SÃO PAULO, Brazil — It is eerie to see Oscar Niemeyer’s whitewashed monolith in Ibirapuera Park stand so empty. The building traditionally hosts the São Paulo Biennial, now postponed to September 2021, due to the pandemic. In the meantime, a number of smaller shows take place, starting with the exhibition, Vento (Wind). As curators Jacopo Crivelli Visconti and Paulo Miyada note, while they didn’t originally envision this deathly aura — the space is usually teeming with works and people — it’s proved fortuitous. It reminds visitors that Brazilian modernism’s claim to transparency, embodied in Brutalist architecture’s clean lines, obscured that movement’s entanglement with nationalist politics of its time, and the latter’s oppression of Black and Indigenous Brazilians. The exhibition’s underlying impulse is to evoke these obscured histories and reclaim what’s been repressed.
Vento takes its name from Joan Jonas’s video, Wind (1968), installed on the ground floor. In it, performers sway, buffeted by ghastly winds in a mesmeric dance of physical resistance. It’s striking to see such bodily pliancy within these solid concrete walls. And yet, there’s resonance: Niemeyer’s sinuous ramps testify that the modernists too conceived of organic forms. Picking up from Jonas, a spirit of resiliency blows through the show. It echoes the theme of obscurity, that which can’t be easily absorbed into the hegemonic culture.
The Indigenous artist Jaider Esbell’s The War of Kanaimés (2020) — a series of eleven acrylic and pen paintings, composed mostly for the Biennial — is a luminous example of such thematic confluence. In various Amerindian cultures, kanaimés are complex dark forces. As Esbell pointed out in a Biennial talk, they are protective, albeit violent, spirits. Ebsell’s works blend dark and luminous qualities perfectly. Their vibrant colors stand out against the uniformly black backgrounds. Humans, spirits, and nature appear in dense configurations, whose minute patterns give them the luxurious feel of handwoven tapestries. While the animals are easily identifiable (e.g. snakes, a frog, birds), the representations are neither entirely figurative nor abstract. In one painting, a group of tribesmen, perhaps mounted by kanaimés, with their red glowing eyes, crowd the work’s lower edge. The raised yellow spears echo in the forest’s green and purple vertical lines. The composition pulses with mesmerizing energy — a body’s thrall in nature’s war/dance tug, evocative of the Jonas video, menacing yet sublime.
The ground floor also includes a sound installation by the Colombian artist Gala Porras-Kim, “Whistling and Language Transfiguration (WaLT)” (2012). The whistles are tonal translations of
More direct is another installation: a sound loop of the Maxakali shamanic chants, which point back to the insistence of Indigenous tribes — emphasized by both Esbell and Ailton Krenak, an Indigenous activist, writer, and founder of the Forest Peoples Alliance, in his interview for Primeiros ensaios — on memory being preserved not in things but beings, reinforcing the importance of sacral, tribal, familial continuity.
The oneiric quality of Jonas’s and Esbell’s works resonate in the paintings of the still little-known Brazilian modernist Eleonore Koch. Her exquisite renditions of Rio de Janeiro — emptied squares and parks with rudimentary architectural forms à la de Chirico — posses an instinctual lyricism. Same goes for the light installations of Clara Iani, “Education by Night” (2020), in which geometric blocks are lit up to project transfigured shapes on the walls. There’s something about the way these spectral evocations — which distort matter yet capture its essence — that perfectly encapsulates the mythical power of Esbell’s entrancing fabulations.
Vento’s insistence on centering the poetics of the repressed is a welcome gesture after the last biennial all but sidestepped urgency and historical perspective, in favor of often tepid formalism. And while it’s still too early to glean this edition’s full ambition, one would hope that after Vento it will prove more of a gale than a passing zephyr, potent enough to raise some dust in Niemeyer’s drafty halls.
Vento (Wind) continues through December 13 as part of the 34th São Paulo Biennial, Though it’s dark, still I sing (Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo, Brazil). The exhibition is curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti and Paulo Miyada.
Saudi Arabia Announces $1M “Freedom of Expression” Art Award
Kanye West, Roman Polanski, and Carl Andre are among the shortlisted artists.
British Museum Offers Greece “Exclusive NFT” of the Parthenon Marbles
“With the power of blockchain technology, there will be no question who the real owner is,” said a British Museum spokesperson.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
MoMA to Co-Curate Exhibition With NYPD
Arrest Me, Daddy hopes to cast a more positive light on the work of law enforcement officers.
Repatriation-Inspired Fragrance Line Hopes to Heal Collector Wounds
The exotic scents of the Rapatriement line offer solace and joy to dismayed collectors who were forced to return looted artifacts.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
Mediocre Painting Thought AI-Generated Revealed as Work of Real Artist
Visitors who spoke to Hyperallergic said they were “horrified” to learn that a human could come up with such a banal and poorly executed artwork.
Prince Harry to Star in New Van Gogh Biopic
The estranged prince said he took the role to raise awareness of mental health issues.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
Newly Discovered Trove of Vermeer Works Reveals He Painted Mainly Dogs
A cache of 243 paintings found in an English castle, all depicting canine subjects, suggests Vermeer’s true aspiration was to become a dog portraitist.
Vatican Partners With Balenciaga on “Spiritual” Menswear Line
A spokesperson for the church cited “shared values” with the fashion brand.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Iran Issues Fatwa Against AI
A reinterpretation of the Quran through a queer lens, written by an AI chatbot, is said to cause the move.
Met Gala Announces 2023 “Looting and Plunder” Theme
Select A-list guests will be invited to wear any artifacts from the museum’s collection that have not yet been seized by the Manhattan DA’s office.