Vector Composition No. 1, 2013 by Vargas-Suarez Universal

October 10, 2013–June 2014

Curated by Deborah Cullen

A site-specific wall drawing for Miller Theatre at Columbia University in collaboration with The Wallach Art Gallery

Raphael Vargas-Suarez (b. 1972, Mexico City; lives and works in Brooklyn), more commonly known as Vargas-Suarez Universal, is an internationally recognized artist primarily known for large-scale, site-specific wall drawings, paintings, and sound pieces. In Vector Composition No. 1, 2013, the artist transforms the architectural space of the lobby of Miller Theatre at Columbia University into his canvas. The artist's deep interest in music is much evidenced in his work and practice, yet this project is the first time Vargas-Suarez Universal has explored this passion directly: creating a large scale wall drawing that references musical notation and staff paper through abstract geometrics.

Vargas-Suarez was raised in the Houston suburb of Clear Lake City, adjacent to the Johnson Space Center (NASA). He studied astronomy and art history at the University of Texas at Austin from 1991 to 1996, and moved to New York City in 1997. The artist's work is based in research conducted on American and Russian manned and unmanned spaceflight programs, astronomy, and aerospace architecture. The work is informed by engineering guides for American and Russian spacecraft design; technical reports for launch preparations, manned spaceflight, and space junk mitigation; vintage NASA publications; images from spacewalk helmet cameras; hand-held digital photography by astronauts and cosmonauts; launch pad cameras; satellite photography; VR modeling; earth observation video; live NASA TV and Roscosmos TV broadcast screen shots. Often, linear "vector" drawings connect images and information while referencing the design and mathematical elements of these subjects.

Since childhood Vargas-Suarez has an abiding interest in music. His grandfather, Miguel Suarez Sanchez, had been a successful jazz musician in Mexico from the 1920s to the 1950s. Rafael grew up listening to recordings of his grandfather's work on 78 RPM records. While Rafael played the drums, his brother played the viola and later the guitar. The family also had keyboards; in the 1980s this led to his interest in electronic and industrial music. The aesthetics associated with this type of music dovetailed with Rafael's burgeoning interests in contemporary American and German art of that time.

Music continues to hold a special place for the artist. He has created audio works, at times in collaboration with sound artists, including a recent collaboration with the composer Stephen Barber. He conceives of these sonic landscapes as drawings with interruptions in air pressure or sound. Moreover, his very practice is closely linked to his experience of music. He paces his creative efforts to it, working in spurts related to the length of whatever album or live concert recording he chooses to accompany him.

Vargas-Suarez Universal's work is in numerous international public and private collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, El Museo del Barrio, Queens Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, (all New York); Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Mexic-Arte Museum, Austin,TX; Palazzo delle Papesse Centro Arte Contemporanea, Siena, Italy; and Winzavod Contemporary Art Centre, Moscow, Russian Federation.

The artist is currently creating murals for the new IS/PS 342 Riverside Center School, on West End Avenue between 60th and 61st Street. This work has been commissioned by the "Public Art for Public Schools (PAPS)" program, a unit of the NYC Department of Education and a program of the New York City School Construction Authority, in collaboration with the Percent for Art program of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. The school's completion and inauguration is scheduled for September 2015.

Vector Composition No. 1, 2013 is a site-specific wall drawing for Miller Theatre at Columbia University presented in collaboration with The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery. The transformation of the theatre's lobby marks the first collaborative project between Columbia University's two major artistic presenting spaces.

Miller Theatre is located north of the Columbia University's main campus gate at 116th St. and Broadway on the ground floor of Dodge Hall.

The theatre lobby is open to the public Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and beginning two hours before each scheduled performance.


Creative Conversations: Viewing and conversation about Vector Composition No. 1
Friday, November 15, 12 to 1 p.m.
Miller Theatre at Columbia University
Join the Arts Initiative for a special conversation as the artist Rafael Vargas-Suarez, and project curator Deborah Cullen, Director and Chief Curator, The Wallach Art Gallery discuss Vector Composition No. 1, the artist's site-specific work, as well as the practice of working in situ and Vargas-Suarez's long history in the genre.