Shining Light On Luchita Hurtado’s Dark Years

at Hauser & Wirth, 69th Street, NYC (through April 9)
Reviewed by Ellen C. Caldwell

Hauser & Wirth’s exhibit, Dark Years, features three gallery floors of work from painter Luchita Hurtado. Venezuelan-born and Los Angeles-based, Hurtado is 98 years old and beyond deserving of the show and recognition. This is a real celebration story of a life-long artist finally getting her due, with many solo shows in the works for the coming years, including her upcoming exhibit at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

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Simply put, Hurtado’s work is extremely inviting and it makes you want to take in each and every work. She mixes bright, bold colors with abstract or figurative forms, using a variety of mixed media, ranging from crayons and graphite on paper to oil on canvas. They are big, bold, and ready for a viewer to devour.

Much of the work feels largely experimental, as Hurtado combines crayons with oil and ink to see what the result might look like. “What would happen and how fast could I go?,” Hurtado asks of herself in a video installed at the gallery, featuring an interview with the artist. There is joyfulness in her discussion of her work, and again, through her own voice and image, the video helps to make the work feel immediately relatable.

A handful of her work offers insight into both Hurtado’s practice and process, as the tops of some of the framed paper pages include the ripped spiral sketchbook holes at the top. With these works, you can tell that Hurtado was working quickly, experimenting with form, color, and media, all while tearing pages out as she went. Dark Years features over 55 works, focusing on her earlier works from the 1940s and 1950s. There is a really wonderful flow throughout the exhibit. In each room, her works seem to be laid out and exhibited by feel and form, nicely punctuated and bookended by two distinct self-portraits — one at the start of the show on the first floor, and one at the end of the show on the third.

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Throughout her more experimental works with crayon or paint, Hurtado combines wildly abstract geometric forms with definitive organic shapes, animals, and structures. Some of these works are reminiscent of illustrations, such as Untitled (1947–1949) featuring two deer-like animals in a mystical landscape. In other works, she focuses more on expression, movement, and color theory.

The color families she creates in works throughout look as if she has explored every possibility of color combinations — like one group of works featuring green, pastel pink, orange, and yellows, or another grouping featuring turquoise, green, yellow, and oranges.

Few works in the show are fully figurative, including the aforementioned self-portraits, a few sketches such as “Man Worshipping a god” and “Portrait of the Sculptor,” and one particularly powerful work featuring a couple’s embrace. The moments when Hurtado does turn her attention to the figurative are compelling and moving.

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To read the rest of Caldwell’s review, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/luchita-hurtados-dark-years/

And please check out the Riot Material Gallery on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/riotmaterial/

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