and in the starkness of the black-and-white photos. A tree centered among aluminum tiles. Televisions tuned to nothing. A broken glass filled with milk. Do you see Elastic Man sliding among the red, green, yellow and blue designs on the wall?
Don’t worry. Artist David Lamelas can’t always explain the concept behind his artwork that’s on display at the University Art Museum starting with Sunday’s opening. Lamelas’ exhibition, the first U.S. monographic exhibition by the pioneer of conceptual art, runs until Dec. 10.
“I like the spectator to be active, be creative (when looking at his work),” he said. “I only give the clues. I like people who look at this and don’t understand it – because I don’t fully understand it either myself – but each time I look at it I create something different.”
Lamelas’ work spans the mid-1960s to the present and includes early sculptures, situational and conceptual artworks realized in Europe in the late 1960s and early 70s, experimental narrative photo-sequences, and film and video work. The Argentina-born artist’s videos include works from his decades-long collaboration with Los Angeles-based artist, Hildegarde Duane.
The exhibition is organized by the UAM and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires as part of the Getty Pacific Standard Time Initiative LA/LA. It is co-curated by UAM’s Kristina Newhouse and Maria Jose Herrera, director of El Museo de Arte Tigre in Argentina.
As a child, Lamelas said he always had a pencil and paper in his hand, so it came as no surprise to his parents when his teacher told them their 7-year-old son had talent. The following year, his parents enrolled him in art classes, where he could concentrate on his elementary drawings. In 1963, Lamelas, then 22, left Argentina to study sculpture at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London and was invited to represent his country in the ’68 Venice Biennial.
“Life is strange,” Lamelas, 71, said. “I don’t think we do determine everything. I think, somehow, we have predetermined actions that we can follow or not, we can stop it or not. We all do have a seed of doing something and it’s your decision to pay attention to that or not.”
His was art.
Lamelas went on to stage exhibitions and galleries around the globe. His partnership with the Getty Pacific Standard Time Initiative LA/LA is his latest. The exhibition reframes customary narratives about conceptual art-makers and their practices in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
This exhibition not only showcases his photography and conceptual art, but will include audience participation shows and film. Lamelas said he never got bored working with one medium or another; he simply went looking for new challenges.
Lamelas and Newhouse are in postproduction of an independent film. He called it his “new thing.”
“I just thought it was time to move on. For me, what I do is like a science,” he said, adding that when he gets to a point he feels the need to move onto a new project. “So, I resolve the problem, then I decided not to use color. So that’s why I just used light. I didn’t see color. I just saw light.”
It was about that time Lamelas came up with an LED lighted wall that he describes as a gateway to paradise.
“It is like that. It has light. You walk into a space of joy, of well-being,” he said, “of light and unlimited possibilities. I guess that’s what paradise is.”
The photo of the tree in the middle of the tiles? Lamelas said it’s about centering yourself.
“One day you feel really good, like centered and well-protected by yourself, the energy around you,” Lamelas said. “I’m sure when you are unhappy or upset, you don’t have the protective energy around you. So, the idea of being protected, is the idea behind signaling out an object.”
No matter what meaning is derived from his art work, Lamelas said he simply wants people to enjoy the experience.
“I would like the person who looks at it to be creative and feel that when he or she or they leave this room, they have created something that they never felt before, beyond me, beyond my work and then go out and practice that in life,” he said. “To be creative in life. That’s what I want to do.”