Stones as Remembrance: A Dark and Scandalous Rockfall Reviewed

By Elsabé Johnson Dixon on January 30, 2018
Perla Krauze, mixed media installation (2017). Photo courtesy of Perla Krauze

 A Dark and Scandalous Rockfall, Una oscura y escandalosa caída de piedras is on view through May 5, 2018 at the Mexican Cultural Institute (MCI). Two artists, Perla Krauze from Mexico and DC artist Barbara Liotta, as well as independent curator Laura Roulet, have spent the last two weeks installing the show.  This exhibit encompasses a subtle narrative embedded in stone and string, offering a cross-cultural dialogue. This conversation continues the cross-cultural sharing that occurred in the early 20th century when Mexican and US artists, studying in Paris, relocated to New York City.[1]

The space in which this site specific  exhibition has been installed is intended to provide a powerful backdrop for the work.  A Dark and Scandalous Rockfall, is set against  historical precedent and the stone and string compositions of the current exhibition offer a contemporary visual conversation with the past, the present and the future. Murals by Mexican artist Roberto Cueva del Rio create a powerful setting that offer additional cultural conversations.

“Given the current state of United States-Mexican relations, this exhibition presents a reflective stance that recognizes a shared history,” says Roulet, who took the title from a phrase in the poem Dry Rain by Mexican poet Pedro Serrano. The artists, Perla Krauze who was born in Mexico City and Barbara Liotta who grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, met in February of 2017, many months before the current exhibition would come to fruition. While visiting a friend, Liotta had stopped in Peubla, Mexico where a large Jewish-Mexican contingency congregates every year. The two artists and Alejandra de La Paz, former Director of the MCI started a conversation in Peubla about “stones as remembrance,” around the dinner table. This initial conversation was completed in the form of a large collaborative installation this past week with the support of the current director Alberto Fierro Garza who valued the message of cooperation. To build the main collaborative installation, the artists used locally sourced stone  from the same quarries in Potomac Maryland where artist Andy Goldworthy harvested slate for his installation at the National Gallery called Roof (2005), and the site specific Clay Houses he built for the Glenstone Foundation in Maryland.[2] Although this collaboration using locally quarried slate runs the length of three gallery spaces and forms the central element of the exhibition, curator Laura Roulet stated that she wanted to also give each artist the opportunity have their “individual voice” heard.

Perla Krauze pre-selected stones which have a particular geological and cultural provenance then arranged them in Wunderkasten, or Cabinets of Curiosities, using minimalist compositional elements against a slightly tinted earth-orange wall. Present in her spacious square wood frames are carefully selected black lava rock in textures of different densities. Krauze has long been intimate with these particular obsidian formations and recalls an early childhood memory of walking on lava rock while living in Mexico City as a young girl. She also collects obsidian when she travels at least once a year, to the Four Corners of the American West the quadripoint where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. Krauze often documents where and when she finds a particular stone, a practice she has applied since her student days studying archeology. “Stones have meaning,” she states. From prehistoric rituals of using stone to grind corn, or to render architectural elements, as well as remembering the dead by placing stones on grave sites, we continue to relate to this primal material, even in the digital age. Among Krauze’s “found” stones and disregarded stone remnants, which she gives a new life, are small luminous gems in glowing translucent yellow and light blue resin. The artist is quick to confess that she also casts stones in contemporary materials to conjure up meaning through a painter’s emotional palette. Interspersed with the rock scenes in her frames are also stretched frottage or rubbed monochromatic canvasses capturing the “cutting history” of quarry stones and recorded man-made marks of past actions with graphite and the slight sparkle of rabbit glue.

Barbara Liotta, Chorus (2011), marble and cord. 10′ x 5′ x 3′. Photo credit: Greg Staley

Sculptor Barbara Liotta approaches her work from a more metaphorical context. Both artists investigate the dualities of the ephemeral and the permanent, the natural versus the artificial. But, Liotta concentrates on creating a metaphor for holding or suspending from strings with knots, parts of bright white Carrara marble against a deep purple-blue wall.  Celestial phenomena such as meteor showers and falling stars come to mind, or music chords, and even the warp of a weaving loom. Liotta’s background is that of a painter and her sculptural installations of string grew out of previous canvasses that she once ripped and used as cord to hold sticks that were gifted to her by a harpsichord maker and stones she found in riverbeds. She expresses a keen interest not just in the objects but also the trajectory of space in-between the hanging stones held and knotted by string. “The sense of air is important,” states Liotta, “as is the idea of overcoming gravity and base elements.” The hanging stones knotted with string in Barbara Liotta’s work bear a strange resemblance to Peruvian Inca Khipu knots.[3]  These ancient South American devices used combinations of knots to represent numbers, letters and encoded history.

Barbara Liotta and Perla Krauze share a Jewish heritage and are both close in age. They were influenced by many of the same post World War II artists such as Robert Smithson, Donald Judd and in particular Richard Long’s work that involved transporting stone from one place to another. Perla Krauze’s work focuses on the elements of time and curatorial selection of material histories while Barbara Liotta offers a discussion on the physical elements and processes present in the work. Their central collaboration, which is a stacked local slate installation running through three galleries, becomes a pedestrian space that gives viewers different vantage points as they enter, traverse and explore the work physically. Using the primal material of stone, these artists enter into a universal conversation with a local sensibility, while on a personal level engaging in contemporary conversations between Mexico and the United States.




A Dark and Scandalous Rockfall, Una oscura y escandalosa caída de piedras opened at the Mexican Cultural Institute on January 25, 2018 at 6:45pm and will remain on view through May 5, 2018. More information about the Mexican Cultural Institute’s programming can be found online at