Reyes Padilla may have hit on something elusive and rare with his new work Ascension at Harwood Art Center. Ascension is an expansive and beautiful piece that covers two parallel walls in the Harwood Art Center’s Main Gallery. It is the largest part of the exhibit Retablo that runs through the end of the month at Harwood and consists of several individual wooden pieces as well as paint that has been applied directly to the walls of the gallery. It will exist there as a completed work until such time as the exhibit closes and then the wall will be painted over to make room for the next exhibit. See it while you can.
Here is the problem for Padilla and every other artist doing this kind of artwork: How do you monetize a site-specific installation in an art museum? A framed painting can be taken off the wall and sold. A sculpture can be boxed up and sent around the world. But murals, earth art, happenings and the like are hard to sell. In most cases, they only exist in a certain time and place and then they are gone forever. But Padilla had a great idea; he is parting out Ascension like an old Buick.
Padilla says that Ascension is his interpretation of a piece of music. He says, “I’m just capturing a single moment with each brush stroke.” He has priced the tangible, removable parts of the piece and he is selling those. He says doing murals that would then be painted over was the inspiration for taking this step. Art buyers now have the opportunity to retain a bit of this work and what is unique is what they get. If the entire artwork in total is an interpretation of a piece of music, the portion they receive is somewhere between a note and a movement. “They could be buying just a second of a song,” says Padilla.
Artists send their work out into the world as complete as they can make it, like a parent on graduation day. For any artwork, once the exhibit is over and the work is in the hands of a buyer, the artist has very little control over what happens. The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright would famously start rearranging the furniture whenever he would walk back into his masterpiece Fallingwater, much to the shock of the homeowners. Rarely is that possible. Then again, nothing is possible once a work has simply been painted over.
“Artwork takes on a life of its own after it’s over,” says Padilla. “That is the nature of it.” Contending with that is part of the creative process that rarely gets much attention. In Ascension we can at least see that some consideration has been taken for the work’s life beyond oblivion.