Selected works by Alejandra Prieto

Alejandra Prieto
Coal Mirror



300 x 185 x 15 cm

Paradox traverses Alejandra Prieto’s objects and installations like an uncomfortable feeling pregnant with pleasure. Her investigation into the historical lineage of objects coupled with the choice of coal as the material for the elaboration of highly polished realistic sculptures is provocative. Dark and reflective, her functional icons of high design, fashion and furniture sculpted in coal propose a multitude of interpretations that obscure the simple delight of their contemplation.
They recall the role of such humble but fundamental material in the history of industrialization – and by addition in the development of the modern era. Matching extremely skilled craftsmanship and sophistication with the rawest and dirtiest of substances, the process of making precious works of art that in turn replicate high end objects of desire signals another paradox: diamonds – one of the worlds priciest commodities – are just pressed coal under the forces of gravity and time. Furthermore the artist integrates her ambivalence towards the value system that governs consumer society in the choice of objects to be replicated in coal. A Tizio lamp or a chaise longue by Le Corbusier turn the intrinsic nature of such collectors’ fetishes into pure contradiction: coal as an energy source was at the base of an economy sustained by hard working conditions. The coal extracted from Chilean mines, an industry in disappearance while been replaced by other energy sourcing, sees its value reinstated in Prieto’s work.
Additionally, the reflectivity of her black concave mirrors and wall-based panels brings to mind the use of dark minerals – obsidian and hematite – in the production of mirrors by the Olmec, one of the oldest original people of the Americas.

Text © Gabriela Salgado



ISCP resident Alejandra Prieto will open her first solo show in New York with CCU and Y Gallery, Invisible Dust, curated by Cecilia Jurado. Within her artistic practice, Prieto is dedicated to exploring ideas regarding the status of the object, its conditions of production, functionality and expository modes in the contemporary art world. Her recent coal-based works reflect on the invisible and visible mechanisms and modes of representation in contemporary spaces. She establishes and makes visible the relationships between the sophistication of design and the unskilled labor required for reproduction, and between subjective modes of market entry and purely aesthetic objects.


April 2012, by Greg Lindquist, The Brooklyn Trail

For her debut North American solo exhibition, in a sub-basement space at Y Gallery, Chilean artist Alejandra Prieto recasts coal as an aesthetic object. Prieto obsessively transforms this material’s coarse appearance into a polished mirror, silk tapestries, and a projection screen. No longer dust and dirt, this combustible sedimentary rock is repurposed as a signifier of socioeconomic labor, environmental peril, and luxury commodity.
Displayed on unspoiled gallery walls, Prieto has concealed the sullied and fanatical production of these objects. The ritualistic act of sanding, smoothing, and polishing that has taken place in her studio is not overly explicit in any of these objects. “Concave Coal Mirror” (2012), a person-sized vanity mirror made of tiled coal bricks, is the exhibition’s centerpiece. Although the surface is lustrous and burnished by sanding, there is also a cobbled-together, worn, and wobbly quality to the object. Also, the void created by its absence of color recalls how Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings express a desire to be spiritual in their absence.
Prieto’s tautological installation explores a singular material and its performative and physical possibilities. In doing so, she calls to mind Yves Klein’s use of ultramarine as a magical perceptual experience and prop for performance. Klein was just as interested in blue as a powdery pigment as he was in its existence as the residue of actions and movements made by the body, not to mention the material’s ability to coalesce as form in sponge sculptures and paintings. Here, Prieto similarly uses coal as both material and immaterial, solid form and atmospheric powder, such as pigment in the dust paintings “Ornamental Dust (Cheetah)” and “Ornamental Dust (Labyrinth)” (both 2012), and as a projection screen for a video that imagines a coal dust cloud.


April 2012, by Rob.S, The Current Season

As evident in Richard Serra’s work with lead, Robert Smithson’s arrangement of salts and Dan Flavin’s infatuation with fluorescents, humble materials are quite capable of conveying strong ideas. At her first New York solo show, Alejandra Prieto is changing the perception of coal. InInvisible Dust at Y Gallery, the artist uses just four works to prove the versatility of her signature material and to make an even greater argument for its significance as a cultural artifact.
For a show dedicated to coal, it is only fitting that the gallery space is below street level. Like a miner at an unfamiliar site, one feels the urge to duck upon entry, relaxing only as the stairs and antechamber give way to a cavernous room not seen from above ground. It is here that each of Prieto’s four works gets a wall of its own.
The first work to catch the eye is Concave Coal Mirror set against the far wall. Spanning six feet in diameter, the work’s unsettling effect is not derived from its imposing presence, but rather its surface. Though coal has a reflective quality, the rough and rubbed textures create a mixture of matte and gloss finishes, making a full reflection impossible. As the surface fails to disappear in the eye of the viewer, he or she is fully aware that they are looking at, not into a mirror. What seems like a novel invention on Prieto’s part is instead a reintroduction of an ancient technique, as coal was used to produce mirrors in pre-Columbian societies.
Set opposite the mirror, and continuing the Mesoamerican motif, isOrnamental Dust (Chita), a coal dust print on black silk. The fabric illustrates a repeating scene of jaguars and parrots in contrasting patterns. The illustration is styled after the animal imagery found in temples, as if the piece were nothing more than a wall rubbing. A second coal dust print on black silk, titled Ornamental Dust (Laberinto), rests on another wall. It features a more contemporary geometric pattern that would be equally at home on a high-end scarf, or alongside the Chita print in a Mayan-themed gift shop.


Baudrillard’s at Bergdorf

Coal is the hot-button, and topical, material of choice for Alejandra Prieto’s solo exhibition Invisible Dust. As such, coal’s familiar, loaded connotations of class and economic exploitation implicitly pervade the works here, no matter how polished and pictorial they may be. With Ornamental Dust (Chita) andOrnamental Dust (Laberinto) (all works 2012), coal dust is applied directly to dark brown, nearly black stretched silk canvases, so that the coal’s almost glossy surface contrasts with the deep, matt background of the silk, forming ghostly patterns best viewed from an angle. Chita features a repeating geometric textile design that begs to extend beyond its frame, while Laberintoportrays a pre- Columbian motif of collared leopards, an allegory for colonial plunder.
Prieto keeps such provocative issues in the background, literally and figuratively, and the most interesting aspect of Invisible Dust is the way the artist sidesteps didacticism, preferring instead to subsume her politics into understated, formal play – though sometimes, as with Prieto’s two canvases, this has the unintended consequence of deadening the work entirely: their patterns don’t seem particularly suited to painting, and thus they are the least interesting pieces here.
More successful, precisely because it’s such an ambiguous object, is Concave Coal Mirror. At 183cm in diameter, this piece practically fills an entire wall at Y Gallery, which is a modestly sized space. It’s made entirely of thick, unprocessed chunks of Chilean coal, which Prieto glued to a concave wood form before polishing it to a glossy, nearly reflective shine. The dust this process created was eventually used for the canvases and an adjacent videowork, Cloud on Coal Screen, which depicts billows of the fine grains projected onto a wall-mounted shelf of coal. As the origin of the other works,Concave Coal Mirror has an appropriately outsize presence and seems to suck the energy out of the others, like some oversize black talisman. Its productive tension between individuated raw material and polished gestalt recalls Martin Puryear’s sculptures, if a little simpler in form.