Anyone visiting The Contemporary Austin over the next few months will likely encounter Competing with Lightning / Rivalizando con el relámpago, an exhibition by the Los Angeles-based artist Eamon Ore-Giron. The show, a sort of retrospective of paintings from the early 2000s and late 2010s, occupies the majority of the museum’s upstairs and downstairs galleries. With more than 30 pieces on display, Ore-Giron’s work is all cool colors and clean lines.
But enter the museum through its gift shop and veer to the left of its front desk, and you are rewarded with a very different kind of installation. Curated by Robin K. Williams, HOST: Celeste features three new works by Celeste, a Mexico City-based artist duo made up of María Fernanda Camarena and Gabriel Rosas Alemán. With its fleshy reds and glowing oranges, Hacer olas (Making Waves) (2023), an approximately nine-foot-high, forty-foot-long painting on canvas, radiates a feeling of magnetic warmth. Floating sun- and sand-like shapes draw us in, evoking an ambiguous space that is both physical and psychic, interior and exterior. Walking beside the enveloping painting almost feels like moving through a mysterious landscape.
The piece ‘almost’ feels like a landscape because this is clearly not one continuous image. Hacer olas is made up of five cotton panels joined by a long, curved sort of curtain rod. The fabric’s slight separations and gentle ripples move the piece away from the idea of a fixed mural and towards something more like a stage. One can imagine the painted panels parting to reveal a set of actors or dancers ready to perform. What other kinds of actions could Celeste’s work inspire?
“I would like to know what the piece detonates in you,” Camarena said during an artist talk at the exhibition’s opening. Detonate struck me as a strong word, but Hacer olas does contain a palpable sense of energy. In an interview featured in the exhibition booklet, Celeste say their work aspires “to make space for the audience,” and at the opening I certainly observed visitors engaging with the installation. Some used the textile piece as a backdrop for a flurry of posed photos and selfies. Others sat on a long bench across from the painting to look at the work, chat with a friend, and check their phones.
On the back wall, two hammered copper pieces echo imagery from the textile piece. Both works’ titles – El comienzo del día (The Beginning of the Day) (2023) and Hilos de agua (Threads of Water) (2023) – reflect the duo’s interest in nature, cycles, and motion. Like Hacer olas, these pieces are warm in color and exist somewhere between two- and three dimensions. In this case, sheets of copper curve softly off the wall without fully invading the viewer’s space.
Though they’re not explicitly linked, there are overlaps between Celeste’s large textile piece and Ore-Giron’s wall-sized canvases upstairs. Both share a connection to Mexican history and muralism, as well as an interest in pushing boundaries between figuration and abstraction. However, Celeste’s earthy hues, organic forms, and flowing lines offer a compelling counterpoint to the Los Angeles artist’s sparse palette, sharp shapes, and hard edges.
Celeste’s work is soulful and intriguing, and it asks for more room. The Contemporary Austin’s long, narrow gallery shortchanges the duo’s open, dreamy vision, and the textile piece especially feels like it could use some air. Previous installations of the duo’s work have featured natural light, expansive spaces, and even outdoor settings where textile works can float in the middle of a gallery or flutter in the passing breeze. Being able to encounter Celeste’s work in this way — walking fully around it or seeing it in motion — would surely enrich the viewer’s experience. There are mentions of a potential future installation of Celeste’s work at The Contemporary Austin’s Laguna Gloria sculpture park, though details are not yet formalized. That will be worth waiting for. If detonate is indeed Celeste’s operative word, I would love to see their work explode and expand.
Update: The Contemporary Austin has recently announced that it will install a “temporary installation environment” by Celeste at their Laguna Gloria campus. The piece, called Manta de Cielo, will open May 17 and will be on view through May 25, 2023. More information about the project can be found here.
HOST: Celeste is on view at The Contemporary Austin through August 20, 2023.