(originally posted on Redroom in January 2013)
“After leaving your show, I noticed only beauty.”
–comment in the guest book for “Layers of Being” (Estratos del Ser)
One of the highest purposes of art-making – perhaps its most essential – is to inspire viewers to discover the world in a new way. If we are very fortunate, a visit to an art exhibition changes us, allowing us to experience our surroundings with fresh eyes, to reinvent the ordinary, to awaken our awareness of what might otherwise remain invisible.
Ana Thiel’s retrospective show “Layers of Being” (Estratos del Ser), now at the Museo de Arte Querétaro, fulfills this promise and more. Even while standing in the doorway, preparing to enter the Sala, I felt my spirit rise toward its encounter with “Ofrenda” (Offering), as though I were being initiated into something sacred. With its echoes of Stonehenge as well as ancient Greek columns (indeed there is a pure mound of ground marble at the center of the circle), this elegant yet raw composition opened my heart and deepened my breathing.
It’s almost impossible to resist a physical as well as emotional response to Thiel’s stunning work. She herself is so clearly engaged with her materials “at the soul level,” as she explains. As her hands interact with objects found as well as altered, she depicts abstract imagery of wounding and healing, rising and falling, floating and crashing, destruction and reconciliation.
In the video accompanying the show, we are privileged to witness Thiel’s extraordinary relationship with glass – that unique substance displaying the properties of both solid and liquid: like ice, like water, bubbling in fire. In several sequences (filmed during Artist Residencies in Japan and France), Thiel wields a pair of heavy shears and cuts molten glass as it’s poured from a ladle. We watch her performing alchemy. For this artist, fire is a tool of creation, and imperfections are claimed as beauty. Her sculptural language is as innocent as rain pooling on stone, as dangerous as the burning of books.
As Thiel’s vast body of work reveals to us, glass is simultaneously fragile and fierce, luminous and dense, translucent and impenetrable. Her messages are embedded in rust or hidden beneath cracks. Each piece is open to be read, as books must be read, with the eye as well as the heart.
Like Andy Goldsworthy, like Anselm Kiefer – two artists with whom she has been favorably compared – Ana Thiel is reminding us to love the world, no matter how ephemeral or damaged by time. We may feel unsettled or even broken-hearted by her works, but we will most certainly feel transformed by them. I, for one, am infinitely grateful for her gifts.