Allora & Calzadilla: Specters of Noon
September 26, 2020 – June 20, 2021
The Menil Collection, Houston, presents a major exhibition of seven sculptural works by the internationally-renowned artists Jennifer Allora(SMVisS ’03) and Guillermo Calzadilla, better known as Allora & Calzadilla, that revolve around the theme of acedia, a demon that besieges the soul at noon. Created specifically for the museum’s naturally lit galleries, the exhibition uses sound, cast shadow, and novel sculptural material to evoke an atmosphere of bewilderment and beauty, an apt metaphor for the contemporary moment. Allora & Calzadilla: Specters of Noon opened at the Menil on September 26, 2020 and will remain on view through June 20, 2021.
The Puerto Rico-based artists visited the Menil repeatedly over the course of four years to develop this exhibition and study the museum’s renowned archives and holdings of Surrealist art. They were particularly intrigued by the historic role that Surrealism played in the Caribbean during the years surrounding World War II, including its pivotal contribution to anti-colonialism and how the movement’s artists and writers were fascinated with the mystique of noon. Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla connected this history to the current moment by seeking out shared connections between Houston and their own home of San Juan, both port cities that have been deeply impacted by energy commerce and the effects of a changing climate.
Among the works that have emerged is Blackout, 2020, created from a Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority transformer that exploded during Hurricane Maria in 2017; Graft, 2019, composed of thousands of yellow blossoms cast from the flowers of an oak tree native to the Caribbean; and Entelechy, 2020, a monumental coal sculpture cast from a tree struck and toppled by lightning, the type of tree that led to the discovery of the Lascaux Cave and inspired theorist and Surrealist author Georges Bataille’s account of how the prehistoric drawings were found after a storm. A soundscape, organized by award-winning composer David Lang, permeates the gallery space, augmenting the hypnotic atmosphere of disorientation created by the artists. Lang collaborated closely with the artists to develop an eight-hour cycle of constantly evolving sounds that run daily in the exhibition.
An exhibition catalogue is available for purchase online from the Menil Collection Bookstore. Published by the Menil, it was written by Michelle White, with a second essay by Roberto Tejada and contributions by Julie Ault, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Daniel Immerwahr, David Lang, Gerardo Mosquera, Molly Nesbit, Mari Carmen Ramírez, and Maria Stavrinaki. Also included are excerpts of historical texts by Aimé Césaire and Roger Caillois, as well as archival images that inspired the artists. Along with installation photography by Los Angeles-based Fredrik Nilsen, the publication captures the spirit of Allora & Calzadilla’s deeply researched, multifaceted, and thought-provoking work.
Jennifer Allora is an artist who co-founded Allora & Calzadilla with Guillermo Calzadilla, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Collaborating since 1995, Allora & Calzadilla has produced an expansive and interdisciplinary body of work, combining performance, sculpture, video, and sound. Their work subtly reframes or magnifies political tensions and strategies of governance and militarization and emerges from the strategic collision of objects, gestures, marks and contexts, all informed by a keen sense of research. Their unexpected juxtapositions reflect everything from history to contemporary geo-political realities, exposing, de-stabilizing, and re-ordering complicated dynamics in poetic ways. The results of these formal and conceptual experiments elucidate the artists’ ongoing exploration of how metaphor can reflect, reshape, and ultimately transform how the world appears to us and how we respond to it. The duo has exhibited widely and in 2011 represented the USA in the Venice Biennale, marking the first time artists living in Puerto Rico represented the United States. Jennifer Allora received a Master of Science from the MIT Visual Arts Program in 2003 and was a fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program.