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Hugo Montoya’s minimal assemblages transform found and cheap, store-bought objects into either comical one-liners or existential musings. Those works that are most captivating maintain a tension between their origins and new life as art objects, creating an intriguing open-endedness. With very little intervention on his part, the sculptures created by the Florida-born, Mexico City-based artist in Artificial Imtelligence [sic], Montoya’s current solo show at Big Pictures Los Angeles, could be considered altered readymades: two dirty sneakers joined by a stick (Fuego, all works 2018), or a large piece of wood jutting out of the arm hole of a padded muscle shirt (Never Better).
The hundred year-old history of the readymade certainly influences Montoya’s show, but more relevant here is the work of Mexican artists like Abraham Cruzvillegas, whose constructions reflect an urban type of resourcefulness, recycling detritus into aesthetic objects that don’t lose sight of their initial function. Montoya’s work trends kitschier than Cruzvillegas’, however, prominently featuring bawdy discount market products such as a plastic chestplate of a woman’s torso, transformed into a face with the addition of nose-shaped stone (We Knows); or the novelty ceramic vessels in the shape of womens’ lower halves with erect penises for heads (Venus Penis), which Montoya has stacked like a Brancusian dick joke.
One of the more affecting works is Red to Yellow Kill a Fellow, a striped, serpentine jumble of toy snakes cascading down from menacing-looking hooks. In their knot like composition, no heads are visible, though two tails dangle delicately just above the floor. The work’s title cites a childhood rhyme to identify deadly snakes, adding a narrative aspect that links the toy, the animal, and the abstraction.
Other works are not as compelling, such as My Body is a Cage. A taxidermied rodent ringed by a braided leash, the work is a bit too literal to succeed. Act Like You Know , a crooked stick wrapped in cellophane topped by a rock, falls flat—whether Montoya was aiming for Noguchi-like balance or a commentary on environmental degradation, it appears too easily off-the-cuff. These underwhelming moments aside, Montoya’s idiosyncratic juxtapositions playfully probe the poles of artifice and authenticity, most engagingly in the works that add up to more than the sum of their parts.
Hugo Montoya: Artificial Imtelligence runs from September 1–October 1, 2018 at Big Pictures Los Angeles (2424 West Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90018).