Barbara Weiss, 2013. Photo: Dawin Meckel/OSTKREUZ.


I HAD HEARD MANY THINGS ABOUT BARBARA WEISS before she invited me for a one-person show at her legendary gallery in Berlin this past November. She was notoriously tough, strong willed, known for doing things her way and speaking her mind. But by the time I arrived in the city she was already bedridden with cancer. So from the invitation to the exhibition itself I communicated exclusively with Barbara through her directors, Daniel Herleth and Bärbel Trautwein, who helped me to turn my show into a wonderful, successful endeavor.

This made my exhibition an exercise in remote communication and delayed decision-making. It was an unusual experience to have my full presence in Berlin accompanied by her total physical absence. After having finished my installation, our abstract communication found its climax in a bouquet of flowers I had delivered to her. I was told that she was very surprised and happy about the flowers. Her “sich sehr freuen” in response to this gesture excited me more than her approval of my show, which she passed on to me after viewing images of it from what would be her deathbed, where she remained working until her final hours.

Rainer Ganahl is an artist based in Stuttgart and New York.

Jannis Kounellis, 2004. Photo: Flickr user Gabuchan.


CAN AN EXHIBITION, CONSIDERED IN RETROSPECT, PROVE TO BE A CREATIVE MARRIAGE OF SORTS between an artist and a gallerist?

Jannis Kounellis’s presentation of live horses in the garage space in Rome I’d converted into an art gallery was undoubtedly the apex of our careers: Jannis’s, and mine. Yes, in a certain sense, we tied the knot on January 14, 1969, when his quadrupeds entered the garage. That exhibition of twelve mighty Dutch horses, arranged in a semicircle with their reins attached to the walls, lasted three days. Visitors moved among the horses, who defecated and urinated continually, their enormous penises there for all to see. Stable hands cleaned and fed the animals. The night of the show’s opening, the city was hit with a strong afternoon storm, and few people came, thirty or so at most, for an exhibition that would go on to become extremely famous. What could be more avant-garde? The horses had already been gone for several days when Harald Szeemann, the well-known Swiss curator, stopped by. Yet even the empty site was enough for him to understand the absolute novelty of that exhibition space, which had a workability previously unseen in art galleries. The next month, in the catalogue for “When Attitudes Become Form,” an international exhibition he organized at his museum in Bern, its image of the horses stood out.

The Bern catalogue circulated around the world. That April, I saw proof of this when I was in New York, where I had arrived in the midst of organizing the festival “Danza, volo, musica, dinamite” (“Dance, flight, music, dynamite”) at my space in Rome. (Around that time I connected with Simone Forti, whom I had met in Rome the year before. During our conversations then, I first began to fully articulate my vision for my exhibition space: one that was good for both installations and performance art, music and dance, that would accommodate both immobile objects and bodies in motion.) At a party, in the midst of strangers, I heard a voice speaking from among a small group: “Did you know there’s a gallery in Rome that exhibits live horses?” It was the critic Seth Siegelaub, and there was genuine amazement in his voice, which was understandable, given that most New York art galleries opened directly into streets, like shops, or were incorporated into skyscrapers, like apartments. Months passed: In June, my underground garage would host La Monte Young and Terry Riley, Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer and Deborah Hay, David Bradshaw and, of course, Simone Forti. And then, after that, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Charlemagne Palestine, and Joan Jonas.

View of “Jannis Kounellis,” 1969. Installation view, Galleria L’Attico, Rome. Photo: Claudio Abate.


In art, as in life, there are marriages and divorces. And so Kounellis and I also divorced. A long silence descended between us. On the surface, our disagreement was resolvable. But perhaps the real reason for our split was unfathomable. I didn’t understand, for example, why Kounellis insisted on presenting the horses again, at the Venice Biennale and elsewhere. At that point they were legendary, I told myself, tied to an unrepeatable space and time.

While writing these lines, my telephone rings. I answer and cannot believe my ears: The L’Attico garage—which had become a discotheque after I closed it in 1976, flooding the space with water—is soon to be invaded by cars once again. It will return to its originally intended use as a garage. But before that happens, I learn, there is still the opportunity, for one evening, to show video of the horses there.

Jannis, what do you say: Shall we remarry?

Fabio Sargentini is a writer, filmmaker, and actor who owns and directs the Galleria L’Attico in Rome.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

For more Passages, see a forthcoming issue of Artforum.

Ferreira Gullar, 2015. Photo: Greg Salibian.


