Walker Art Center

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Santiago Cucullu and assistant place wall papers for Santiago's mural, January 30, 2003
Photo: Philippe Vergne
Santiago Cucullu

Santiago Cucullu  b.1969  (Argentina)
lives and works in Houston, Texas

launch interview with Santiago Cucullu

In recent years, Santiago Cucullu has adopted the wall as the primary support for his paintings, working almost exclusively on large, site-specific wall paintings that occupy a space between autobiographical reminiscence, fiction, and collective memories. Drawing from a wide field of references ranging from the novels of Dostoyevsky to the rock band Led Zeppelin (Brothers Karamazov, The Led Zeppelin Saga, both 1998), Cucullu questions the possibility of painting history objectively and examines how specific historical figures have been represented and digested by Western culture.

1978 pt2 (1999) is a mural painting showing a blurred image of the Argentinean soccer team that won the World Cup in 1978 amid rumors that Peru might have been illicitly induced to throw the final match. It is a "souvenir" of the artist's childhood, and it suggests a larger historical context: the imposed military dictatorship of General Jorge Videla that made the political situation in Argentina unbearable for many. By bringing to our attention an "off-center," long-forgotten event, Cucullu gives a voice to the subaltern.

Abstract Yet Riel and Individual (2000) depicts a historic tale of resistance involving Louis Riel, a heroic leader and early organizer of the Métis, Canadians of mixed ancestry. In this mural, Cucullu combines appropriated fantastic images of a mounted warrior by illustrator Frank Frazetta with representations of land-surveying equipment. Both refer symbolically to the early conflict between the native populations and the colonizing powers that annexed their land. Although this episode in history takes place in a specific geographic location, it resonates with larger issues surrounding the position of the marginalized in relation to the structures of power.

For Cucullu, history is an uncertain system of fallible truths. And yet he embraces, and challenges, one of the most disregarded genres in painting, namely, history painting. In his latest series of works exploring the death penalty in America (And do they kiss? They try, Capital punishment machines fucking, both 2002), he is acutely aware that to challenge such a genre he must avoid anything that sounds like a voice of authority. For him, there is no more truth in painting than there is in history.

Before moving to Houston, Cucullu resided in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where his work has been shown at Franklin Art Works (2002), the Soap Factory (2000), and the Walker Art Center in Dialogues: Bonnie Collura/Santiago Cucullu (2000). His work has been included in a number of group exhibitions, including Officina America, Bologna, Italy (2002); Fresh: The Altoids Collection (traveling through 2002); and "Pictures" at an Exhibition, Artists Space, New York, New York (2001).

--Philippe Vergne

Audiences unfamiliar with these complex histories are forced to make analogies to what they do know--or think they know--about a foreign culture, which is usually a mix of news reports, a few facts from world history class, or artifacts seen in museums.
Once you acknowledge colonial history, even for those countries that were not colonized in the twentieth century, the history of twentieth-century Asian art cannot be discussed without considering the intervention, influence, and hegemony of the West.
. . . the old ways of planning and thinking about exhibitions; of programming films, performances, and concerts; and of writing art history no longer make sense.