Guillermo Kuitca

Untitled

1992

Original title
Sin Titulo
Medium
20 wooden beds, 20 cotton mattresses, buttons, acrylic paint and marker pen
Dimensions
Object, each: 375 x 585 x 1180 mm
overall display dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with assistance from the Latin American Acquisitions Committee and the Estate of Tom Bendhem 2004
Reference
T11867

Summary

Guillermo Kuitca’s installation Untitled has the character of a stage set. On the twenty child-sized beds that make up the installation, Kuitca has painted road maps of Europe. The mattresses are punctuated by irregularly placed buttons, serving as markers for major cities. While the place names can be read by the viewer, Kuitca is not interested in the specific locations the maps represent. In fact, they are chosen precisely because the places themselves had no particular personal significance for him. He has said of them: ‘from the beginning the places named in the maps didn’t represent anything I knew, had seen in films, nor read in books; no here or there, just names. The name and its sound and resonance.’ (Guillermo Kuitca: Burning Beds - A Survey 1982-1994, 1994, p. 17.)

In contrast, the ready-made mattresses that Kuitca used in his work bring with them vivid associations. Individually they suggest childhood, and the intimacy and security of the bedroom, but together they take on a grimly institutional quality. The sense of ‘isolation’ Kuitca has spoken of is heightened by the placement of the maps over the mattresses. Private and public spaces are conflated, the image of a restrictive, invasive culture imposed on personal life. Despite this fragmentary nature of the cartography, the possibility remains that it represents a dream landscape that might connect the individual occupants of the beds.

Although Kuitca’s work is not overtly political, and he does not explicitly address the culture of his country, the alienated mood and institutional anonymity of his work communicate something of the turbulent, sometimes repressive, recent history of Argentina, where he lives and works. Kuitca himself describes his themes as more universal. He has said that his series of map paintings, of which this installation is a part, works towards a definition of ‘trauma’, and the small beds, presented en masse, could suggest a frightening return of a traumatic childhood memory. The diminutive size of the beds contributes to this uncanny quality, for as Kuitca has commented, even when seen up close, the size of the mattresses can give the viewer the slightly disorienting impression of still being some distance from them. It is an exaggeration of the point of view that Kuitca locates in all of his work.

Further reading:
Guillermo Kuitca: Burning Beds – A Survey 1982-1994, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Art Foundation, Amsterdam, 1994.
Olga Viso, ‘Guillermo Kuitca: Connection and Contradiction’ in Distemper: Dissonant Themes in the Art of the 1990s, exhibition catalogue, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, 1996, pp.66-77.
Guilermo Kuitca, exhibition catalogue, Hauser and Wirth, Zurich, 2001.

Maria Bilske
October 2004
Revised August 2005

Technique and condition

The following entry is based on examination of the work and an interview with the artist, Guillermo Kuitca, held on 24 March, 2005, as well as documentation in the conservation record held in Sculpture Conservation.

Twenty infant-sized beds each consisting of a printed cotton and foam mattress on a wood frame secured with steel screws, iron alloy brackets and waxed string. All elements were designed and hand made by the artist following traditional upholstery techniques. Kuitca used found materials including patterned material sourced from local markets. Maps of Europe were then projected and copied onto the surface of the mattresses with major cities labelled using marker pens. The mattresses were immersed into large containers of dilute black acrylic paint so as to give them a used appearance, ‘The intention was not for them to look old, but to achieve an even finish’ (Tate interview with Kuitca, 24/03/05).

The installation is variable, ‘The layout is flexible but the number of units (twenty) is not...they are a specific group with specific geography’ (Tate interview with Kuitca, 24/03/05). Installed sympathetically in the gallery display space, the visitor is meant to walk between the rows of beds. Therefore, the location of each mapped bed does not have to be geographically correct so long as all the labels can be read from the same viewpoint.

The condition of the artwork is good with minor signs of wear and tear. Kuitca commented that the beds look older than he remembered but acknowledged that he likes the condition they are in now, ‘used not old’ (Tate interview with Kuitca, 24/03/05). One bed is missing a metal foot and a replacement has been requested from the artist. If this proves unsuccessful, Kuitca would prefer that the base of the leg be painted with metallic paint to match the others.

Jodie Glen-Martin and Bryony Bery
August 2005