In the spring of 2020, the Menil will present seven newly-created works by Puerto Rico-based, collaborative artistic duo Allora & Calzadilla (Jennifer Allora, b. 1974, and Guillermo Calzadilla b. 1971) for their solo exhibition Specters of Noon. Working at the museum over the course of several years, the artists have studied the Menil’s renowned holdings of Surrealist art and archives as a point of entre for exploring the relationship of Surrealism and the Caribbean.
The new works are inspired by early-20th century Surrealist texts that probe the pre-Christian mythology of noon, the time of day when shadows disappear and delirious visions momentarily reign. As the Surrealist writer Roger Caillois described in 1936, “This is the moment when the sun, at its zenith, divides the day into equal parts, each governed by the opposing signs of rise and decline. This then is the moment when the forces of life and light yield to the powers of death and darkness.”
The exhibition will address conflicting phenomena of light and darkness from the point of view of the sunny Caribbean, a place of paradox rooted in the instability of environmental and colonial politics. Allora & Calzadilla’s dreamlike environment will include light projections, live vocal performance, bat guano, ship engines, and coal. These contradictory materials, surprising sounds, and disconcerting sensations encourage visitors to ponder the social and economic inequities of our increasingly fragile world. The centerpiece of the exhibition, an artwork titled Mains Hum, will be fabricated in 2019 and consists of a Puerto Rican Electrical Authority power transformer damaged during an island-wide blackout, which the artists have partly encased in bright copper. The deep hum of reverberating electricity buried in the relic will serve as a tuning device for a live vocal performance composed by David Lang that will take place throughout the duration of the exhibition.
The relationship of Houston and Puerto Rico, through shared history of energy commerce in the Gulf of Mexico as well as recent climate-related catastrophes, also provides a compelling and timely backdrop for this exhibition.
Allora & Calzadilla: Specters of Noon is curated by Michelle White, Senior Curator.
Major funding for this exhibition is provided by Brad and Leslie Bucher. Additional support comes from Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Cindy and David Fitch; Barbara and Michael Gamson; Janet and Paul Hobby; Caroline Huber; Leslie and Shannon Sasser; Michael Zilkha; and The City of Houston