Critics’ Picks

Antônio Henrique Amaral, Expansão, 1977, oil on canvas, 56 x 79".

Antônio Henrique Amaral, Expansão, 1977, oil on canvas, 56 x 79".

São Paulo

Antônio Henrique Amaral

Tomie Ohtake Institute
Av. Brigadeiro Faria Lima, 201, Pinheiros
November 7, 2020–February 7, 2021

The protean Brazilian artist Antônio Henrique Amaral (1935–2015) didn’t identify with any movement, though critics often tie him to neo-Cubism and Surrealism, with forays into Pop. And rightly so: Braqueian collage haunts Amaral’s blocky linocuts and drawings as Klee’s faux-naïf figuration and Picasso’s frank erotic drawings do his bawdy works in graphite, pen, gouache, and watercolor. As for Pop, one is inevitably reminded of Warhol’s deathly serial silkscreens when regarding Amaral’s own obsessive reiterations of toothy mouths, tortured overripe bananas, bloody meat scraps, and menacing cutlery. In Amaral’s oil paintings, which alternate between sickly pastel and somber palettes, abstraction takes on a violent carnality, a voluptuousness shadowed by mortality.

This compact survey, curated by Paulo Miyada and titled “Agglomeration Amaral,” contextualizes the artist’s most intensely political phase, defined by a series featuring bananas, 1968–75. Amaral conceived of it as an act of “debauchery,” a revolt against Brazil’s military junta and a populist rhetoric that extolled the country’s modernization while belying its overreliance on the export of natural resources. Amaral turned Brazil’s iconic commodity—with that derisive connotation, “banana republic”—into his subject. In the oil painting Detail with rope, 1972, a knotted taupe cord, rendered in precise brushstrokes, strangles a solid, moss-green stem; the fruit’s tip at the bottom mirrors the gilded background. Rot eats into the opulence, and the peel’s black-brown contusions remind us how easily pulp, or flesh, is brutalized—and how brutality and luxury often go hand in hand. Conflicts, 1976, its cinnamon-rust viscera resembling tendrils on a jungle- and jade-green plane, shares this perverse sensuality.

Amaral’s lighter side comes through in the show not only in his sketches (e.g., Two Lovers in a Café of bug-eyed smoochers, 1960), drawings (e.g., a naked couple French kissing in L’amour, toujours l’amour, 1966), but also midcareer gouaches. Expansion, 1976, a crowded bluish-greenish mechanist implosion of metallic tubes and bright shards presents a vision of pinned-up, entangled energy that, for once, isn’t exclusively foreboding.