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Tunga (1952–2016)

The Brazilian artist Antônio José de Barros de Carvalho e Melo Mourão, popularly known as Tunga, died yesterday in Rio de Janeiro from cancer, according to José da Silva in the Art Newspaper.

Tunga’s work—poetic, metaphysical, and even alchemical, some would say—came into being as sculptures, installations, performances, or films. Though steeped in ritual and myth, the artist centered the majority of his output around the body as a site of strength, fragility, grotesqueness, and eroticism. As the critic Kristin M. Jones said in a review of a Tunga exhibition at the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies in the June 1998 issue of Artforum: “[The artist’s] approach echoes Neoconcrete objects and performances in that it is intuitive, rooted in bodily experience, and preoccupied with endlessness and empty space. In his catalogue essay, Carlos Basualdo, the curator of this elegantly conceived show, also draws intriguing parallels to the writings of Raymond Roussel and the art of Beuys and Klein, among others. In the end, however, Tunga’s visceral, even lurid cosmology—with its baroque language games, exaggerated tropical inflection (manifested especially in the snakes that appear in various forms), and absurd logic—is a world in itself. When his labyrinthine project mirrors our own universe, the reflection is profoundly unsettling.”

Tunga had his first solo museum exhibition at the age of twenty-two. He was also the first contemporary artist to exhibit at the Louvre. His work appears in the permanent collections of institutions throughout the world, such as New York’s MoMA; the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; the Moderna Museet in Stockholm; and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. A permanent pavilion for Tunga’s work opened at Brazil’s Instituto de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim in Brumadinho in September of 2012.