b. 1972, Santiago
Iván Navarro was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1972. He received a BFA from that city’s Pontificia Universidad Católica in 1995. Born in the year preceding the coup d’état that ousted Salvador Allende and instated Augusto Pinochet, Navarro is interested in confronting the trauma of living in Chile under Pinochet’s military dictatorship. While the artist recalls from childhood the persistent fear of “being disappeared”—the fate of many political dissidents—it was not until he relocated to New York City in 1997 that he began to learn more about the extent of human rights abuses in his country, and the subject now forms the core of his practice.
Navarro uses electric light as his primary medium, making politically charged sculptures and installations that address the violence inflicted by the Chilean state. On a local level, his works refer directly to crimes perpetrated by the country’s military regime, but some also reflect his concerns about global issues, addressing, for example, capital punishment in the United States. Navarro appropriates the austere visual language of Minimalism—in particular that of Dan Flavin’s fluorescent-light sculptures—and imbues it with explicit and critical political resonance. The centerpiece of his exhibition at the Venice Biennale (2009) was Death Row (2006), an installation of colorful light-framed doors that correspond to the monochrome panels in Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum (1969). Navarro also engages the history of early twentieth-century modernism in works such as Red and Blue Electric Chair (2006), a neon version of Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld’s famous chair from 1918; Navarro’s chair unsettles the original’s utopian aspirations through a grim allusion to electrocution.
The viewer’s body plays a central role in Navarro’s work, in sculptures resembling furniture and in immersive room-size installations. Many of his works entail a kind of perceptual game playing, provoking a phenomenological confrontation via accounts of military abuses in which the viewer is implicated, both sensorially and psychologically. Where Are They? (Dónde están?, 2007) is a large installation with white fluorescent-light letters covering the floor of an otherwise darkened gallery. Visitors must hunt among these for the names of perpetrators of human rights violations during the Chilean dictatorship, few of whom were ever sentenced. Similarly, the large-scale sculpture Criminal Ladder (2005) features the name of a different perpetrator on each rung, visualizing the scope of criminal activity in the country.
In 2009 Navarro represented Chile at the Venice Biennale. He has been the subject of solo exhibitions the Jersey City Museum, New Jersey (2005 and 2007); Centro Cultural Matucana 100, Santiago, Chile (2007); Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia (2008); Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, United Kingdom (2009); Centro de Arte Caja de Burgos, Burgos, Spain (2010); and Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, Miami (2012). Navarro participated in the major group exhibitions Prospect.2 Biennial, New Orleans (2011), and The Disappeared/Los Desaparecidos, which was organized by the North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand Forks, and traveled to ten venues in North and South America from 2005 to 2009. His work has also been featured in group exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2006); Witte de With Centrum voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Rotterdam (2006); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2007); Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam, Havana (2012); Exit Art, New York (2012); Hayward Gallery, London (2013); and Auckland Art Gallery (2014). Navarro lives and works in Brooklyn.