Ivan Navarro wants you to think about space; the space you’re in, familiar spaces, negative space, objects in space. With his new exhibition, “Heaven or Las Vegas,” at Paul Kasmin Gallery, the Chilean-born artist has built sculptures based on the shapes of skyscrapers — the Flatiron building, the Center in Hong Kong and the World Trade Center among others. Instead of towering tall above us, however, Navarro’s fluorescent light pieces recede deep within themselves, creating the illusion of an infinite concave space. These are spaces that exist in the negative, just illusions, or impressions, of buildings we know so well.


The thirteen sculptures (based on the blueprints of thirteen different buildings) are made from layers of mirrored glass and neon, not concrete and steel, and are framed to hang on a wall, not stand thousands of feet into the sky. The process, a series of methodical steps, begins with the shape of an iconic building. From that shape, Narvarro (along with a team of architects and craftsman) build a frame, fit the glass, fill it with neon tubing and install text. “Each step,” says Navarro, “is quite a simple process,” but as with building construction, it’s extremely meticulous and well calculated. “The letters,” he explains, “are all pre-cut and cost 99 cents each in Chinatown.” Yet the words- Surrender, Shelter, Burden- are carefully chosen and matched with specific buildings. For instance “Shelter (The Center)” is the shape of an eight-sided star, its size directly proportional to that of the actual 73-story tall Center in China. The word Shelter- associated with housing, protection, and homelessness- relates less to the Center’s function as a Chinese business center and more to idea of the building’s shape. “The star shape is so balanced,” says the artist, “and it’s that balance that one strives for in their home life. When these words are projected, they all relate to, or negate, the idea of home. Each word houses a contradiction.”


On the floor of the gallery are two square glass boxes, Navarro’s “Untitled (Twin Towers),” that seem recede into the earth as far as the eye can see. It’s a beautiful, yet slightly haunted homage to the fallen buildings.

“These pieces are not solid at all,” says Navarro, “they are an illusion. I am not aiming to reproduce the building, it’s not a portrait.”


Ivan Navarro “Heaven or Las Vegas” at Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 Tenth Ave., New York, NY. Through April 2nd.

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Photos by Mark Markin / Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery