Alfredo Álvarez Plágaro: A Passionate Dadaist – Klaudija Kosanović

Alfredo Álvarez Plágaro: A Passionate Dadaist

Rhythmic color fields pulsate in the Identical Paintings of Alfredo Álvarez Plágaro. Horizontally, vertically or diagonally they meet up, delimiting or overlapping one another in complex relationships evoking tension or harmony. The overall pictorial vocabulary and painterly structure of the Identical Paintings – with the complexity of their coloration, their materiality and the relations between the individual color fields – supply an abundance of sensory stimulation and arouse in the eye of the viewer the desire to explore and discover the painting.

And then the works repeat themselves multiple times, further intensifying their magnetic appeal. Identical in motif and composition, they exude an astounding self-confidence in their two- to fifty-fold replications.

This repetition serves to multiply the specific pictorial idea, given it the kind of added emphasis that a single work could never muster. The gaze of the observer wanders from picture to picture, carefully comparing them, and thus perceives both the variances in the paint application and the fine differences in the respective elements of the works even more keenly. These subtle discrepancies are not systematically planned, but are rather the result of the painting process: Plágaro always works simultaneously, letting the works come about as “twins during a single pregnancy.”1 Each work is thus at once original and reproduction. This is where a wonderful paradoxical game begins – one that calls into question conventional valuation criteria.

At first glance, the building up of individual elements in the Identical Paintings seems to follow all the classical compositional rules. But then there is the fact that the paintings do not demand any definite orientation in terms of where up, down, right or left are located. They can be rotated at will and are readable from all sides. Just like the orientation of each painting, the positioning of the paintings in a set in the overall view is likewise not specified. They can be arranged in any number of serial variations, whether next to or above one another, as a block or as a row, and still retain the status of a work authorized by the artist. Something that never fails to amaze, and which can be experienced anew in each work, is how Plágaro manages in every picture to create by way of a non-hierarchical and balanced picture plane the possibility of a multitude of equally compelling views, and, what’s more, to extend this further to the numerous presentation options for the respective series.

The Identical Paintings can moreover be split up and displayed in different places in completely divergent constellations. In this extraordinary installation freedom the only prescribed rules are that the same orientation and the same spacing between paintings must be observed for all elements of an Identical Painting series and that, if the set is broken up, at least two work elements must remain together.

The unequivocal positioning of picture and viewer that is inherent to classical pictorial composition is suspended in this work concept, and our viewing habits are deprived of any clear orientation or security. This paradoxical play with repeated and individual works, the multitude of possible viewpoints and the versatile arrangement options stand conventional rules and definitions of a classical artwork on their head.

But what does this concept, which elevates the multiple repetition of a work to a principle and presents itself in such an unconventional form, tell us about the creative work and identity of the artist?

Vital for our understanding is this postulate formulated by Plágaro as the basis of his work: “The most important thing about it, is not what it, is but that it is repeatedly what it is.”2 With passionate consistency he has been working since the late 1980s on the radical implementation of this postulate, making repetition itself the actual motif of his artistic will. Since this will expresses itself in a medium like painting that per se contradicts reproducibility, this is and remains a paradoxical enterprise from repetition to repetition. Simultaneously painted pictures can by virtue of the very way in which they are crafted never be identical, despite sharing the same design. Insisting nevertheless on calling them Identical Paintings and thus postulating their sameness already in their title multiplies this contradiction exponentially and turns it into an ironic comment in pictorial guise.

The concept of originality that is so essential to our understanding of painting, just like the difference between original and copy, is annulled in Plágaro’s work. As ‘both in one,’ his images provoke and attack the very foundations of the classical artwork and call into question their exclusivity.

In various periods individual artists or whole art movements have devoted themselves to the question of what defines art, trying to break through dogmatic value systems. Alfredo Álvarez Plágaro claims to have been influenced here by the spirit of Dadaism, the anarchic artist movement of the early 20th century that proposed an answer to this question that was more radical than anything that had gone before.[1] Affected by the experiences of the First World War, artists formed Dada as an international art movement that rejected all bourgeois value judgments in the art world and society in an effort to provoke, shock and polarize. Their attack was directed at the dictates of traditional aesthetics, which had in some cases become entrenched as dogma, along with the cult of genius of the late 19th century – both of which Expressionism had been unable to topple. The goal was to liberate and broaden our concept of what constitutes art. In their provocative actions, cabaret performances and readings, as well as in collages and pictures, the Dadaists devoted themselves to all that is irrational and random, spontaneous and absurd. In the process, they made use of modern communication media such as flyers and magazines as a way of spreading their ideas and artistic program. Irony and humor, provocation, destruction and the embracing of randomness were their essential means of representation.[2]

Plágaro explicitly places his work in the tradition of Dada.[3] While his attack on today’s conventions at first appears subtle and understated, its implications are extremely radical. At the center of Plágaro’s art, and the focal point of his attack, is the classic panel painting. In keeping with its traditional form, the artist uses wood and canvas as support, applying oil and acrylic paint with a paintbrush and other tools. Plágaro develops an intuitive pictorial language in his painting that is dictated by the interaction of colors and surfaces and freed of the need to be an abstraction of a reality outside the picture. With these painterly prerequisites, the Identical Paintings would at first seem to meet traditional expectations of what a painting should look like. But in fact they virtually lead the viewer astray in order to then turn around and be something completely other than expected. In his conceptual application of painterly means, Plágaro lodges an attack on the traditional definitions imposed on the artwork in terms of form and content, taking them to the limits of what is possible – not to destroy it, but to create a work that can demonstrate its validity as art even outside these conventions.

Instead of establishing a classic pictorial composition and a single defined viewer perspective, the Identical Paintings present several possible views and varied forms. Instead of maintaining the customary picture format, they confront us for example as unusual attenuated steles. Instead of aspiring to originality of form and content, they proclaim their uniformity. Instead of extolling the genius of the artist, they make the person installing the work an essential part of the overall concept. Despite crossing all these boundaries, however, they are still in all respects art.

When Plágaro sums up his postulate as: “My painting is self-contained; it needs neither an explanation nor a justification, because its original goal is simply to repeat itself,”[4] the independence and irony expressed therein attests to the profundity of his Dadaist humor. For this intention of “simply repeating himself,” which may at first glance seem so succinct, ultimately aims at breaking through conventions in order to emancipate the work, the artist, the person installing the work as well as the viewer. By reducing his motif and radically pursuing his postulate, Plágaro launches an ironic game with the classical concept of art, one that does not exhaust itself in its absurdity but instead begins again with renewed passion in every Identical Painting. And so he proceeds to repeat himself from picture to picture. Driven by a radical free spirit and aware of the possible implications of what may seem like an absurd activity, he continues to create Identical Paintings.

Klaudija Kosanović

Translated by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

1 Alfredo Álvarez Plágaro, statement made in April 2008.

2 Alfredo Álvarez Plágaro, basic postulate of the Identical Paintings made in 1989.

[1]  Alfredo Álvarez Plágaro, statements made in 2005 and 2008.

[2] Dadaism can only be summarized briefly within the scope of this paper, without going into the diversity of this artistic movement and its various currents.

[3] Alfredo Álvarez Plágaro, statements made in 2005 and 2008.

[4] Alfredo Álvarez Plágaro, statement made in April 2008.

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