ALTHOUGH FAMILIAR WITH HIS WORK FROM MY UNDERGRADUATE YEARS, I never had any reason to reach out to Ferreira Gullar until 2010, when I was preparing the exhibition “Specters of Artaud” for the Reina Sofía. In my research interview with him, we reviewed some well-trodden history: his Concrete poetry of the 1950s and his authorship of the 1959 “Neoconcrete Manifesto” that marked his and his cohort’s break with the rationality of Concrete poetry and visual art. Around the turn of the decade, he also penned a series of newspaper articles titled “Stages of Contemporary Art,” a programmatic and particular vision of art’s progression that culminated in the Brazilian Neoconcrete movement. At the time, I was interested in Surrealism, a movement omitted from his “Stages,” and more specifically in his exposure to the work of dissident Surrealist Antonin Artaud. When prompted about Artaud, Gullar revealed his more complex poetic origins and varied investments. He was indeed familiar with Artaud’s poetry, the book on Van Gogh, as well as the scathing To Have Done with the Judgment of God (1948). Gullar even made mimeographed copies of some poems to distribute to his friends when he first discovered Artaud in the 1950s. Gullar was deeply influenced by what he described as Artaud’s “question of the body,” a complexity Gullar explored by disintegrating verbal syntax to the point of imploding it in the concluding poems of his seminal A luta corporal (The Body’s Struggle, 1954). In this first meeting, which continues to live on with me both for what emerged in conversation and for the collaboration that ensued, Gullar expressed displeasure about one historical fact: In the 1950s, he loaned a magazine with Artaud’s poems to a friend who never returned it. When I asked him about the specific publication, he explained: “It was French, dedicated to Artaud, had a yellow cover and square format, and was published on thick paper.” I promised to track it down, and his otherwise firm and unyielding features gave me an incredulous smile.

In the month that followed, I mailed him a copy of the spring 1949 issue of Les cahiers de la pléiade, hoping that sixty years later he might rediscover in its pages what had so inspired him initially. In return, I received a postcard with the words “quero manifestar-lhe minha gratidão” (I want to express my gratitude to you); when we spoke by phone he enthusiastically added, “que maravilha” (how wonderful). But my interest in Gullar’s exposure to Artaud was more than literary, it was also psychiatric. Like his mentor Mário Pedrosa, Gullar publicly supported the work of Dr. Nise da Silveira, who had opened a painting studio for her patients in the Rio neighborhood of Engenho de Dentro in 1946 (although Gullar did not know her at that time). In 1996, he published Nise da Silveira: Uma psiquiatra rebelde, which included an interview with Silveira in which he asks about her use of Artaud’s definition of madness: os inumeráveis estados do ser (the innumerable states of being). He also wrote on patients’ work, as when he contributed alongside Pedrosa to Silveira’s “Os inumeráveis estados do ser” exhibition catalogue in 1987. Given this history, it is perhaps somewhat paradoxical that in the face of psychiatric reform and deinstitutionalization in Brazil, Gullar—as if in mirrored inversion to Artaud—publically affirmed the necessity of hospitalized psychiatric care, pointing out the ways in which the absence of such sustained care affected families with limited resources and also openly criticizing psychiatrists like Silveira. Gullar himself had two schizophrenic sons. But when it came to art produced in so-called normal or schizophrenic circumstances, Gullar repeatedly spoke to how artistic talent existed independently of such conditions. On this subject, and for the generosity he displayed, I reserve my final lines for him: “I have never mistaken madness for artistic talent, though, and I have always refused to see Artaud’s works or the works of the Engenho de Dentro painters as the fruits of madness.”

For additional Ferreira Gullar Passages, see the forthcoming April issue of Artforum.

Kaira M. Cabañas is associate professor in global modern and contemporary art at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Ferreira Gullar, 2015. Photo: Greg Salibian.


I ENCOUNTERED FERREIRA GULLAR’s WRITINGS IN THE MID 1990s. I had become familiar with the work of Neo-concrete artists Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark—then utterly unknown in American academia—so it was Gullar’s writings in support of those artists and his criticism of the period that I first tackled. With the Neoconcrete cohort, Gullar penned the famous “Neoconcrete Manifesto” of 1959, which was published as a pamphlet and in the revolutionary Suplemento Dominical Jornal do Brasil, for which Gullar served as visual-arts editor. But by then Gullar was an established poet too, author of A luta corporal (1954) and O formigueiro (1955)—which helped define experimental poetry in Brazil.

