Spaces of Contemplation: An Interview with Héctor Fuenmayor
The Venezuelan artist discusses the many meanings of his Citrus 6906.
Héctor Fuenmayor, Madeline Murphy Turner
Jul 21, 2021
When it was exhibited for the first time at the Sala Mendoza in Caracas in 1973, Citrus 6906, by Venezuelan artist Héctor Fuenmayor, provoked a scandal: the work could have been made by anyone, since all it entailed was painting the walls of an art gallery in yellow industrial paint. With this work, Fuenmayor challenged both the concept of the unique work of art and that of the artistic genius. Though it was produced almost a decade before the artist began to study and practice Zen Buddhism, Citrus 6906 invited the viewer to delve into a space of contemplation—an experience that generates a multiplicity of meanings.
In this interview, Fuenmayor and I discuss the origins of Citrus
This conversation is part of Thinking Abstraction, a series of interviews with Latin American artists whose work raises questions about the transition between abstraction and the emergence of Conceptual art in the 1960s and 1970s.
This interview has been translated from the original Spanish by Jane Brodie.
Madeline Murphy Turner: Héctor, to start out, could you tell me how you came up with the idea for Citrus 6906?
Héctor Fuenmayor: In the late 1960s and early ’70s, I was producing silkscreen monotypes with a distinct Abstract Expressionist influence.
The color planes—four at most—were squeezed down in a natural and gradual honing process that led to monochromes. I went from sheets of paper measuring 70 × 50 centimeters (27 1/2 × 19 2/3 inches) to canvases measuring 2 × 1.50 meters (78 3/4 × 59 inches), on which I painted vertical monochrome stripes with white margins on the sides. The color was identified in the upper right margin by its numerical code.
At that time, Eugenio Espinoza was working in my studio, and it was through him that I met Lourdes Blanco, the director of the Sala Mendoza. She visited Eugenio at my studio a number of times to organize a solo show of his. That was how she came to see what I was working on.
Not long before the opening, if I remember correctly, Eugenio asked me if I would be interested in using half of the gallery space to show my paintings. I said I would, but shortly thereafter he decided not to participate in the exhibition at all, so now it was mine alone. Though I didn’t have enough time to make the canvases needed for an entire show—nor was I interested in excessively repeating the artistic gesture just to fulfill an agreement for an individual exhibition—I accepted the challenge, somewhat aghast.
That was how I got the idea of reproducing one of my paintings on the scale of a mural, covering the entire surface of the gallery’s walls and sticking the color’s industrial identification on a small label in the middle of each wall in a crowning gesture that laid out the mural’s conceptual basis.
From left: Two shots taken during installation of Amarillo Sol K7YV68 at Sala Mendoza, Caracas, 1973, and a photo from the opening of the installation. Courtesy the artist
What was the reaction to an exhibition that consisted, basically, of a space painted entirely in yellow with the name of the color used?
Behind the scenes, the exhibition was a scandal. The women who co-coordinated events at the Sala Mendoza were already uncomfortable with the incomprehensible, in their view, profile that the institution was taking under Lourdes Blanco. Exhibiting artists like Espinoza, Claudio Perna, Roberto Obregón, and others, and now an installation that just consisted of painting the walls yellow—it was all beyond their grasp. The mural, titled Amarillo Sol K7YV68 at the time, was the last straw, and Lourdes Blanco—a brave pioneer in avant-garde curating in Venezuela—was dismissed from the Sala Mendoza.
As you said, you originally called the work Amarillo Sol K7YV68 after the name of the commercial paint you used. Later, when Sherwin Williams changed the name of that yellow tint, you also changed the title of your work. Can you explain the role of industrial materials and the question of consumerism in this work?
When I was conceiving the idea of the work, its discursive universe was unclear to me. However, over time, the serial identification of the paint became paramount. That’s why when, 40 years later, I made the mural again, the use of the color’s new name in the Sherwin Williams catalog was indispensable.
The decision to choose an industrial yellow produced by a company with a logo of a paint can spilling onto the globe was not a conscious one. When a work of art is taking shape, not much is perceived clearly. The process takes place somewhere beyond reach, and you just have to trust it so that the work’s structure can form. What on the surface might have seemed tied to the production and consumption mechanisms prevalent at that time was, ultimately, a strategy for spiritual order. The spiritual is a recurring transhistorical phenomenon—it is copious in the human narrative. Even in the present era of postmodernism/the banalization of everything, radical creators like Joseph Beuys were still the echo of that force in the human psyche as his discourse rests, in a sense, on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner.
That was how, in the work’s constellation of ideas, the element of numeric identification—
I had no intention of linking the installation to a specifically Venezuelan context. If such a tie did exist, it was subconscious and came from opposition to the formalism prevalent in Venezuela at the time in kinetic art and abstraction. Like those artists, we inherited the modern/apocalyptic habit of demolition—in our case, to do away with their complacency as icons of the democratic state and the model of the nation. The opposition was not programmatic; it was just in the air. And it was personified by everyone who formulated and pursued aesthetics using the gates that had been opened up by Conceptualism.
Héctor Fuenmayor. Citrus 6906. 1973/2014
In the show La invención concreta at the Museo Reina Sofía in 2013, Citrus 6906 acted as a sort of coda to the development of geometric abstraction in Latin America. Do you consider Citrus 6906 a work of Conceptual art? A monochrome? A readymade?
In my case, the predominance of the idea and the discourses assigned to Conceptualism is at odds with my take on meditation, where thought is the basis for attachment to the notion of the self as a stable entity. Conceptualism is the groundwork of my practice, but my work does not fit seamlessly into all of its orthodoxies. From that discursive perspective, the labels in Citrus 6906 declare thought the last frontier of objectuality. Thinking, meditating, and contemplating entail a subject that exercises the intellectual faculties. Conceptualism corners the object, pushes it into its last holdout—thought—but continues to grasp onto thought in a manner both subtle and decisive. Since the modernist rupture, and even through its present liquefaction, no artist in the West has been able to operate outside that grasp, to be free of it.
The aim of meditation is the destruction of meditation, and that ontological domain in ex
Citrus 6906 is the silver lining between form and emptiness, and because I was not a witness to the collapse of the substantiality of that entity—the self
What are the relationships and connections between the tradition of abstraction and the emergence of Conceptual practices in Venezuela?
There was no relationship between abstraction and Conceptualism in Venezuela in the early 1970s. The relationship between them took shape as a break with that tradition, sensu stricto, through the work of three artists: Antonieta Sosa, with her geometric structures turned into chair-sculptures, one of which was publicly burned (in the context of art and politics); Eugenio Espinoza, with his satires of kinetic geometry that later, with his Impenetrable, invaded the domain of installation; and me, in a honing of Abstract Expressionism that ultimately took me to the realm of installation, where the space itself is rendered as an art object, locating it in a non-conceptual realm with the installation today called Citrus 6906.
This is how the relationship between abstract art and Conceptualism in Venezuela was that of a discontinuity, a leap outside the dominant aesthetic, an emblem of the political/cultural establishment.
 Fuenmayor later moved into studying Hindu tantra, and more recently into the Diamond Way Buddhism of Tibetan transmission.
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