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Pablo Helguera
Arizona State University--Brickyard Gallery (Tempe) and Combine Studios (Phoenix)
Recommendation by Deborah Ross

Pablo Helguera, "Librería Donceles" (detail), 2013, installation with books, works on paper, sound. Image courtesy of the artist and Kent Fine Art.

Continuing through June 21 (Brickyard) and June 29 (Combine), 2014

The Mexico-born and New York-based artist Pablo Helguera is probably best known for his ambitious conceptual project “The School of Panamerican Unrest,” for which he organized a schoolhouse on wheels to drive the entire 20,000 miles of the Pan-American Highway. He reveals more of this aesthetic breadth — participatory, socially engaged and gently witty — with two concurrent ASU-mounted exhibitions.

The first is “Librería ‘Donceles,’” an installation first seen at Kent Fine Art in New York. Here the artist has created an itinerant bookstore, now transplanted to a downtown Phoenix gallery. It radiates a certain warmth with its narrow aisles and informal shelving, along with its attention to detail — from oddball bookends to antique lamps to hand-written section labels like “Novela,” “Feminismo” and “Historia.” More than 12,000 used Spanish-language books from all eras are on display and available for a small donation.

The second exhibition — at the brand-new ASU venue the Brickyard — is “Chrestomathy,” a term for the use of literary excerpts to aid language acquisition. The main installation is “Rogaland,” in which Helguera has created an array of 63 digital images based on an old Norwegian-language book about an archaeological dig. Each framed page bears intentional mistranslations of the original, producing both humorous and esoteric results. For instance, a page cataloging primitive implements offers the caption “Isolated truths 1.”  A diagram of rock barriers is labeled “Plan over the hidden intentions of honorable crimes.”

As different as the two shows are, both shed light on Helguera’s wide-ranging interests, not the least of which is the stuff that civilizes us — art, literature and history.

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