“The Garden of Power”

Centro Cultural Banco Do Brasil

If there is a perfect city for staging a dialogue between modernist universalism and the postmodernist celebration of difference, Brasília must be it. Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer’s grand project has been constantly disrupted throughout the past fifty years by the city’s growing population and chaotic development as well as by the original buildings’ gradual “postmodern” disintegration. “Jardim do Poder” (The Garden of Power), curated by Felipe Chaimovich, linked Costa’s urban plan to the pattern of the gardens at Versailles, a complex created to reinforce and celebrate the centralized power of the French monarchy. Brasília was, in a sense, an ambitious reprise of this same idea but in a democratic, “provincial,” and postcolonial form.

But the Brazilian capital instead became a monument to the failure of modern utopian ideals, and this exhibition thus offered a critique of Costa and Niemeyer’s enterprise. Positing the buildings of Niemeyer’s Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil as a double for the Versailles palace, Chaimovich held the show in the garden behind them, in a temporary structure (designed by the architect Felipe Tassara) with walls of thick green nylon, like that used to protect buildings under construction or renovation. The exhibition grounds became a self-mocking equivalent of the Petit Parc, with the Paranoá Lake viewed from a distance serving as the new Grand Canal. Works by nine Brazilian artists of different generations were placed within the compartments and corridors of this structure, recalling the placement of the fountains and statuary at Versailles.

As if to mimic and recontextualize the disorder of the development around and inside the Costa-Niemeyer megacity, the exhibition offered an array of visual and sonic expressions that combined to create their own sort of chaos—from four manneristic bronze statues by Sérgio Romagnollo to Paulo Bruscky’s Fountain Project, 1982/2007, which features recordings of the sounds of fountains from around the world. The interactive aspect of some pieces moves them beyond the aesthetic realm of garden decoration, pointing, however covertly, to social and political concerns. Laura Lima’s spectacular Gala Chickens, 2007, in which hens (housed in a postmodernist or maybe just neoconcrete coop) are adorned with the bright feathers of samba dancers, indirectly brings the carnivalization of everyday life in Brazil to the dinner table, and in so doing comments on the omnipresence—and perhaps the absurdity—of the real or alleged propensity of Brazilians to overindulge in sensuality. Marcelo Cidade’s Transestatal, 2006, provides a poignant deconstruction of Brazilian surface reality: A pile of rubbish collected from the streets of Brasília dumped in the middle of the temporary exhibition space, it included a crude container filled with cheap sugarcane-based spirit, cachaça, pouring from inside the heap.

Surprisingly enough, a show that explored the modern/postmodern dichotomy ended up celebrating style and surface as commonalities of the two aesthetics. This result was most visible in Regina Silveira’s Mundus Admirabilis, 2007, installed in a glass pavilion nearby, which seemed to run as a counterpoint to the rest of the show while serving as a bridge between the two eras. The pavilion was covered with digitized images of gigantic insects, affixed directly onto its glass walls; the space became a playground and a lively agora for social interaction, attractive and repulsive at the same time. Conceived with formal rigor and great attention to detail, the work looked like a beautiful yet infested trap, straight out of Franz Kafka’s tortured imagination, yet in sync with the present reality of Brasília.

Marek Bartelik