Victor Grippo

Tables of Work and Reflection


Original title
Mesas de tabajo y reflexión
7 wooden desks with chalk and marker pen, clay, handkerchief, beans, stones, mirror, lights and fishing line
Overall display dimensions variable
Presented by the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2005


Tables of Work and Reflection is an installation by the Argentinian artist Víctor Grippo comprising seven wooden tables spread across the gallery space, each illuminated by a low-wattage bulb. Each table has a short text written on it by Grippo in either chalk or black marker pen, and in addition there are various materials and objects arranged on or around the tables. The first table has a text written by Grippo in 1978, identifying the piece of furniture as ‘sister’ to every other table that people have used as a work bench or ironing board, as a place at which to sit and work, on which to prepare meals, to knead dough, to spill ink and wine, at which to think, eat, talk and write. The second table bears a quote in marker pen from the Argentinian surrealist writer Elias Piterbarg about the human and artistic nature of every individual, while the third has clay spread across part of its surface together with a quote written in chalk from the seismologist Simon Gershanik on the likelihood of earthquakes recurring in places that have already experienced them. The fourth table has brief instructions from Grippo in marker pen on how to temper steel. A knife blade also rests on its surface. The text on the fifth table, written in chalk, quotes the Cuban engineer Arturo Guzmán on the resistance of materials. A large piece of coral originally sat next to the writing, with a smaller piece on the floor nearby, but the larger piece was mislaid after the work’s first installation, so that only the smaller piece now remains. The sixth table has an enigmatic line from Grippo in marker pen: ‘La mesa está vacía pero en si misma contiene’ (‘The table is empty, but contains in itself’). The solution to this riddle seems to reside in an old mirror that is placed on the floor beneath the table, the reflection in which shows that beans have been stuck to the underside of the table top. The final table bears a handkerchief and more clay along with a line written in marker pen from the Argentinian poet Jorge Calvetti. Lengths of black electric cable run to the tables, suspended in loose loops across the ceiling by fishing line and hanging down to end a short distance above each surface, and the ends of these are fitted with the low-wattage incandescent light bulbs. The arrangement of the tables alters each time the work is shown according to the dimensions and character of the exhibition space.

This work was made for the fifth Havana Biennial in Havana, Cuba, in 1994. Grippo arrived in Cuba without any part of the work he was to exhibit at the Biennial, choosing instead to source all of its materials locally. The tables had been much used before they became part of the work: five of them were old school desks put into storage after the cessation of the island’s major literacy programme, and the remaining two came from a restaurant that was able to undergo refurbishment as a result of the increasing tourist trade. The clay, coral, beans and other items were likewise found in Havana. In view of its origins in Cuba, Grippo asked that in any subsequent displays the work’s title always be given first in the original Spanish.

Grippo was born in Junín, Buenos Aires, and studied chemistry before turning to art. From those early studies Grippo carried into his artistic practice a concern with transformation – of raw materials into useful objects, of staple ingredients into familiar meals, and of thought into action. As he explained to Havana Biennial curator Llilian Llanes in a letter sent prior to his arrival in Havana in 1994, the items and materials he placed on the seven tables were ‘elements related to trades, food, etc., that correspond to my iconography’. (Quoted in Llilian Llanes, ‘An Approach to Víctor Grippo’s Work in the Fifth Havana Biennial’, in Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires 2004, p.299.) In much of his work it is the commonplace and the everyday that preoccupies Grippo. The ‘iconography’ of which he speaks refers to ordinary lives shaped by and through manual labour at work and in the home. Equally, the illumination of the installation with old-fashioned bulbs running on low power places the viewer in the domain of the labourers and not the rulers. In line with this, Grippo’s work frequently offers an opportunity for the viewer to become actively involved rather than to remain a merely passive onlooker. In this installation, the beans attached to the underside of one of the tables and the instructions suggest that we might be moved into action, cooking a meal or tempering steel, and the text on the first table makes clear that our own ‘sister’ tables in our homes are also potential sites of transformation.

Grippo’s interest in the transformative potential of the objects surrounding us in our daily lives can also be seen in Energy of a Potato (or Untitled or Energy) (Energía de una papa (o Sin título o Energía)) 1972, also in the Tate collection (Tate T12167).

Further reading
Catherine de Zegher and Elizabeth A. MacGregor (eds.), Víctor Grippo, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, and Societé des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels 1995, p.65, reproduced pp.62, 64.
Mel Gooding, A Quality of Light, Penzance 1997, reproduced p.50.
Grippo: Una Retrospectiva: Obras 1971–2001, exhibition catalogue, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires 2004, reproduced pp.130–5.

Michael Archer
January 2016

Supported by Christie’s.