Pequod Co. is proud to present Éminence Grise by Joaquín Segura (Mexico City, 1980), his first solo show at the gallery.
The exhibition is comprised by a new group of paintings based in covers of Segura's collection of books that have served as philosophical and historical foundations for collapsed political systems around the world.
In addition to these large-format works, Éminence Grise includes a drawing evoking transcripts and copies of government-redacted documents that constantly emerge in the media, which contain truncated information about violent conflicts and social uprisings.
In Andrea Karnes’s words (Chief Curator of The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas):
For two decades now, Joaquín Segura has amassed over a thousand printed materials relating to totalitarian regimes, political terror, and far-right/left factions of mainstream politics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This informal archive includes academic writings, poetry, propaganda, and manifestos, and it provides a material and conceptual framework for Segura’s artistic practice. Focusing on power, how information is distorted and presented within society, and the influence and hidden work of global superpowers are overarching themes for the artist, whose interests stretch to high-conflict areas in all corners of the world. Politics in Mexico, where it is difficult at times to understand who holds more power—the government, cartels, or the United States—is also a key recurrent theme. The works on-view in Éminence Grise specifically address covert political actions in Mexico and beyond and point to ideological failures. The title, taken from the French term meaning ‘gray eminence,’ describes the secret presence of powerful decision-makers operating in non-official capacities.
At the center of Éminence Grise are five paintings from the ongoing series of the same name, begun in 2019. This body of work, which depicts redacted versions of book covers from Segura's collection, has remained largely unseen. Each canvas is titled after the volume it references. The five sourcebooks, which outline various twentieth-century wartime methodologies and reveal behind-the-scenes advisors and secret political maneuvers, are included within the exhibition, providing a physical context. Displayed open, the cover of each book is obscured. Segura’s inclusion of the books connects the importance of printed matter to how we have historically received political information. The amount of information he presents, like the shadowy details the sourcebooks uncover, is tempered. In the paintings, the book covers are free from text, leaving as the subject matter only the colors, abstract shapes, and tattered edges of the original object. In showing signs of use but obscuring the book titles (and therefore any clues of subject matter), each work becomes a metaphor for power and the value of public information. This dichotomy of invisibility and impact is a recurrent theme in Segura’s works.
The sourcebook for Arms and Politics in Latin America, 2022, details the role of military violence in Latin America in the mid-twentieth century, and military leaders’ mirroring of US tactics. In the painting, a black-outlined cream square overlaps a pink square. Large-scale and lacking text, Arms, like the four other paintings in this exhibition, recalls Latin American Geometric Abstraction, as well as abstract movements of the 1960s in the US and Europe. While the paintings’ rigid formalism visually refers to these currents in Modernism and Segura’s removal of narrative aligns with these movements’ dispassionate approaches, the younger artist subverts its main tenets. His reductive approach is counterbalanced with his inclusion of the source materials, imbuing his works with a nuanced political narrative. The political content is suppressed, but it is there.
Segura’s bullet works feature wall drawings made using the projectile of ammunition cartridges that are displayed on nearby pedestals. Just as the paintings reference and subvert the tenets of Modernist Abstraction, the bullet works allude to Minimalism even as they undermine the movement's main doctrine of form over content. Here, the works' minimalist style is combined with a stark reminder of the climate of violence that exists in many parts of Mexico. The types of bullets—.38 Specials and .223 caliber rifle shells—correlate to the military and the cartels, respectively. The drawings symbolize botched attempts by the government to intimidate powerful drug traffickers. Faintly executed, as they undulate around the walls and behind other works in the exhibition, the bullet markings almost recede into the background. Omnipresent but also seeming to disappear, these friction traces imply a desire to fade violence and corruption from view.
Radicality and the polar extremes within politics, whether from governments to dissidents, is also of interest to Segura, and this is apparent in his Gobelin from 2007, Untitled, (Nitro-glycerine). This work exemplifies another of the artist’s conceptual mainstays: politics and a relationship to materiality. The tapestry’s recipe for nitroglycerine comes from survivalist Kurt Saxon’s concept of returning power to “ordinary citizens” via homemade weapons. The refined technique of the tapestry recalls the high period of French decorative arts among the aristocracy, while creating a tension between the luxurious material and the chemical recipe it discloses. “I think propaganda and radical literature have undergone a process of commodification themselves,” Segura explains, “and this cognitive dissonance between the fine tapestry and its content is what gives the work its presence.”
Éminence Grise challenges us to question what is visible and invisible throughout the spectrum of politics and history. Segura presents the possibilities of important information, seen and unseen, and its effects across time. While the questions in his work are raised, they remain complex and unsolved.