Iran do Espírito Santo

Galeria André Viana

Despite its slick minimalist look, and in contrast to much of the contemporary Brazilian art you may have seen, Iran do Espírito Santo’s work addresses art’s most time-honored task: representation. This exhibition offered a comprehensive look at the Sao Paulo-based artist’s recent production. It included three sculptures belonging to a series of solid stainless-steel casts of ordinary objects: Ovni (UFO), 2000, two dinner plates put together, one on top of the other; Fluorescente (Fluorescent), 2000, a fluorescent lightbulb; and Castiçal e vela (Candlestick and candle), 1998, a candlestick holding a candle. What’s important is not just that an ordinary object becomes an art object through the traditional sculptural process of casting, here counterpoised with industrial materials and flirting with reductivist strategies. Rather, it's that in the process of becoming art, the objects have taken on uncanny features. Things we know well have been distanced from us, rendered functionless and abnormal, either through somewhat childish arrangements (UFO’s stacked and inverted plates) or sexual connotations (the more phallic Fluorescent and Candlestick and Candle). Another work, Nostalgia, 1999, consists of a rich green-grass-colored rug made of wool, roughly six and a half by ten feet. The rug becomes an art object (we’re not allowed to step on it) whose rich and dense surface evokes painting (the monochrome) as well as nature (a bed of grass). The romantic title of the work gains multiple connotations, working with the represented objects—rug and grass—to conjure a moment of comfort or bliss perhaps once experienced there.

The long gallery was divided by two walls turned into sculptures: Divisor A (Divider A) and Divisor B, both 2000. Each was made of seventeen white MDF blocks with slightly smoothed edges. The irregular geometric composition of the resulting grid was a monumental modernist monochromatic painting become sculpture. Again Espírito Santo has crafted common objects to make them at once beautifully minimalist and representational: luxurious space partitions. In this case, their function has been retained, and the two dividers create three exhibition spaces in the gallery. Framed by the two partitions was Floresta Paralela (Parallel forest), two large facing wall paintings of an enlarged bar-code design painted in black. On close inspection of their surfaces, one could detect a delicate black-and-white wood grain pattern. Espírito Santo had set up an interplay between nature and the industrial, now also imbued with suggestions of geometric and Op art.

In the last room, the installation Recurrency II, 2000, consisted of fifty-four larger-than-life brass, copper, and stainless-steel coins scattered on the floor. The work is an obvious reference to the commodification of art, and the title points specifically at the conversion of cash into art and back again. But the heavy, polished metal disks are also beautiful geometric sculptures of the most figurative, impure type. Espírito Santo’s dexterous play with representation is full of everyday references, and his flirtation with architecture and design puts him in tune with his contemporaries around the world. Yet it is the work’s quietness and strangeness—always urging us to stop and contemplate common objects turned into art, to meditate on the form, function, and representation—that distinguish it from ordinary things.

Adriano Pedrosa