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Silkscreen on canvas by Rodrigo Valenzuela

Rodrigo Valenzuela: Creatures of the Grind

November 18, 2022 - January 6, 2023
Opening Reception: Friday, November 18, 6-8pm
Assembly, 4411 Montrose Blvd., Suite F

Assembly is pleased to present Creatures of the Grind, an exhibition of new works by Rodrigo Valenzuela, organized by art historian, writer, and curator Paula Kupfer. About the exhibition, Kupfer writes:

“Through a patina of nostalgic fantasy, Rodrigo Valenzuela’s recent photographs in this exhibition offer views of imaginative performances that might take place on a job site once workers depart. Knives, screws, rope, and chains—the tools of many trades—appear reconfigured as sinister phoenixes, ramshackle sculptures, and animistic creatures of dreams. As the main characters of these tableaus, the hybrid creatures appear to be both latent objects for an armed uprising and formidable, beast-like apparitions.

The exhibition includes works from two recent series: Weapons (2021-22) and Afterwork (2019–20). Both are part of the artist’s ongoing investigation into issues of labor, the history of unionization struggles, and the consequences of automation. Afterwork, the earlier series, presents pictures of somber, silvery rooms filled with mechanical contraptions and fog, possibly from the sweat left hanging in the air after a long day’s work. With Weapons, Valenzuela investigates a more surrealist and metaphysical dimension of a similar scenario. 

With haunting presence, the Weapons hold the center stage of mural-like compositions that echo the hybridity of Afro-Cuban painter Wifredo Lam’s (1902–82) syncretic creatures, and in scale and spirit are reminiscent of the fantastic, often narrative compositions by Chilean painter Roberto Matta (1911–2022). Both artists are key references in the history of modern art from Latin America, and important representatives of transnational surrealism, whose metaphysical compositions relayed distinct visions of modernity. Similarly, Valenzuela’s works are animated by a dream-like quality and driven by an urgent human and political exploration: that of global economics and the human dimensions of labor, considered in the wake of neoliberalism. 

While both Lam and Matta were painters, Valenzuela works most frequently with photography; however, his images are the product of an invested material process. In some ways his approach recalls the early, labor-intensive days of the medium, when photography was driven as much by an understanding of aesthetics and optics as by a mastery of chemical processes and the physical handling of negatives, plates, and prints. This emphasis on toil—embodied in Valenzuela’s assembling of the sculptures, making the photographs, developing them, and then screen-printing them onto supports—is echoed in those very supports, composed of repurposed timecards, some bearing red imprints that spell out the word ‘STRIKE.’ 

In a time of increased struggles for unionization, including among art and museum workers, these works commemorate and reinvigorate some of the ideas that animated surrealists a century ago, while introducing the issue of labor conditions and renewed collective struggle that is specific to the post-industrial present.”

The artist and curator will be present at the opening reception.


Rodrigo Valenzuela (b. 1982) is a Chilean-born, Los Angeles-based artist working in photography, video, painting, and installation. Using autobiographical threads to inform larger universal fields of experience, his work constructs narratives, scenes, and stories that point to the tensions found between the individual and communities. Much of his work deals with the experience of undocumented immigrants and laborers. His work has been exhibited internationally, including in recent solo exhibitions at BRIC, Brooklyn, NY; Asya Geisberg Gallery, NYC; Lisa Kandlhofer Galerie, Vienna; the Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita, KS; the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, TN; Klowdenmann Gallery, Los Angeles; the Frye Art Museum, Seattle; and Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Santiago, Chile. He has held several artist residencies across the US and Canada including a fellowship at the Drawing Center, New York; the Core Fellowship at the Glassell School of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; and residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, ME and the MacDowell Colony, NH. In 2021, Valenzuela was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography.

Paula Kupfer is a Panamanian art historian, writer, and curator specializing in the history of photography in the Americas. She recently contributed to the exhibition catalogue Gertrudes Altschul: Filigrana (Museum of Art of São Paulo, 2021) and to the award-winning anthology What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women 1843–1999 (10x10 Photobooks, 2021). In 2018, she was part of the curatorial team for Dig Where You Stand, an exhibition reflecting on decoloniality that was part of the 57th Carnegie International. Paula is a former editor of Aperture magazine and currently a PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, where her research addresses the intersection of photography, environmental history, and enslavement in Brazil. 


Image: Rodrigo Valenzuela, "Weapon #11," 2022, Silkscreen, acrylic on collage cardboard & canvas, 60 x 48 in.