Alejandro Vautier: The production crew that a work of contemporary art requires

No. 142 – April 2007

Alejandro Vautier is the technical advisor for a large part of the works of art that circulate in fairs, museums, and art galleries today. In this interview, he tells us how the pre-production task of an exhibition is carried out in the digital era.

Arte al Día: Does your work refer to any of the elements that define contemporary art?

Alejandro Vautier: Yes, I deal with mounting, lighting, the artists who work in video, slides, multimedia, scenographic effects, and the artists who have to build a special space for their work. My job involves everything that encompasses “new media,” but it is also about thinking on how to show it. That kind of artwork can be shown through a television, or projected on a wall, for example. That is where one begins to interact more with the artists regarding the work of mounting and setting up the space for their work.

AAD: A lot of technology is used in contemporary art today. In this case, is technical advice fundamental?

AV: Yes, because many artists work on different media that they are exploring but don’t have the knowledge that it requires, so they always need a person to assist them. There are technological devices that the artist does not need to know, and it is in these cases where my work begins.

AAD: Do artists consult you when they have an idea but cannot materialize it?

AV: Yes, it happens many times that they have an idea, so we talk about how to bring it to reality.

AAD: In this situation, your work is fundamental for the art piece to have a real existence.

AV: It may be that the artist has an exceptional idea for which the appropriate technology has not yet been invented. It happens many times, and especially today in Argentina, that the work can be done but it has a very high cost. Sometimes the execution is more expensive.

AAD: Since you started mounting exhibitions, have the needs changed much, going beyond requiring a nail and a wall?

AV: Yes, of course. There are artists who draw and paint, but in many cases you need other types of technicians to get the work done.

AAD: So from the symbolic production and the thought of the idea to its execution, there is a whole process of intermediation in the middle.

AV: Yes, that’s the pre-production.

AAD: How do you interpret the artist’s work in order to carry it out?

AV: When I speak with an artist, we start exchanging ideas so that the work can be adapted to the technology available.

AAD: Would this be an intervention in the execution?

AV: No, because the idea belongs to the artist and the authorship too, of course. For example, in the era of the kinetic artists, an electro-mechanic was involved in placing motors and gears. There is a huge change since the arrival of computers, video, the digital era, the Internet, and the globalization of all this.

AAD: What would be a complication in your work?

AV: Sometimes, there is a clash or a conflict, let’s say, between the imagination that the artist can have on an aesthetic level and what can be done at the physical/real level.

AAD: What was a major challenge in your profession?

AV: it was at MALBA in 2003, when the exhibition of Fundación Cisneros called “Geometrías” arrived. In that context, there was the work “Penetrable,” by Jesús Rafael Soto, which was put together and left for a year in front of the Museum. That particular work was a challenge, because it had been bought 9 years before, and it was kept in a box for a long time, so when they decided to have it put it together, a system had to be invented. There was an imprecise plan. And to assemble the work we had to track that all the pieces were there. Also, the original hoses were sunburned because they had been left outdoors, so they had to be remade. There were 10,000 5-meter-long hoses hanging. The idea was to put it in the Museum’s esplanade. We could not drill the floor because there is a slab and the garage is downstairs. So it was decided to make a platform that would be the floor support for the work. A metal skeleton was assembled with a wooden deck that could be walked on and the lights were incorporated. The deck was so useful that they kept it there, and today it is part of the work that is placed on the museum’s esplanade. From that moment on, a new space was created at the MALBA. After setting it up in Buenos Aires, I was asked to go and do it in Houston, in the “Utopias” exhibition.

AAD: Did Warhol’s exhibition also require a particular technology at MALBA?

AV: Yes, they were videos. The curator proposed to show them in frames. The projectors were going to be inside the room. Finally it was decided to use another material for the frame and the curator said that he had liked the final aesthetic result in Buenos Aires more than the original show he had done at MoMA in New York.

AAD: Do you also work with any particular artists?

AV: Yes, now for example, I am working on the production of Fabian Marcaccio’s work for the Ruth Benzacar Gallery. My relationship with him began with the work he did for the MALBA terrace (ezeisa-painting). From then on, I started to produce his works. I do the pre-production, look for and gather the materials, and put together a working crew for when he comes in April. Of course, all this is done while in permanent contact with him.

AAD: It seems that in contemporary art, a big team is required apart from the artist.

AV: Yes, just like in the Renaissance workshops, where there was also an interdisciplinary team: artisans, artists, those who built the scaffolding, those who prepared the wall, those who passed the plaster. When the artwork exceeds the format of easel painting, in general, the artist needs more people to help him, like the assistants. Today, in a work of art there is not only the artist’s work but also an entire team behind it, which supports and understands what the artist wants to do.