Los Angeles

Nicolau Vergueiro

Golinko Kordansky Gallery

WOW! É PRECISO ESTAR ATENTO E FORTE, NÃO TENHO TEMPO DE TEMER A MORTE. ATENÇÃO!! (Wow! You ought to be cautious and strong, don’t have the time to fear death. Attention!!) So proclaims the stenciled text—fundamental tropicália, sung by Gal Costa on her first solo LP—forming the border of the drawing Divino Maravilhoso (all works 2003). Marvelous indeed, cautious but fearless, Los Angeles–based Brazilian artist Nicolau Vergueiro’s lively and complex work literalizes and materializes his musical interests to the point where they become a nonthematic structural foun- dation. It’s not just tropicalismo and its key figures (Costa, Baby Consuelo, Maria Bethania, Rita Lee, and Caetano Veloso) that make Vergueiro’s work matter: This artist uses it to syncopate the “beat” of such disparate figures as Claes Oldenburg, Yayoi Kusama, Hélio Oiticica, and Paul Thek (trope-calismo?).

The starting unit of Vergueiro’s sculptures is the album cover. It appears as a single sleeve or a double, folded sleeve; both have been combined, collapsed, and expanded to form cubes or idiosyncratic, less tractable forms. Pushing to the breaking point—and then some—any analogic relation of sound to physical structure and of both to emotion and sentiment, Vergueiro softens his geometries with fabrics, flocking and quilting, testing primary structures’ sonic integrity. “Listening speaks,” as Barthes wrote, and the artist-fan considers the strange way music enters the body, confusing inside and out, often with mirrors opening interior spaces illusionistically vaster than than their containers.

In light of the sculptures, what could otherwise have been workmanlike, illustrative drawings come to seem foundational, the first riff of the potential contained in the graphic design of any album art. The padded, pillowed, and otherwise materialized texts that make up part of or are strung along the border of many pieces—punning, bilingual, obliquely turning on the nominative—add to the carnival.

Take the fantastic Meu Nome É Gal (Sangue Tupy) (My Name Is Gal [Blood of the Tupy]). Squat on the floor, from one vantage it’s an open Gal Costa album copied in colored pencil on paper on cardboard. In one verdant square the chanteuse works a grass skirt; in the other, the jungle garment is seen close-up, worn sexily hip-low to reveal a bright red thong. Exploding from between the open spread of the album, the imagined lush “sound” becomes a sculptural scape, all glitter, ice, and magic crystals—a miniature post-apocalyptic world that nods as much to the realms of Ridley Scott’s hypnotic Legend as to drugs. Linked by yarn to this wintry mise-en-scène, white hand-molded plastic letters on the floor spell out SANGUE TUPY, which means “blood of the Tupy” (an indigenous Brazilian tribe) and puns as “to urinate blood,” positing identity as the bodily consequences of history, fantasy, and desire (and vice versa). In other works, albums transmute into vanity corners or odd little shrines that escape modish fey hippiedom by channeling something ancient (think Tupy) while using the magic of today’s materials and by paying heed to the particular form of “softened” Minimalism.

Titling his show “Objeto Sim Objeto Não” (Object Yes Object No), Vergueiro finds the sculptural between yes and no, taking notice and making use of every meaning—noun and verb—of “marginalía,” as one piece was embroidered. In Drama Third Act—Luz da Noite (Light from the Night), a wall hanging–cum–loopy glee-club banner with swags of purple and black fabric and blue and yellow vinyl gilded with spray-paint diamonds, flares, and curled gold ribbon announced a drama queen’s retort to Mike Kelley’s banner-and-afghan devices and staged the high drama of their own future.

Bruce Hainley