Substantial, Compelling Paintings by Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina
by Rimas Uzgiris
The two-woman show by Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina at the Argentine Consulate presents two contemporary Argentine painters whose work is deeply rooted in Argentina’s urban culture, albeit in entirely different ways.
Andrea Cukier, now a resident of New York City but raised and trained as an artist in Buenos Aires, is a painter of suggestive atmospheres. She paints light through mist, humid air, harbors and dilapidated shorelines. She takes inspiration from the painters of La Escuela de La Boca, a group of mostly Italian immigrants to Buenos Aires who often depicted sections of their working-class neighborhoods, including the nearby waterfront. Cukier’s “Broken Passage” is a masterful portrayal of a shattered, chaotic shoreline. The sense of mist and moisture pervades both sky and water so thoroughly that it is hard to see where one ends and the other begins. All things seem to be dissolving into the elements of earth, air and water. The painting is almost wholly abstract. And even though, on the one hand, entropy seems to dominate, on the other hand, there is a tremendous sensitivity to light, which suffuses the clouds and mist and water with a glow that feels almost redemptive, albeit earthy. Other works, notably “Late Storm” and “Evening Light”, may be more representational, but are equally intriguing, depicting the play of clouds, smoke and light in canvasses dominated by sky. Human civilization is suggested with no more than the rooftops of city buildings, barbed wire, and churning black smoke. There is always a threat looming in these subtly dramatic paintings, but there is hope as well—whether in the form of light, or in a fleck of black paint like a bird fleeing the looming darkness. One cannot look at her paintings without being entranced by the complex interplay of grays, whites and blacks. One might say that in her work we have the late Turner in 21st century New York City by way of an urban sensitivity cultivated in La Boca.
On the opposite side of this warm, wood-paneled room hangs the work of Florencia Fraschina, a painter based in Buenos Aires. Fraschina draws her inspiration from entirely different sources. If Cukier reminds us of Turner by way of La Boca, Fraschina’s work brings us the spirit of Hopper by way of Kahlo. Her paintings are a symphony of saturated colors, populated by voluptuous women, often in various states of undress. Like so many paintings by Hopper, they suggest stories. The depicted characters express complex emotional states, and their situations are often enigmatic, sometimes even sordid. The exceptional “El Descanso” depicts a man and a woman in a tub. The woman is enormous, and the man thin and frail. He nestles inside of her legs and breasts, smoking a cigarette, looking up at the ceiling. Is he satisfied, or a bit intimidated—even a bit scared? Is her expression motherly? Or is there the hint of a smirk? Fraschina does not give us easy answers about her characters’ inner lives. Their charm is in their mystery. The paintings shimmer with color—extraordinary blues, bright pink, serene green. One especially harmonious piece is “La Costurera”: a woman, also large, but fully clothed, sews. Her expression is calm and focused, a bit sad as well. The painting is a symphony of blue, yellow, and red, and it is peaceful in its domestic melancholy. Similarly domestic, and quite poignant, is “Almorzando con Mirta”, named after a popular Argentine TV program. An old woman, dressed in black (a nun?) sits at a table, eating (soup? gruel?) from a bowl. She faces a television whose screen shows a young woman with golden hair. In the otherwise drab apartment, the only other color highlight comes from the halo in the painting above the mantle—thereby uniting the old, kitschy painting with the modern television program in a provocative way. Other details also draw us in to this woman, her story, her emotional life: a pair of elephant figurines, a wedding couple statuette. Fraschina makes us yearn for the human, for the true connection to the other, even as she problematizes our ways of relating to self and other through her depiction of pop culture and religious symbols. It is rare to see such social commentary come through a painting so subtly, and with so much feeling for the simple and solitary human life.
This show is a reminder that profound and emotionally gripping art is still being made in an age of shallow postmodernism, and it is being made with talent, craft, subtle intelligence, and a connection to history that is both revealing and progressive.
Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina: Paintings are on display at the Consulate General of Argentina in New York, 12 W 56th St. (5th/6th Aves.) through April 10.
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