by Renny Pritikin
When a doctor removed stitches from my recent surgical incision, she laughed and said, “Wow, when I put them in, looking through magnifying lenses, they looked like cables; now, without the lenses, they look like hairs.” Marco Maggi’s current exhibition, Tiny Tyrannies, explores that same phenomenon: how distance affects perception. By exploiting quirks of human vision, his collages, drawings and etched objects amuse themselves at our expense. Almost every piece in the show demands close inspection — by which I mean something approaching nose-to-glass scrutiny — to enter the borderline-perceivable miniature landscapes he fabricates. However, calling them landscapes imposes a bias because these works steadfastly refuse classification. Depending on where you stand, they oscillate between cityscapes, computer innards and pure abstraction.
A group of six works titled Tiny Tyrannies forms the exhibition’s centerpiece. Seen from a few feet away, they appear to be either satellite images of cities (with long, narrow strips of paper suggesting bridges or freeways), telescopic views of star fields or urban grids situated in mountains or around bodies of water.
Look closely and you see that all these elements are made of unimaginably tiny squares of paper, mostly monochrome quadrangles with circles of contrasting color at the center, supplemented by constructions of folded paper. Each carries a subtitle (White, Grey, Blue, Red, Black) corresponding to their respective background colors.
Maggi’s efforts, you might say, stand as a dramatic reimagination of drone photography, which, over the past decade, has gone from offering a rare and dramatic understanding of the world to a familiar artistic cliche. Maggi reinvigorates it in works like Blind Slides. It consists of drypoint drawings on metal foil inserted into 35mm slide mounts, the place where photographic transparencies usually appear. Forty of these elaborate, minuscule images depict dense urban scenes in a 24 x 18-inch grid that enables us to zoom above streets, buildings and bridges rendered in silver. The etching on foil mimics embossing, thereby creating a form of sculptural relief. Gold Slides and Silver Slides produce the same effect with paper, but at a substantially larger (4 x 3 feet) scale, utilizing precise cutting and folding, positive and negative space, and a wildly imaginative vocabulary of lines, colors and shapes that make the cramped quarters seem spacious once your eyes adjust.
As transporting as Maggi’s work is, he does better when he sticks to the infinitesimal. Maggi, a Uruguayan, offers two small homages to inspirational figures: the Brazilian 20th-century artist Hélio Oiticica (Complete Coverage of Oiticica), who also was known for small-scale works on paper, and Ellsworth Kelly (Complete Coverage of Ellsworth Kelly), whose trademark geometrical shapes Maggi adopts. Both are paper sculptures set in plexiglass boxes. A wall-mounted sculptural installation titled Putin’s Pencils consists of eleven red pencils with Cyrillic labels and an equal number of strings from bows (i.e., the kind that shoot arrows). The pencils, embedded in the wall, hold the strings, transforming the wall into something that perhaps alludes to a weapon. The work, dated 2014-2022, might have been amusing eight years ago, but today it falls flat given the magnitude of Ukrainian suffering.
Crystalline (left) and Crystalline (right) — floor-mounted plexiglass magnifying discs etched with fractured crystalline shapes – stand as tour-de-force efforts, as does Suspensive Dots, a triptych made of convex mirrors. Where Crystalline uses enlargement to complicate perception, Suspensive
Dots confronts us with etchings of what appear to be architectural constructions seen from a great height and obscured by a snowstorm of markings. The bowled shapes, the reflections they cast and the coalescence of microscopic forms combine to dizzying effect, evidence of a consummately skilled and ambitious approach to problematizing how we see the world.
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Marco Maggi: Tiny Tyrannies @ Hosfelt Gallery through October 15, 2022.\
About the author: Renny Pritikin was the chief curator at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco from 2014 to 2018. Before that, he was the director of the Richard Nelson Gallery at UC Davis and the founding chief curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts beginning in 1992. For 11 years, he was also a senior adjunct professor at California College of the Arts, where he taught in the graduate program in Curatorial Practice. Pritikin has given lecture tours in museums in Japan as a guest of the State Department, and in New Zealand as a Fulbright Scholar, and visited Israel as a Koret Israel Prize winner. The Prelinger Library published his most recent book of poems, Westerns and Dramas, in 2020. He is the United States correspondent for Umbigo magazine in Lisbon, Portugal.