Big cloud, not much lightning

Times Staff Writer

Sleek and chic, the installations of Inigo Manglano-Ovalle observe the prosaic technological weather of contemporary life and reflect it back to us. Therein resides the strength of his work -- and its weakness too. The observations range from acute to obvious, but little is transformed by their simple reflection.

At the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, three recent video installations and a massive sculpture made this year by the Chicago artist are on view in a small traveling exhibition, organized by Michigan's Cranbrook Art Museum. The video projections, two shown in schematic architectural environments, perform riffs on famous buildings designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the great German architect who spent the last three decades of his life based in Illinois. The sculpture is a billowy, 1-ton fiberglass version of a thundercloud, clad in sheets of a silvery titanium alloy and suspended by cables from steel beams hidden in the ceiling.

The sculpture's illusion of lightness and mobility is maintained only by the hidden sweat equity involved in hoisting its weighty form into place. This built-in tension between art and architecture is a theme found in the massive painted reliefs that Frank Stella began to develop in the 1970s and that Richard Serra unraveled in enormous steel sculptures, which expose their inherent systems of support.

It's also implied in Manglano-Ovalle's video installations. On a double-sided screen suspended within a hanging space-frame made from strips of aluminum and industrial wire, "The Kiss" (1999) shows a workman (the artist) washing windows at a famous glass house designed by Mies. Inside, a young woman bobs her head to music playing in her headphones. Each is oblivious to the other's presence. Emotional distance is italicized by the metaphorical "kiss" of the laborer's squeegee against glass, but their physical and social isolation provides an achingly familiar rebuke of modernist aesthetics.

Techno-alienation is also a central theme of "Climate" (2000), a multiscreen projection also shown within a hanging space-frame. A surveillance mood piece, its brief scenes cut repeatedly among close-ups of two men wearing headsets, an unidentified figure dismantling a rifle and a woman waiting in a lobby. The dullest of the four works, it seems intended as a poetic invocation of pervasive control, suspicion and inevitable (but never consummated) violence. Its nonlinear narrative anticipates the coming storm implied by the sculpture of a thundercloud.

The final projection mixes real-time footage with time-lapse photography, shot during a 12-hour performance inside the gorgeous, empty glass pavilion of Mies' New National Gallery in Berlin. Set to a soundtrack composed by Jeremy Boyle, "In Ordinary Time" (2001) features silent figures who enter, pose and leave the theatrical space, as sunrise passes to sunset, lighting the church glimpsed through the crystalline pavilion's walls. In the larger scheme of things, they (like us) are just passing through, atomized human particles suspended briefly in time.

The difference is that they have something magnificent to ponder, while we just have Manglano-Ovalle's self-reflexive, far less compelling work on which to meditate. Suspension recurs as a leitmotif in all four works, but rarely does it abrogate the familiar laws of art they analyze. It all seems very academic.


Inigo Manglano-Ovalle

Where: Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach

When: Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Ends: March 23

Price: $4 to $5, children under 16 free

Contact: (949) 759-1122

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