Born in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1958, Doris Salcedo initially trained as a painter and briefly pursued an interest in theater before turning to sculpture in the 1980s. In 1984 she received a master of fine arts from New York University. Her discovery of the work of Joseph Beuys while she was in New York, together with her experience of being a foreigner there, informed her interest in the political dimension of sculpture: “Encountering his work revealed to me the concept of ‘social sculpture,’ the possibility of giving form to society through art,” she has said. After graduating, she returned to Bogotá to teach sculpture and art theory at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia until the late 1980s. The political instability she encountered upon her return led her to engage in projects that evoked the daily repercussions of the violence that was taking place.
Untitled (2008) is part of an ongoing series begun in 1989, Salcedo’s most extensive series of sculptures to date, in which assembled components, including pieces of domestic furniture, are used as a vehicle to explore the dramatic political history of Colombia. As in other series by the artist, including La casa viuda (1992–95), wooden furniture is used here to evoke the human body by its very absence. “All the works I’ve made so far contain first-hand evidence from a real victim of war in Colombia,” the artist has said. The series features groups of tables and wardrobes weathered by years of use, reassembled in hybrid forms, their empty spaces and partial surfaces covered in concrete. Through their material qualities, the new forms function as silent witnesses to implied personal and collective narratives.
Salcedo sometimes presents her sculptures in tight-fitting groups, as in her installations at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh in 1995 and at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool during the Liverpool Biennial in 1999. In doing so, she emphasizes the formal and material associations between different pieces, analogous to the relationships that exist between individuals within a group. Her sculptures also function autonomously, however. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao’s Untitled evokes both the political condition of a specific place—Colombia—and universal expressions of individuality, memory, and oblivion. Within the museum’s collection, Untitled contributes to the spectrum of representative examples of the numerous paths that sculpture and installation art have taken since the early 1990s. Salcedo is the first Latin American artist to be represented in the collection.
1. “Interview: Carlos Basualdo in Conversation with Doris Salcedo,” in Doris Salcedo (London: Phaidon, 2000), p. 10.
2. Ibid., p. 14.