New York

Rivane Neuenschwander

Reviewing “Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in these pages earlier this year, Irene Small asked what it suggests for this short-lived movement, comprising visual arts, music, theater, and cinema—inaugurated by an installation of Hélio Oiticica’s, and fully extant only from 1967 to 1969—to have enjoyed such a long (and long since institutionalized) afterlife. “If Tropicália’s decentering power rests on a permanently shifting periphery,” she asked, “what does it mean that history ended up on its side?” Like so many momentarily disruptive avant-gardes, the punctual interruption of Tropicália subsequently assumes a canon. Maybe this inversion is inevitable, or even desired. But its influence now threatens to overwhelm more recent interventions by Brazilian artists like Rivane Neuenschwander, who while surely activating this legacy of art as open proposition also move beyond it.

In “Other Stories and Stories of Others,” Neuenschwander’s first exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, which was also her first solo show in New York, her so-called ethereal materialism—which owes much to Oiticica, Lygia Pape, and Lygia Clark—was very much in evidence. Even so, Neuenschwander’s range of references here far exceeded Neo-concrete circumscription; each of the thirty-eight collages titled One Thousand and One Possible Nights, 2006, for example, references Scheherazade. All feature letter-sprinkled confetti punched from the pages of The Arabian Nights and then scattered on black grounds. Like other of Neuenschwander’s past projects, including Deadline Calendar, 2001–2002, an elegiac installation of perishable items displaying their “best before” dates, it functions as a sort of wry agenda, corresponding to the duration of the show (one page per day).

Meanwhile, Story of an Other’s Day, 2005, an orange Remington 12 typewriter modified to produce not letters but black and red dots, invited participation and effected daily arrangements of its own. These new designs, made by visitors to the show, were juxtaposed with similarly made (albeit now framed and therefore oddly aestheticized) drawings from prior collaborations, at the last Venice Biennale. The latter efforts represented, among myriad other things, a pyramid, a smiley face, and a skull, and additionally spelled out CARPE DIEM, HELL, and the gnomic PAUL D. IS A ROBOT, in accumulations of tiny marks.

Viewers’ involvement was rendered involuntary in the main gallery’s Secondary Stories, 2006, a kind of room-size, walk-in Technicolor snow globe. Circles of cherry, lemon, lime, and turquoise tissue paper, four to six inches in diameter, fluttered down though a few inconspicuous holes in a dropped false ceiling, propelled by concealed fans. Accumulated disks, visible through the overhead plastic, eventually fell to the floor—singly or, rarely, in frenetic clumps—where they were perpetually shuffled by viewers’ movements, picked up, or recycled for the next staging. In the adjoining room, a six-minute video that Neuenschwander made with Cao Guimarães, Quarta-Feira de Cinzas/Epilogue (Ash Wednesday/Epilogue), 2006, followed the pathways of black ants carrying miniature versions of the colored discs. These scurrying protagonists labored under the weight of their treasures, the minutiae of their existence transformed into an unexpectedly compelling narrative of community and exchange. And they even have a sound track: The natural if wildly amplified resonance is present, but so, too, is a distinctive samba, tapped out with matchsticks. This is the legacy of tropical clichés—of parrots and wicker screens—that Neuenschwander so effectively sublates.

Suzanne Hudson