Estephania Puerta Featured in Artforum
July 01, 2023 03:45 PM

Jeanne Gerrity wrote on Estephania Puerta's exhibition Tragada at the gallery's Chinatown location for Artforum's summer 2023 critic's picks.


The range of idiosyncratic materials that comprise Estefania Puerta’s sculptures emphasize unexpected connections between linguistic expression, biomorphic forms, and antiquity. In the diptych Luz/Helena (all works 2023), aluminum leaf covers two raised spirals that mirror each other. Symmetry is omnipresent in nature (the shapes here resemble snails or seashells), but it is also venerated by many Indigenous cultures, such as the ancient Andeans. Puerta also incorporates a subtle nod to her birthplace—the mountains of Colombia—with volcanic rocks from El Nevado del Ruiz, which, along with mugwort, are nestled into a pair of insets and visible through stained glass. These natural elements carry spiritual and medicinal properties, respectively. Embedded here in reliquary-like containers, they are rendered precious, enigmatic.

Bodily references, particularly to female anatomy, show up in several works. In Soltera (Unmarried Woman), two foam teardrop shapes resemble ovaries, while quail eggs, plant matter, and locks of the artist’s hair are displayed in small capsules. Both clutching the object’s edges and winding throughout the composition are slender silver fingers with long black nails. Are they beckoning the viewer closer, or issuing a warning to keep one’s distance?

Like a thorn piercing through a tough skin that doesn’t know if it is open or broken wavers between looking like a welcoming embrace and a mutant Venus flytrap. Small photographs of the artist’s lips mid-speech are affixed to roughhewn slate- and periwinkle-colored appendages that reach out from the central armature. The images of Puerta’s frozen mouth convey both urgency and futility, which may speak to the artist’s challenges of being heard as a US immigrant and a woman but are ultimately ambiguous and multivocal. Physically compact yet conceptually expansive, this work, like the rest of the exhibition, is at once enthralling and uncanny.

— Jeanne Gerrity

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