A native of São Luís, Maranhão, on the northeast coast of Brazil, Gullar moved to Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of the 1950s. There, he met towering critic Mário Pedrosa, with whom Gullar sustained a productive dialogue that radically transformed Concrete art and poetry in Brazil. It was partly Pedrosa who provided Gullar with the tools to question the Concrete doxa—which in art and poetry had become an exemplary model of aesthetic production. Under the aegis of phenomenology, Gullar sought to rethink Concretism by privileging experience and expression instead of a priori conceptualization and theoretical interpretation. His attentive reading of Clark’s work contributed to this antiobjectivist and antifunctionalist understanding of geometric abstraction but also led him to forcefully question the ontology of the art object. By focusing on the beyond-the-frame that Clark’s work postulated, Gullar reflected on a crisis of mediums that he articulated through the concept of the nonobject (1959). The nonobject was the result of the exhaustion of representation as a function of art, but it signaled, too, the limits and conventions of painting and sculpture. In work that did away with the frame and the base, Gullar identified a new sense of meaning, a new mode of participatory interaction, a new rapport with the space of everyday life. He explored this dissolution of mediums in a series of spatial poems in which he inscribed single words upon wooden structures that revealed and concealed the words via the manipulation of the structures. In Lembra, (1959) for example, which consists of the Portuguese word for “remember” in the center of a white, wooden, square panel that is covered by a small blue cube, the meaning of the word is echoed in its concealment—enacted by a “reader” who shapes the semantic and visual tenor of the poem.

In 1961, Gullar became increasingly concerned with popular art and politics. A member of the Communist Party, he lived in exile for most of the 1970s. Upon his return in 1977 he resumed his activities as poet, critic, writer, and journalist. One of the region’s most important poets, honored as such by multiple awards and accolades, Gullar, in his criticism, also made a pivotal contribution to theories of modern art—an achievement with which we have just begun to cope.

For additional Ferreira Gullar Passages, see the forthcoming April issue of Artforum.

Monica Amor is a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

Teodoro González de León, 2016. Photo: Tania Victoria/Secretaría de Cultura CDMX.


AUDACIOUS MAY SEEM LIKE THE BEST WORD to describe both the work and the personality of Teodoro González de León.

The last time I saw him he was both amused and deeply touched as he looked again, after more than sixty years, at the drawing that symbolized his daring entry into the world of architecture. When he was a twenty-year-old architecture student, he and his classmate Armando Franco decided to draw an alternative master-plan proposal for the University City UNAM in Mexico and show it to the university authorities. Against all odds, the drawing became the basis for the most important design of the country in the 1950s, one that gathered all of the most important Mexican architects and engineers of the time.

In March 2015, González de León’s drawing now hung on a wall of the Museum of Modern Art in New York during the opening of the exhibition “Latin America in Construction.” He pointed at one detail sketched in pencil and said to me, smiling, “Look how we drew all the small formations of lava!” At that point, I understood that the most important factor in shaping the final design was the lava landscape of El Pedregal. While helping the curators locate the Mexican material for the exhibition, I was lucky to find the drawing in an archive at the UNAM. For many years, González de León had claimed that he and Franco (who became his first associate) were the original authors of the master plan, but no one really believed him until the unexpected discovery of this drawing and the publication of the book Living CU 60 Years: Ciudad Universitaria UNAM 1954–2014 at around the same time in 2015. In this publication, the full story of the master plan was explained by historians Elisa Drago, Jimena Torre, and Alberto Pérez-Méndez. This long overdue recognition was welcomed by both architects—I remember that during a book launch event for Living CU, I watched Franco reach out from his wheelchair and hug González de León, and some tears escaped them both.

If his early audacious moves operated between several established languages of architectural modernism, González de León found his own. His buildings of the 1970s through 1990s were always used as examples for several generations of architectural students despite the fact that he never wanted to be a professor. His triangular plazas and his roughly surfaced buildings with sloping walls reminded us young architects of ancient Mexican ruins but also showed us shocking new combinations of volumes and open spaces. An inventor of great gestures in the urban landscape—more than functional or comfortable buildings—he always claimed that he was responding to the city. His audacious buildings—in a way similar to his paintings, which are similar to those of Le Corbusier, for whom he worked for eighteen months—are big, heavy sculptures inserted into the urban fabric, solid volumes that emerge from the ground in unpredictable combinations. The singularity of those forms established them almost immediately as urban landmarks. No one but he could have convinced so many clients, whether the state or private investors, to erect such huge structures that defied all preestablished forms.

He was also an intellectual who read Octavio Paz, listened to contemporary classical music on a daily basis, and kept working until his final day; a cultivated man who thought that being an architect was not a job but a way of living. Soon after the country celebrated his ninetieth birthday, he died suddenly, during the night of September 16, when, as Mexicans, we celebrate our independence. He will not be able to see his last works finished, but their constant presence in the city alongside all the others that precede them will not allow us to forget him.

Cristina López Uribe is a professor in the school of architecture at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and editor of Bitácora journal.