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Gallery ABBA opens Hugo Alvarez’s recent works

This article was originally published on Nov. 23, 2015.

As the first snowflakes started falling on Friday, Nov. 20, students found a refuge in the glowing Gallery ABBA building downtown to witness the opening of Hugo Alvarez’16’s art exhibition “Recent Works.”

A food table was positioned in the middle, surrounded by panels displaying nine different canvases with inked imagery. On the wide, permanent wall, two-inch by two-inch canvases were placed on either side of a 63-inch by 63-inch canvas hung by binder clips. Alvarez’s use of space was perhaps most striking on this piece, as most of the piece appears to be blank, with white gesso rolled over the off-white canvas. In the center, a circular design, only a bit bigger than a thumbprint, is inked onto it.

“I like to think a lot about scale and how we view art — up close vs. far away, etc,” he said.

As he explained in his opening remarks, “I really enjoy having really tiny things on really large things.” When he got the bigger canvas, after working with smaller ones, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. When he was rolling the gesso on the canvas on his kitchen floor, he broke the roller. After it dried, he figured out what he wanted to — create the “smallest possible thing” in the center, “small so you could get up real close.” Indeed, its size invites an intimate, and almost absurd, viewing experience, as more intricacies are revealed.

Three moveable panels each displayed two four-inch by four-inch canvases.  Some featured more circular or geometric, abstract, colorful imagery, resembling a fingerprint; other canvases featured tedious, tight, black lines with occasional inkblots.

The variety of pieces reflected his process. “Some of these works just were spur of the moment creations. I would do one movement with the brush and it would call itself ‘done’ — I couldn’t do any more for it without ruining it,” he said. “Others were more methodical, taking hours to reach that same point of completion. Sometimes I would come back to a piece I thought was done and realize it needed another little touch.”

About his art, he said “I don’t exactly know what I even get out of it,” elaborating, “Sometimes I feel like I do this just for aesthetic’s sake. I’m not sure if that counts as an experience, a purely aesthetic one, but I definitely get overwhelmed with just the act of ‘looking’ at art sometimes.”

Alvarez worked with Emma Mooney’17, a student curator at the Gallery, to organize the show. “Hugo had been creating an intentional body of work for this show, so my role as curator wasn’t so much to select works, but more to help organize our gallery space as appropriately as possible,” she said, adding, “We also made the decision to put the food table in the center. Gallery go-ers tend to crowd around there, and we wanted to make sure that even when doing so, they were still interacting with our spacial configuration. I think we succeeded.”

All of the pieces were created within the past year, with the most recent finished “a couple days ago,” Alvarez said. This was his second time displaying work at the Gallery. In spring of 2013, he and other contributors to “The Armadillo”, the alternative arts magazine which he co-edited, had a group show called the Abba X Dillo show. “It was cacophonous,” he said. “We were hanging stuff 15 minutes before the opening, but it was a lot of fun. We had readings from contributors and it was a great success. I think the messiness of that comes from how many people were involved. This time around it was a lot easier.”

There was no artist’s statement displayed, and none of the pieces are titled, a deliberate choice for Alvarez. “I think titles play into the idea that an artist’s work can be limited to just those things that they label as such,” he said. “Not titling my work allows me to broaden the scope of what could be considered ‘art’ among all of the things I make. Also I think titles often are cop-outs for creating meaning that might not be there. I want the work to stand on its own feet.”

This is the final show for the gallery this semester, which will remain open until Dec. 9. Artists have opportunities to display — and even sell — their crafts outside of the traditional gallery space, however. “We’re currently in the process of digitizing our retail store, an initiative that owes a lot to Cecily Holtz’16 and Mattea Wallace’17,” Mooney added.

While no definite decisions have been made about next semester, it will continue to be an experimental space for student artists. “I’d really like to see some first year artists and makers in here,” Mooney said. “I’m also a proponent for turning ABBA into a performance space. It’s been done in the past, and I’d love to see it again. I think the space would be good for very intimate shows and readings of some sort too.”

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