This captivating group exhibition takes its cue from Antoine Lavoisier’s famous maxim: “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.” His Elementary Treatise of Chemistry (1789) is credited with ushering in the dawn of modern chemistry, which sought to distance itself from the magical thinking of alchemy. And yet, far from forsaken, alchemical and occult symbols permeate the show. Fittingly placed at its outset, Surrealist Victor Brauner’s 1940 Étude pour “La Naissance de la matière” (Study for “The Birth of Matter”) features a beguiling blue-and-pink Rebis, whose androgynous body, complete with a wolf’s head and a snake wound around its waist, brings together opposing qualities and the four natural elements.
Science and magic go hand in hand in this exhibition, which mixes different periods and trends in modern and contemporary art—from Surrealism and Dada to Arte Povera and Land Art to pieces created last year by Tania Pérez Córdova, Namsal Siedlecki, and Alessandro Biggio. The works are divided up into four sections according to their affinity with one of the elements and its corresponding state: air/gaseous, earth/solid, fire/plasmatic, and water/liquid. While this conceit is appropriate for some of the artists and pieces included (Roni Horn, given her abiding preoccupation with liquidity, or Gordon Matta-Clark’s Super 8 film Fire Child, 1971), others are less easily pinned down. Ana Mendieta’s Volcán, 1979—in which the artist used her own body to imprint a female silhouette near the edge of a lake, exploded the ephemeral earthwork with gunpowder, and documented the smoky remains of the blast—could have been displayed in any one of the sections, whereas Yves Klein’s works are rightly featured in all four. Spread throughout the show, tantalizing traces of the latter’s wild experiments with a range of materials and techniques speak of an artist-alchemist adept at channeling wind, fire, and even gold as agents of cocreation.