Adrián Villar Rojas. Untitled, from the series Return the World. 2012. Unfired clay, cement, wood, and metal, 78 3/4 x 55 1/8" (200 x 140 cm). Fund for the Twenty-First Century

“I think what language calls an ‘artist’ is a reader of his/her time.”

Adrián Villar Rojas

Adrián Villar Rojas makes fantastical large-scale sculptures that confound one’s sense of time and space. Suggestive of the ruins of ancient civilizations and fossilized artifacts from the prehistoric world, his site-specific arrangements propose a poetic state of being beyond the confines of history.

Villar Rojas creates these installations on-site, often using a mixture of unfired clay and cement. These are modest materials, yet richly evocative: in use for millennia, from the clay tablets of the ancient Babylonians to the cement aggregates used as building materials in the Roman Empire, their resilience provides a material link to ancient history. However, in the hands of Villar Rojas, these otherwise tough materials are not made to last. His sculptures are conceived as ruins from the start, formed to suggest a long history of decay and collapse. Fragments in an apparent state of slow breakdown, they convey precariousness, erosion, and fragility despite their actual solidity and newness.

These objects, with their cracking surfaces and collapsing appearance, confuse our sense of historical position. Villar Rojas often augments this disorientation by incorporating his interest in science fiction and technology: his anachronistic ruins can span the distance from prehistory to imagined futures, their archaeological scope also comprising iPods and spaceships.

The evocative qualities of Villar Rojas’s work are augmented by the poetic sense of language of his titles, such as Return the World (2012), a series created for dOCUMENTA (13). One of the sculptures from the Return the World series is based on a chicken bone he found on the ground. Enlarged to its present scale, the sculpture evokes the form of a tree trunk, this tiny bit of a chicken’s anatomy linked with the expansive natural habitat of some of its flying avian cousins, underscoring Villar Rojas’s ability to create forms of unexpected and bewildering resonance.

The artist destroys the vast majority of his installations after exhibition and culls their elements for re-use, leaving only fragments remaining. He and his team create each new installation using materials accrued and repurposed from previous ones, adding local organic materials that will naturally decay over time. This approach offers subtle commentary on environmental waste and destruction, reflecting Villar Rojas’s stated interest in the Anthropocene era, which ecologists have proposed as the epoch defined by the significant, measurable impact of humans on the Earth. He approaches these ideas from the imagined position of an outside—even extraterrestrial—observer of life on earth, channeling “an alien mind that thinks retrospectively about human culture, the earth, nature, the Anthropocene, mixing them with total horizontality—i.e., without knowing the difference between Christ, an iPhone or a turtle.” For Villar Rojas, “This alien mind is neither making science nor collecting information…. It is just playing with absolute respect and seriousness, as children do.” 1

Note: Opening quote is from Gianluigi Ricuperati, “Adrian Villar Rojas ‘Rinascimento’ at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin,” Mousse Magazine, 2016.

Rebecca Lowery, art historian, 2018

  1. Gianluigi Ricuperati, “Adrian Villar Rojas ‘Rinascimento’ at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin.” Mousse Magazine, 2016.


5 works online



  • Chosen Memories: Contemporary Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift and Beyond Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 128 pages

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