Ramis Barquet Gallery is pleased to present a retrospective exhibition of the work of one of the late 20th Century’s most extraordinary painters; Julio Galán.
Throughout his career, from his first exhibition in 1980 at Guillermo Sepúlveda’s Galeria de Arte Actuel Mexicano in Monterrey, until his untimely death at the age of 48 in 2006, Julio Galán’s work has defied clear categorization. Identified alternately as a neo-expressionist, surrealist, neo-Mexicanist, magic realist, post-modern symbolist and sado-masochistic narcissist, his work somehow succeeds in being all these things while simultaneously none at all, situating itself beyond the technical confines of a singular group or movement. Fiercely independent and with an unmistakably original style, his paintings draw us into a personal labyrinth of childhood and memory, longing and fear, sexuality and frustrated desire, that requires close attention and patience to decipher.
Often compared to the work of Frida Kahlo, Galán’s paintings share an affinity with his predecessor in their choice of self-reflexive subject matter. With a gaze invariably focused inward, his lead protagonist and muse is himself, irrespective of gender, sexuality or even species. Each painting is a masked performance, with the artist appearing in anything from indigenous costume to a turtle shell, acting out individual emotions and moments of personal theatre. Set up most often as traditional devotional retablos, his paintings blend haunting personal histories with elements of Catholic and pre-Columbian iconography, Mexican folk traditions and pop culture to form unfathomable puzzles that beg for resolution. Loaded with symbols, a series of recurring motifs seem to offer the possibility of a key.
Galán’s works have been called auto-therapeutic, exorcisms, in his own words “I hate painting but it’s my only filter to mirror reality, to take revenge on my past.” Haunting recollections are re-enacted in his paintings, specific moments of fetishized memory played out on the canvas for the world to see. He makes work about himself but from the perspective of an observer, a voyeur, inviting us to join him watching him perpetually engaged in a game of personal transformation. He casts out the demons of his past by recreating them and inviting a crowd to witness their resurrection, while in turn seems to derive a sexual thrill from having us all there to catch him in the act. In The Black Pearl (1990), a child dressed in red velvet and pearls kneels precariously on a small raft, adrift on an expansive ocean, hesitantly reaching towards a giant pearlescent orb floating some distance away. Threaded through punctures in the surface of the canvas, swathes of white and purple fabric hang in swags across the surface. In My Secret Friends (1992), a well-dressed three-armed man with a silver ex-voto sacred heart pinned to his chest, stares impassively into the distance while resting his hand on a stone tablet beside the words “Cleopatrae a Marc Antonio”. The canvas is wrapped like a gift with a black and white ribbon that threads through his bruised and punctured face. And in Capital Amour (1997), the artist, wearing nothing but a loincloth, appears crucified over a river of blood. Powerful, enigmatic, and defiantly unique, the product of Galán’s kaleidoscopic imagination remains mesmerizing.
Julio Galán was born in 1958 to a wealthy mining family in Múzquiz, Coahuila in northern Mexico and raised in Monterrey, where he studied architecture at the Instituto Tecnológico from 1978 to 1982. In 1984 he moved to New York to pursue his career as an artist, and saw images of his work published later that year by Andy Warhol in Interview. In 1985, his paintings were exhibited at Art Mart in the east village, and in shows curated by Paige Powell at the Mexican Consulate and at the Palladium nightclub. In 1989 he had the first of a series of exhibitions at Annina Nosei in New York, followed by shows at Gian Enzo Sperone in Rome, Barbara Farber in Amsterdam, Thaddeus Ropac in Paris, and later Robert Miller and Ramis Barquet in New York. He was the only Mexican artist to be included in Jean-Hubert Martin’s Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1989, and his work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal Latin American Art of the Twentieth Century in 1993, as well as the 1995 Whitney Biennial. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Monterrey organized major retrospectives of his work in 1994 and 2007. This will be the first exhibition of Galán’s work in New York since 2001.