Ángela de la Cruz’s "Traspaso"

Pablo Martínez

December 9, 2014
Galeria Helga de Alvear
November 6–January 3, 2015

There is something about Ángela de la Cruz’s “Traspaso” [Transfer] that leaves one cold. The first impression is that of having arrived somewhere unexpected, when everything is already over. Strewn across the floor, canvases without stretchers and in different forms—two rolled against the wall (Roll (Navy/Turquoise) and Roll (Turquoise/Navy), both 2014), another extended across the middle of the room (Drop, (Navy/Turquoise), 2014) and one more in a corner rolled up into a ball like a crumpled piece of paper (Nothing (Pale yellow/Yellow), 2014)— look as if they’ve been abandoned in the semi-empty gallery space. Hanging on the walls are what look like two sculptures (Throw IV (Light Blue) and Throw V (Turquoise), both 2014) as well as three small paintings whose canvases barely cover their stretchers (Tight (Turquoise/Navy), Tight (Light Blue/Turquoise), and Tight (Violet/Navy), all 2014). All of the works in the exhibition defy categorization: neither the canvases on the floor nor the metal volumes on the wall behave as paintings and sculptures generally do. Each medium’s nature is transferred to the other, as the name of the exhibition suggests. This is not the first time that de la Cruz has titled an exhibition “Transfer.” She did so twice in 2011: once, at her first solo show with Galería Helga de Alvear, and again at Lisson Gallery in London. However on this occasion, the emptiness of the gallery in combination with the Spanish term traspaso—commonly used to mean the transfer of a business from one owner to another—gives an additional interpretive key to the narrative. This new connotation lends coherence to the way the works are put on display—as though waiting to be removed—giving the exhibition the performative quality of a site-specific installation.

The above-mentioned large canvas lying in the middle of the room (Drop (Navy/Turquoise)) best illustrates de la Cruz’s deadpan humor. A blue monochrome, it bears the imprints of the tracks left by the artist’s wheelchair, with which she has crossed the painting twice longitudinally. This gesture crystallizes the artist’s complex relationship with the history of painting: in one respect, it literally sullies the sacred space that is the modernist canvas, but in another way it reaffirms the tradition in gestural painting whereby the author—nearly always a man—deliberately leaves his mark on the canvas. There is a mocking undercurrent in de la Cruz’s violent gesture that is closer to Buster Keaton’s slapstick than to Lucio Fontana’s transcendental slash. It exemplifies de la Cruz’s familiar combination of the abstract language of modernism with the theatricality of minimalism to demonstrate their limitations, question their neutrality, and, in doing so, challenge the patriarchal tradition of painting. If one is tempted to see Drop as a festive swimming pool à la David Hockney, the wheelchair tracks put an end to this illusion: the canvas is no longer the space of representation. As in Roll and Nothing, where the viewer can not see what is painted, canvases act as specific objects rather than paintings.

But in spite of an adroit command of the language of form and the discerning use of the gallery space, de la Cruz’s work ultimately draws attention to her own wit and virtuosity. Perhaps considering the limitations of painting in the gallery space is an effective way of responding to the tradition and insinuating oneself into it. However, questioning art’s autonomy in the intimate language of art-historical discourse is no longer critical, nor is the use of cynical gestures. Because of the work’s seriality, repetition, and variation in color and size, one cannot help but see in de la Cruz’s proposal a number of mass-produced commodities ready to be consumed—something which, admittedly, she explores in a larger body of work called “Commodity Paintings” (1997–ongoing): sexy-prêt-à-porter canvases with vivid colors, of which the “Nothing” series (1998–ongoing) is only one part. It is as though de la Cruz’s humor comes at the expense of any interest in art practice’s revolutionary end. In Terry Eagleton’s words, “the avant-gardist dream of an integration of art and society returns in monstrously caricatured form” as commodities.1 The works in “Traspaso” risk being cynical: there is a critical awareness of the state of things, but the proposal is deliberately not disruptive. Today, more than ever, contemporary art needs to go beyond cynical gestures.


Terry Eagleton, “Capitalism, Modernism and Posmodernism,” New Left Review, vol. I, no. 152 (July-August): 1985.

Painting, Sculpture, Modernism

Pablo Martínez is an educator and researcher based in Madrid. He works at CA2M and teaches contemporary art at Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

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Galeria Helga de Alvear
December 9, 2014

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