Latinamerican Art

Leandro Erlich (born 1973 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, lives and works between Europe, Montevideo and Buenos Aires)

What in the world of art could be better and more refreshing than an artist who says of himself that he wants to provoke and present new aspects, and who has set himself the goal «to break through and expand horizons»? 

Art in the eye of the beholder

Leandro Erlich’s works happen in the eyes of the observer and require all receptive faculties to unfold and, ultimately, to expand. The artist is constantly blurring the limits between the apparent and the real, between reality and illusion. For this purpose, he avails himself of the trompe-l’oeil effect, an ancient formula in the visual arts employed to confuse our sensory perception. According to the Wikipedia entry, trompe-l’oeil (French for «deceive the eye»), is «a painting technique, which deceives our senses by playing with the architecture surrounding us, with perspective, with shades and other optical effects to create the delusion of a different reality.» 

Is it real? Is it illusion?

The Swimming Pool, Courtesy: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan

In his works, which freely oscillate between reality and illusion, Leandro Erlich frequently achieves spectacular surprise effects producing as primary reaction blatant amazement, similar to the effect of fairground attractions, but occasionally his works also create a certain bewilderment. Sometimes they even come across as slightly sinister, similar to the puzzling and perplexing effects Maurits Cornelis Escher’s images of endless loops take on us. Erlich’s works of course also carry a sense of subversion, which tends to become evident in the ambience of ambiguity and absurdity. Ultimately, Leandro Erlich’s installations turn against an overhasty determination of the function and meaning of the objects surrounding us—by thoroughly confusing our senses and making us reflect upon what is reality and what illusion. 

Illusions are actually ideals, chimeras, or self-deceptions. Applying a sort of survival strategy, we contrast them as antitheses with so-called reality, in order to have something «reliable» to hold on to… But is art not pure illusion anyway? Or is art rather real, after all, perhaps more real than so-called reality? And what is reality in the first place: perhaps merely an illusion? Leandro Erlich leads us straight into the vicious circle!

A whiff of magic, surprise, and politics…

Mirrors play an important role in Erlich’s works, together with all the optical and psychological effects they hold in store. We almost inevitably arrive at the sphere of reflection, at the quest for identity and for the double, at the question of surfacing and disappearing. We are pulled deeper into the maelstrom of the world of circus, magicians, and tricks. On the other side, we encounter Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, which is very popular in Argentina, and, of course, the ingenious Jorge Luis Borges and his labyrinths and paradoxes. And in the midst of all of this, there is the friendly and beaming circus director Leandro Erlich, wielding his baton and surprising and delighting the astounded audience with ever new acts from his broad repertoire.

To me, one of his most beautiful works is «The Swimming Pool» (1999), where people stay under water apparently without needing to breathe…

Changing Rooms, 2017, MORI Art Museum, Tokio, Japan, Courtesy: Hasegawa Kenta

Or the «Changing Rooms» (2008): a confusing labyrinth of small, identical changing rooms presenting a distorting game of mirrors and presumed walls, with the result that we as observers are utterly lost and no longer find our way out…

Then there is «The Democracy of the Symbol», created in connection with his 2015 exhibition at the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires). For this intervention, Erlich pretended to have the tip of the Obelisco removed, of the Buenos Airian landmark on the central boulevard Avenida 9 de Julio, and then installed in front of the museum to be accessed by the public…

La democracia del símbolo, 2015, MALBA, Buenos Aires, Courtesy: Guyot

All of these actions, as straight forward and easily comprehensible as they seem, are in fact highly complex in terms of logistics and very accurately and elaborately thought out in terms of aesthetics. They moreover convey a deeply significant political, social, and philosophical content, which only gradually unfurls upon close observation and involvement.

Of decisive importance is the fact that Leandro always reveals the key for his magic tricks to the observer: For it is precisely the moment when my perception is revealed as being deceptive that I begin to comprehend the deception and become capable of accordingly appreciating it.

I would like to sum it up with the words of my Argentinian colleague Rodrigo Alonso (in: Ways of Creating Worlds, 2014): 

«Defying gravity, inverting spaces, deceiving the eye, transforming the spectator into a voyeur, forcing perspectives, manipulating duplicity, instrumenting special effects, motivating curiosity, turning the spectator into an actor, expanding spaces, opening windows to alternative realities, reinterpreting the everyday, suspending the definitions of true and false, constructing realism, provoking identification, strengthening the incredible.»


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