In the final scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Gertude, Queen of Denmark, drinks from a glass of poison that the King intended for her son. Her sudden death prompts a chain reaction at the end of the play. Hamlet stabs the King, then drinks poison himself, taking his own life.
This dramatic conclusion is rightfully famous: Hamlet’s final words, and Horatio’s tribute to his fallen friend (“Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”) are widely referenced in popular culture. But a new group exhibition in Mexico City takes inspiration from another aspect of the same scene. In “[The Queen Falls.
,” curated by Anissa Touati & Marc-Olivier Wahler, nine Mexican and international artists engage with the concept of a game-changing moment—the moment when the Queen falls, when something unexpected happens and a new set of possibilities suddenly opens up.
Take WE ARE POEMS
(2011), a neon installation by Ugo Rondinone
. The Swiss-born, Harlem-based artist is known for repurposing familiar images and clichés in his vibrantly colored sculptures and psychedelic paintings. WE ARE POEMS
is one in a series of playful rainbow-hued sign pieces. Each spells out a popular mantra, but the original sentiment is distorted—and in some cases, even lost entirely—in the whimsical lettering and cartoon-like presentation.
Then there’s 22:30
(2016), an installation by the Argentinian artist Jorge Macchi
. In wax and cotton yarn, Macchi spells out the shape of a digital timestamp—22:30 on a 24-hour clock, or 10:30 p.m on a 12-hour clock. But the waxy numbers seem to be slowly melting into the concrete surface. The numbers aren’t digital at all, we realize, they’re tactile. They’re made by a man, not a machine. The image is confusing and intriguing because it’s at odds with what we usually expect.
The Mexican artist Gabriel Rico presents a similar challenge to the viewer in In Velocidad o Destreza (2015), a sculpture made with an old bicycle tire, a concrete block, and a large stick or branch (actually a foam rod.) Here, Rico’s arrangement of everyday objects is both unusual and precarious—the piece looks like it could tip over at any minute.
The artists featured in “[The Queen Falls.” all explore related questions. How does context change meaning? What is more important, logic or sensory experience? What happens when the Queen falls, when the bicycle tire is detached from the bicycle, when a line of black and white text is rendered instead in neon-lit rainbow letters? The participating artists, like Shakespeare before them, investigate these possibilities—and, by extension, the mysteries of the future, and of life itself.