Juan Downey, “The Invisible Architect”

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Photograph: Courtesy Juan Downey Estate; Marilys B. Downey and the Bronx Museum of the Arts; NY

Juan Downey, Video still from The Looking Glass

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Photograph: Courtesy Juan Downey Estate; Marilys B. Downey and the Bronx Museum of the Arts; NY

Juan Downey, from the series "Continental Drift"

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Photograph: Courtesy Juan Downey Estate; Marilys B. Downey and the Bronx Museum of the Arts; NY

Juan Downey, About Cages

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Photograph: Courtesy Juan Downey Estate; Marilys B. Downey and the Bronx Museum of the Arts; NY

Juan Downey, Plato Now

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Photograph: Courtesy Juan Downey Estate; Marilys B. Downey and the Bronx Museum of the Arts; NY

Juan Downey, America Is Back Together

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Photograph: Courtesy Juan Downey Estate; Marilys B. Downey and the Bronx Museum of the Arts; NY

Juan Downey, Yanomami

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Photograph: Courtesy Juan Downey Estate; Marilys B. Downey and the Bronx Museum of the Arts; NY

Untitled Meditation

Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Bronx Sunday May 6 2012 11:00 - 18:00

Trained as an architect, Chilean-born Juan Downey (1940–1993) made his mark as a pioneering video, installation and performance artist in 1970s New York. Yet, unlike that of more famous friends, such as Gordon Matta-Clark, Downey’s work has largely disappeared from view. This retrospective—remarkably, the first in the United States—helps to resurrect his fascinating career.

The exhibition’s centerpiece, Video Trans Americas (1976), encapsulates a number of the artist’s methods and concerns. A 14-channel installation, it features disjointed black-and-white footage that Downey shot on car trips through North, Central and South America, ranging from the iconic to the prosaic: Mayan pyramids, Incan ruins, winsome Indian children, native craftspeople, political demonstrations, livestock, lots of water and dirt. The artist, a wall text informs us, saw himself as an “activating anthropologist,” but instead of revealing unseen correspondences among peoples and societies across the hemisphere, his impressionistic travelogue of images, ambient sound and voiceovers seems designed to induce a kind of delirium.

Drawings played an important role for Downey, and the show includes a wide spectrum of them, such as diagrams for electronic sculptures and performances that employed biofeedback loops; maps in which South America drifts unmoored or spirals in groovy rainbow stripes; plans for futuristic buildings such as a testicular beach house; and drawings that resemble tantric paintings, made after meditating in the Amazon jungle. Downey always rendered with an architect’s incisive line, even as his subjects became increasingly visionary and psychedelic. What a long, strange trip it must have been.—Joseph R. Wolin

Venue name: Bronx Museum of the Arts
Contact:
Address: 1040 Grand Concourse
Bronx

Cross street: at 165th St
Opening hours: Thu, Sat, Sun 11am–6pm; Fri 11am–8pm
Transport: Subway: B, D, 4 to 161 St
Price: Free