Unmagical Realism

Rodolfo Abularach's new exhibition at the Duke Museum of Art is a highly repetitive visual feast, infused with a thin layer of meaning and thought only at is conclusion. Abularach chose as his subjects "Apocalyptic Landscapes," scenes of chiefly volcanic destruction which he captures in bright oranges, brilliant whites and morose shades of grey and black. This topic matter represents Abularach's first failure--documenting the wonders of nature is no longer the job of the painte. Whose brush could compare with the lense of the Hubble space telescope in conveying to man the natural foundings of his world? Art must go beyond just documentation, and expand into the world of thought, relation and commentary. Abularach's efforts at this are weak. We sense his contention that there exist shades of the divine and mystical in the earth's great forces with his treatment of the smoke which eminates so freely and organically, billowing with intent as it moves across his canvas. Equally notable is his treatment of heat, which he expresses with sparing touches of powerful white--as if he were painting with some holy oil. The idea that the forces of nature are thus imbued with the mystical and intentional is thus conveyed, culminating in the last work of the exhibit, in which the faces of spirits and sprites, which Abularach has been hinting at all along, are plainly visible in the smoke of a night sky.

Yet certainly such a kitschy notion so thinly applied cannot pass for real commentary, and as art is occupied with the stimulation of the mind and the creation of ideas, stands as a serious strike against the exhibition. This becomes yet less forgivable as we grasp Abularach's Latin American origins, and the rich tradition of magical realism which he paints against. Artists owe the world more, and it should rightly expect more of them.


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