Critics’ Picks

Anna Bella Geiger, Com Pinga Vermelha (Pier and Ocean),1990, oil and acrylic on canvas, 63 x 51 3/16".

Anna Bella Geiger, Com Pinga Vermelha (Pier and Ocean),1990, oil and acrylic on canvas, 63 x 51 3/16".

Rio de Janeiro

Anna Bella Geiger

Museo de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói
Mirante da Boa Viagem, s/nº
December 10, 2011–February 26, 2012

This tight little show—mounted in the tight little modernist gem of a building by Oscar Niemeyer—offers an illuminating cross-section of one of Brazil’s more incisive postwar artists. Born in Rio, Anna Bella Geiger studied in New York in the 1950s, returning there briefly to teach at Columbia in 1969 before settling definitively in Brazil. Though she staked out an early career as an abstractionist, Geiger has gone on to engage with media ranging from assemblage to engraving to video. This exhibition consists mainly of canvas paintings and works on paper, by turns large and small, figurative and abstract, in oil and acrylic. A group of three smoldering chartreuse monochromes from the early 1950s reveal Geiger’s attention to the transitional phases between biomorphic figuration and Abstract Expressionism. At once tightly packed and flattened in a shallow plane, the small canvases reveal a certain deftness with the language of abstraction as it evolved out of Cubism.

At first glance, some of her figurative acrylics from the 1980s, such as her “Pier and Ocean” series, seem to ride the wave of a wider, international current. Yet her interest in figuration dates back to at least the mid-1970s, when her work increasingly bridled against the censorship and repression of Brazil’s rigid dictatorship. Completed around the time when Geiger spearheaded some innovative work in video (she was one of the first to use the medium in Brazil), the Pop-ish paintings Ideology and About Art Say It with Us: Bureaucracy, both 1976, provide a commentary at once ironic and direct in its stance against official state propaganda. In the context of these same works, the no less mordant Adventurism, 1976, takes on the hypocrisies of the art world itself, and—evoking the visual language of Colonial American wood-block prints—figures a group of men staking out new land for discovery (and, it is presumed, exploitation).