Rio de Janeiro

Waltercio Caldas

Paço Imperial

It’s difficult to describe an exhibition like Waltercio Caldas’ “Anotações 1969–1996” (Annotations 1969–1996). First, there is the problem of attempting to “translate” the work of an artist that depends so much on the play of languages, visual and verbal. Second, “Anotações. . .” consisted of several dozen works (sketchbooks, drawings, objects, reproductions, texts, and a video piece), which—though for the most part small and rather simply constructed— engage complex issues. The work juxtaposes and exposes gaps between languages, the logic of the visual, the verbal and—in the case of the video piece—the auditory: their untranslatable and enigmatic nature. Though Caldas’ work might conjure Conceptual art, it strongly resists art-historical categorization.

The exhibition, which occupied a single room of this former imperial palace, offered a compelling alternative to the retrospective Caldas’ oeuvre certainly merits. The thoughtful selection and installation of this group of works underlined the importance of the artist’s studies and sketches as records of the visualization of his thoughts, his process of reflection. Caldas placed his “annotations” in sixteen vitrines, none of which were organized chronologically, and most of the pieces were intentionally not identified by the customary museum label. The epigraphs that appeared on every other vitrine seemed key to understanding what was contained and displayed, consistingof statements such as: “to give names to the space between things”; “to make manifest in objects their initial capacity to appear”; “to observe the movement of still things”; “there is a doubt that belongs to clarity”; or, “nothingness revindicates, constantly.” In the absence of complete, articulate sentences, the works, and their epigraphs, resisted interpretation and explication, and the problem of translating from the visual to the verbal was flagrantly visible.

Consider the video piece: images of a spinning record player are juxtaposed with a long list of names of masters from the history of painting (Jackson Pollock, Giotto, Lasar Segall, Leonardo da Vinci, Manet, etc.), to the accompaniment of a portion of an Olivier Messiaen symphony. The privileging of painting’s brand names over its masterpieces, the incongruous presence of the record player, and the decision to use video seem to reflect one of Caldas’ targets: the gaps and peculiarities that are found not so much between different media, as between different languages. Yet one persists, turning to the content of the vitrines, which again offer uneasy assistance: drawings of circles, curves, stones, a glass, a parallelepiped, and a cat carrying a mirror on its back; tiny crystal skulls; steel balls on crumpled paper; silver pins and red thread; a fragment of a map; postcards from Rio; verbal and visual references to Rilke, Velázquez, Rodin, Matisse; and more sentences, this time turned into objects and drawings. The abundance of text was something that distinguished this exhibition of Caldas’ work. At last, one felt, the sentences began to answer one question raised by these works: in such a mysterious, at times obscure universe, does the artist hold the key to all complexities and uncertainties, both evoked and announced? Is he or she able, much like a magician, to give names to the spaces between things? “I simply guess the similarities between the parts,” Caldas writes. The very nature of these “annotations”—much more than the finished pieces they foreshadow—suggests attempt, rumination, conjecture. “We will still see what we do not see,” Caldas writes and draws, thus eschewing the role of clairvoyant who sees what his spectators cannot. If the “transparent field” and “unlimited surface” hold a “trap” that “deserves our interest,” Caldas is not the one who sets this trap for us. It’s already there—he simply and subtly attempts to mark it.

Adriano Pedrosa