Critic’s Guide: São Paulo

From devices for making acquaintances to an interruption of Lina Bo Bardi’s architecture, ahead of SP-Arte this week, the city’s best shows

BY Fernanda Brenner in Critic's Guides | 10 APR 18

Franz Manata and Saulo Laudares, After Nature, 2008, installation view, Rio de Janeiro. Courtesy: the artists

Franz Manata and Saulo Laudares, ‘After Nature’
Sé Galeria
10 April – 23 June

Artist-duo Franz Manata and Saulo Laudares once placed speakers in the trees of a park in Rio de Janeiro in order to entice back local birds who had been driven out by non-native parakeets (After Nature, 2008). Passersby might have enjoyed the idyllic atmosphere created by the bird song until they noticed the source of origin. It’s this combination of nature and digital media that fills the artists’ 20-year career survey at Sé Gallery. Since the late ’90s, the Rio de Janeiro-based artists have become known for their experimental approach to the exhibition format and their penchant for digital language and techno-culture – spanning crafty textile pieces to sophisticated audiovisual remixes, and covering pretty much everything in between: 3D models, watercolours, bronze-casts and photography. The show is ‘programmed’ in four parts, with each section comprised of a set of open-ended works from different periods. When combined they create an ‘immersive atmosphere’, as the artists put it, borrowing from the vocabulary of electronic music.

Juliana Cerqueira Leite, ‘Fractura’, 2018, installation view, Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo. Courtesy: Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo; photograph: Ricardo Miyada

‘Fratura’ – Juliana Cerqueira Leite / Adriano Costa / Arjan Martins
Instituto Tomie Ohtake
16 March – 6 May

‘Fratura’ (fracture) combines three solo shows by Brazilian artists Juliana Cerqueira Leite, Adriano Costa and Arjan Martins at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, who each deal, in very different ways and media, with our time’s ‘predilection for the disposable’, as curator Paulo Miyada puts it. Each of the three have taken over a separate room, starting with Cerqueira Leite’s striking choreography of multilayered and polychrome casts of her own body. These malleable pastel-coloured plaster sculptures contrast with Adriano Costa’s dimly-lit and sober second room. Known for his witty assemblages of the stuff of daily life, here Costa combines a few sculptures, fake record covers and neons in order to create a dystopian club-like atmosphere. The room is punctuated with ironic commentaries (printed in vinyl stickers and on t-shirts) criticizing the wider system in which art is made, validated and sold and pointing to the complex political situation in Brazil. Finally, Arjan Martins presents a group of large-scale figurative paintings that evoke and critique commonplace symbols relating to Brazil’s colonial and slave-trading past.

Chichico Alkmim, Maria Bernadette Alkmim, c.1920, silver gelatin print. Courtesy: Chichico Alkmim / Instituto Moreira Salles 

Chichico Alkmim
Instituto Moreira Salles
23 January – 15 April

The architecture of the brand new double-height seven storied building that houses Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS) in São Paulo’s iconic Paulista Avenue, is worth a visit alone. Known for its focus on photography, the institution presents an exhibition, curated by Eucanaã Ferraz, comprising more than 200 pictures taken by the early 20th century photographer Chichico Alkmim (1886–1978), which are printed in different sizes and mounted on continuous wooden structures. This self-taught photographer established a studio in 1919 in Diamantina, in the Brazilian hinterlands, where he portrayed the daily routine and festivities of that city’s local population. Alkmin captured in detail a traditional society on the verge of modernization and his technically impeccable portraits of local characters – sat among props and painted backdrops in his studio – and populated street scenes are a precious document of the turbulent beginnings of the 1st Brazilian Republic, a period which saw the abolition of slavery and the end of colonial gold mining. By photographing the people and the atmosphere of that given city over almost 40 years, Alkmin might well have captured the intense racial, cultural and social mix that have shaped the country’s population.

Paulo Nimer Pjota, ‘Medley’, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo

Paulo Nimer Pjota, ‘Medley’
Galeria Mendes Wood DM
7 April – 15 May

Paulo Nimer Pjota’s virtuosity is discreet. From a distance, the highly-detailed painted figures that inhabit his large-scale panels (usually a combination of non-stretched canvas and sheets of found metal) might look like vinyl stickers in a teenager’s bedroom window or guitar-case. This connection is not fortuitous. Starting out as a graffiti artist in São Paulo, Pjota casually overlaps the visual energy of the megalopolis’s outskirts with images appropriated from vernacular architecture and ancient history’s vocabulary. In his latest solo show ‘Medley’, at Mendes Wood DM, he goes deeper in an allegorical journey started over the past few years. The seven new works on view are as eloquent as his previous assemblages of detailed renderings and found objects, but in these pieces the relationship between concept, painting and found objects seem more figured-out. For instance, in the stunning Cada Cabeça Uma Sentença (A sentence for each head, 2018) – arguably the show’s star – the artist combines three beautifully painted Greco-Roman heads floating over an ethereal deep-blue background (made using a special blue pigment found in the North of Morocco) and a bronze-casted American football in two adjacent panels. The object stands in the middle of circle of barbed wire – which is skillfully painted over a piece of raw canvas looking almost like a theatrical backdrop – resembling the structures and dioramas that display tribal artifacts in Anthropology museums. This apparently playful combination of distant iconic images gets more serious once we read its title, which is borrowed from a street slang marking the disparity of treatment one might get depending on social status or origin. This rather pointed exhibition confirms Pjota is equally involved with aesthetic and sociopolitical issues.

