Critics’ Picks

Paulo Bruscky, For Our Missing, 1977, mixed media. 11 x 8 1/2".

Paulo Bruscky, For Our Missing, 1977, mixed media. 11 x 8 1/2".

New York

Paulo Bruscky

Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse
September 19, 2013–January 31, 2014

O que é arte? Para que serve? (What is art? What is it for?), is printed on a sign slung around the neck of Brazilian artist Paulo Bruscky, who is imaged in a 1978 series of photographs that introduce this somber retrospective. Comprised of surrealist objects, films, and documentation of interventions and happenings that cast the Fluxus artist as a globalizing presence, “Art Is Our Last Hope” presents an expansive archive framed by the repressive regime that presided over Brazil until 1985. In a climate of extraordinary censorship, Bruscky may have been brave just to ask, let alone answer his own question.

Although the show is quick to describe Bruscky as a lifelong resident of Recife, Brazil, the objects exhibited—from his naughty copy-machine self-portraits (Xeroperformance, 1980, commissioned by Xerox and made in a New York City office) to his altered books Parlarva (Word/Worm), 1992, which recall Cornell, to his mail art such as Untitled (Today Art is the Communiqué),1990—clearly engage various Duchampian practices of postwar neo-Dada. Bruscky’s work significantly highlights a specific locality in the otherwise generalizing discussions of “international” Fluxus that often leave somewhere notably north of the equator as its implied center. Even when Bruscky acted from home, his work speaks transatlantically, whether as Fluxus paperwork, Situationist self-mapping, or Beuysian action.

Bruscky’s work also takes the form of conceptual poetry, and puns whenever possible. The contrast between objects that verge on artistic slapstick, as in a jar filled with a photo of Bruscky (I’m Pickling Myself, 1974) or in elegiac postcards (For Our Missing Ones, 1977), all submerged in the maudlin nostalgia of the overstuffed archive, suggests a bleak sense of humor, possibly a distinguishing leitmotif that carries throughout his work. Even at work in the valley of death, Bruscky manages levity.