How does a curator approach such loaded subjects? Is there an impulse to soften the experience for viewers? Brinson says, “No, I think we always want to have the upmost respect for the artist’s vision and the intelligent and thoughtful responses of our visitors. This is work that is uncompromising and implacable in confronting loss and the idea of creating public spaces of mourning. I think that our visitors will embrace that and be deeply moved by the exhibition.”
Yet the impact on the viewer, while sobering, is also one of catharsis, an emotional process that is true to the act of mourning. In the last gallery of Salcedo’s retrospective, viewers find a massive, rippling carpet of red rose petals, A Flor de Piel (2014), which, through the artist’s scientific experiments, have had their process of decomposition interrupted in order to preserve their reddish color. They are locked into a burnt auburn hue and appear to have the rubbery texture of fruit leather or animal hide. The work, a tribute to a nurse who was tortured to death in Colombia, has the connotations of blood or skin, but also of flowers or a blanket of fallen leaves on a forest floor. Its effect is both unsettling and soothing, serving to memorialize the brutal circumstances of one woman’s death and lay her to rest with a sprawling funeral drape of sorts.
The Guggenheim’s exhibition continues the sustained spotlight of the museum (and of the art world at large) on the work of Latin American artists in recent years. “That attention to the region is overdue and essential and we have a number of initiatives here at the Guggenheim, including our collaboration with the UBS, which has focused on the region,” says Brinson. “But in terms of Doris’s work, I see her as an international artist. Of course, at times, her work does engage very closely with the political landscape and legacy of trauma represented in her native country. But I see her work as very universal in its subject matter. It speaks to issues that are urgent in any culture, any country.”