Between locution and location -- between the name of the place and the place of a name -- stretches a charged dialectical space that lies at the heart of cultural codes of representation and signification: it is this space that Lothar Baumgarten explores in his distinctive artistic practice. While often drawing on the parameters of structuralist anthropology, Baumgarten's work is in fact driven by a broader-reaching aesthetics of attentiveness that manifests itself at every level of conception and execution, imbuing the final work with its precise poetics of material, light, balance and proportion.
The exhibition at the Elba Benítez Gallery -- Baumgarten's first gallery exhibition in Spain – brings together three key aspects and periods of the artist's 40-year career, beginning with a selection of photographs (some never before exhibited) from the series Kultur - Natur of the late 1960's. In Kultur - Natur Baumgarten -- at the time a recent graduate of the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf -- created ephemeral or gestural (and thus intentionally non-commercial) sculptures, which he then transformed into photographs. The resulting images, replete with visual puns, jarring juxtapositions and suggestive trompe l'oeil-like moments, are both intriguing and thought-provoking: in Baumgarten's own words, they function as "a draft of a grammar of the interaction between language and form.".
Watershed, La Gran Sabana(1977) reconfigured specifically for the Elba Benítez Gallery's central space, is a language-based wall-drawing in which the names of the rivers that cross the interior of southern Venezuela are transliterated from native languages into standardized Latin-alphabetic characters and transcribed onto the gallery walls. These native, non-writing languages of South America are disappearing inexorably into extinction as their speakers increasingly adopt Western customs and speech, leaving behind little more than the names of places and creatures and natural phenomena such as the region's rivers; thus La Gran Sabana's carefully orchestrated color and typographical schema become a kind of phonetic map composed of linguistic vestiges and relics.
The exhibition culminates in series of slide projections from the extended periods Baumgarten spent living among the Yamomami peoples in South America in the late 1970's. While avoiding narrative per se, the numerous images in the projections are organized into subtle chapter-like sequences, creating visual documents that are at once filmic and ethnographic in character. At the same time, the projected images further underscore the extent to which Baumgarten's work is self-consciously inscribed within photographic tradition: Baumgarten's expressed admiration for the way Fox Talbot's pioneering photographs "staged the complexity of a scene or object to transform it into a photographic statement of structure, surface and informative detail," could be applied equally to his own photographic work.
Lothar Baumgarten has exhibited individually in major museums such as the Guggenheim Museum New York, the Whitney Museum, the Fondation Cartier, Macba and Portikus. He has participated in four editions of Documenta, the Carnegie International, and was awarded the The Golden Lion First Prize at the 41st Venice Biennial. His work forms part of major public collections such as the Tate Gallery, MoMA, IVAM and many others