Critics’ Picks

View of “Antonio Manuel: I Want to Act, Not Represent!,” 2011.

New York

Antonio Manuel

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
June 13 - December 10

As one of the few artists who remained in Brazil under the military regime of 1964–85, Antonio Manuel made work that provoked the artistic and political worlds alike. Viewers of this exhibition are confronted with controversy immediately on entering the gallery, wherein five black cloths are fastened to ropes that, when pulled, uncover red-paneled silk screens of police violence. Using graphics culled from newspapers, Repressão outra vez—eis a consequência (Repression Once Again—This Is the Consequence), 1968, tantalizes spectators with censored images while simultaneously inviting us to expose the redacted material.

Throughout Manuel’s practice, the newspaper has served as a proxy for Brazil’s dictatorship, and he has deftly appropriated the medium, repainting discarded stereotype molds—the very mechanism of publication—to emphasize government repression in A imagem da violência (The Image of Violence), 1968. Part of a larger series titled “Flans,” these images read graphically as newspapers while protesting the violence they depict. He inhabits media even more seamlessly in Clandestinas (Clandestines), 1973–75, by taking over the presses of O DIA to create his own version of the popular tabloid, skirting censorship by distributing the publication around Rio de Janeiro.

Manuel’s acts of defiance have a licentious side, too. In response to artistic censorship stemming from the military government, Manuel submitted his own height and weight as an artwork’s measurements to the Salão Nacional de Arte Moderna in April 1970. After his body was rejected as art, he persisted, arriving nude to the opening in a performance documented in this show only by press photographs as O corpo é a obra (The Body Is a Work of Art), 1970. He devised a more permanent record of the incident in Corpobra (Bodywork), 1970, which invites the audience to tug a rope on the back of a human-size vertical wooden box with straw at the bottom. Tugging the rope sends the image of the artist strategically covered with the word CORPOBRA––mimicking the conventions of censorship—into the straw, and replaces it with a photograph of Manuel’s naked body. While Manuel worked across media and collaborated with the leading Brazilian artists and critics of his time—Rogério Duarte, Lygia Pape, and Hélio Oiticica—his pieces form a recognizable corpus, as they all single-mindedly insist on the freedom of political and artistic expression.