Lucia Koch, ‘Longa Noite’, 2018, installation view, Sesc Pompéia, São Paulo. Courtesy: the artist and Sesc Pompéia, São Paulo

Lucia Koch, ‘Longa Noite’
Sesc Pompéia
7 April – 7 July

Working since the mid 1990s, Lucia Koch (b.1966) is known for her ability to shift the perception of a space through precise interventions using filtered light and architectural elements. For her most recent project, ‘Longa Noite’ (Long Night), the artist covered the long glass ceiling of Lina Bo Bardi’s iconic leisure and cultural venue Sesc Pompeia’s theatre hall with a purplish cloth. This gigantic light filter blocks daylight and turns the space’s former airy atmosphere into an everlasting and uneasy nightfall – borrowing a technique from feature-film cinematography (the classic ‘day for night’ strategy immortalized by François Truffaut in the movie with the same name).

The installation significantly alters the viewer’s colour perception, especially the reds (the colour of the Workers Party and one the artists invited viewers to wear to the opening). To reinforce this optical effect, Koch has randomly spread hundreds of long red wooden sticks throughout the area. During the exhibition period, she will invite the audience to play with these objects or try to build new structures from them as ways to fill time, while waiting for the ‘long night’ of Brazil’s current political turmoil to end. 

Nicolás Paris, ‘between tomorrow and yesterday or the paths of a detour’, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo

Nicolás Paris, ‘between tomorrow and yesterday or the paths of a detour’
Galeria Luisa Strina
7 April – 19 May

In his second solo show in Brazil, Colombian artist Nicolas Paris (b.1977) has created a series of ‘devices’ that function as starting points for making acquaintances. Spanning from large scale immersive installations and drawings to video and small sculptures, most of the works use geometrical patterns and grids to initiate pedagogical processes. According to Paris, the faculty of learning – rather than a criticism of formal educational systems – is what matters the most in his practice. All of Paris’s intriguing objects are, first and foremost, excuses to talk. On entering the gallery, viewers are invited to bend down and go inside suspended rectangular structures. Each one of these potential ‘classrooms for improvisation’ (freely translating from the Spanish title of the installation: Elementos de un salon de clase para la improvisación) are covered in bluish green egg boxes, like a homemade recording studio, and bear elements such as dyed sponges and carefully hung logs. There are no clear instructions on what to do. Instead of enforcing a curriculum, Paris opts for a strategy of mutual learning.

Rodrigo Matheus, Moedas, 2018, steel and plastic bird spiker, sequins, 150 x 150 x 12 cm. Courtesy: Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo; photograph: Eduardo Ortega 

Rodrigo Matheus, ‘Hiato’
Galeria Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel
12 April – 19 May

Rodrigo Matheus’s practice revolves around oddly sophisticated assemblages of found objects. In his latest exhibition ‘Hiato’ at Fortes D’Aloia Gabriel warehouse, Matheus rearranged and combined civil construction elements in order to echo a sort of domestic environment. Concrete balls and bird spikes are turned into structures that bear hanging voile curtains or underpin delicate compositions made with wool, twigs or cotton net. The stunning Moedas (Coins, 2018), for example, is made with hundreds of gold sequins supported by ‘anti-pigeon’ spikes: its seductive and shiny spheres somehow taunt the vocabulary of kinetic sculpture.

Matheus has been exercising this playful appropriative approach since the early 2000s. Most of his installations and sculptures result from tying, piling and piercing an assortment of elements as disparate as feathers, brushes, oil barrels and blowing horns. But unlike Duchamp’s readymades (that gain total autonomy when selected by the artist but can lose their ‘art-status’ whenever), Matheus’ objects are combined as if they were doomed to sign an irrevocable contract, in which they all agree to interrupt their everyday function in order to be something entirely different.

SP-Arte 2018 art fair, held at the Oscar Niemeyer Bienal Pavilion, São Paulo, runs 12 – 15 April.

Main image: Rodrigo Matheus, Moedas, 2018, steel and plastic bird spiker, sequins, 150 x 150 x 12 cm. Courtesy: Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo; photograph: Eduardo Ortega 

Fernanda Brenner is the founder and Artistic Director of Pivô, an independent non-profit art space in São Paulo, and a contributing editor of frieze