Alejandro Cardenas: CALYPSO | Almine Rech

Chilean artist Alejandro Cardenas based the works in this exhibition around a story in Homer’s Odyssey. He owes some artistic debts to Rousseau, in his frequent use of lush, verdant backdrops, and to de Chirico in the quietude of his pictorial atmospheres, as well as his perspectival clarity.

Odysseus took seven years out from his… well, odyssey, by having fun with the nymph Calypso on her private island. An extremely kind host, she gave him food (and other sensual pleasures), and even provided the tools to build his boat to escape with when he missed his wife too much to stay. A life of luxury.

Alejandro Cardenas: CALYPSO - installation view

I mention these particulars of the story because there’s something deeply, probably intentionally, luxurious about Cardenas’ works. Despite his faceless, robotic figures, with their birdlike heads and spindly limbs, there’s also more than a suggestion that they’re enjoying sensual pleasures.

Here’s how: the main room features statues of the pair, with the man standing in a power pose, the nymph prone, legs slightly apart. The statues are bronze, on plinths; the poses are sinuous, set off by strips of shinier metal. They look expensive.

The bronze statues are surrounded by large canvases. These paintings are similarly lush and somehow decadent: they show the mysterious, elegant, faceless figures of Odysseus and Calypso partying on her jungly tropical island. Though in some, the figures are closed off in cuboid cell-like rooms, suggesting confinement.

In other words, Cardenas strikes a tasteful balance between cold bronze and hot paint. Between enjoying the company of a hospitable nymph and yearning for the more familiar pleasures of home.

Alejandro Cardenas: CALYPSO is at Almine Rech (Paris). 19 March - 23 April 2022