"El Coleccionista” at Sicardi Gallery Is the Antidote to a Stressful Day

Experience a range of emotions while viewing “El Coleccionista” (“The Collector”), the new video installation by Colombian artist Óscar Muñoz at Sicardi Gallery, including a sense of calm, intrusiveness, surprise, wonder and even a fleeting moment of panic.

There's only one work in the show, a 52-minute looped video projection in a darkened room downstairs. A viewer's first reaction is to notice a long row of white or ivory small picture frames against a black wall. Many are blank, while others have photographs of people known and unknown, including celebrities (isn't that Yul Brynner?), mugshots, details from famous paintings, snapshots and formal portraits.

Second reaction is to discover the ghostly image of a man, his back to us, placing, removing and replacing photographs with a subtle click or swoosh sound. He moves purposely and slowly down the row, back and forth, until the viewer finds him/herself following along, almost as a voyeur, unable to break the meditative trance of the man's never-ending project.

Here, a homely face is replaced by a more handsome visage. The collector pauses to plan his next move, sometimes changing his mind, then continues working on the project as we wonder: Was that man beaten, are those little girls twins, is this the last residual memory of the deceased and – as a little art history brainteaser – exactly which painting is that scene from again?

Closer inspection reveals a small ledge on the wall, and the picture frames are actually small sheets of paper, perfectly positioned and overlapping, and the meta-genius of the 5HD synchronized video projections is finally revealed. On the floor are a few slips of paper, perhaps dislodged by the faint breeze of visitors, adding to the dimensionality of the installation.

He disappears at one point, causing a small bit of anxiety, as if awakened from a hypnotic state, but then he returns and all is good again. The entire experience is calming and soothing, and looks like the perfect antidote to a stressful day.

In this work, Muñoz is referencing memory and facial recognition, with less of a political message than in his contributions to the recent Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's “Contingent Beauty: Contemporary Art from Latin America” exhibit; those works referenced victims of violence and the desaparecidos (disappeared). In that exhibit, which closed in February, Muñoz’s tabletop video projection, Editor Solitario, showed a ghostly arm lifting and placing photographs of those who died under violent circumstances interspersed with figures from popular culture who died too young. Also in that exhibit, his Pixeles involved a series of portraits composed of coffee-stained sugar cubes to produce the grainy apparitions similar to those found in faded news clippings.

While not part of this exhibit, the upstairs gallery space contains works by several contemporary Latin American artists, many of whom also are in collections at MFAH.

“El Coleccionista” continues through July 9 at Sicardi Gallery, 1506 West Alabama, open Tuesdays to Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 713-529-1313, sicardi.com. Free. 

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