Noé Sendas

Museu da Eletricidade

The title of his recent exhibition, “The Collector,” defines the creative process of the Berlin-based Portuguese artist Noé Sendas. Since the beginning of his career, in the mid-’90s, he has developed an oeuvre based on the politics of collecting. In his videos, sculptures, and digital photographic collages he brings together diverse components of Western culture and, like a DJ armed with a sampler, mixes them in order to assign them new meanings. In many of his works one recognizes influences from literature and cinema—for example, citations from Joyce and Beckett, Hitchcock and Godard. These references become, further, part of an exploration of the age-old theme of the Double, an exploration in which self-representation often plays a significant role—for instance, in a series of realistic life-size figures molded from the artist’s own body.

Ten years after his solo debut, this exhibition summarizes Sendas’s practice, despite comprising only one sculpture and a group of twenty-one digital photographic collages. The project is inspired by a passage in Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project (1927–40): “The collector . . . brings together what belongs together; by keeping in mind their affinities and their succession in time, he can eventually furnish information about his objects. . . . As far as the collector is concerned, his collection is never complete; for let him discover just a single piece missing, and everything he has collected remains a patchwork.” Informed by these words, the works on view are a collection of self-portraits, through which Sendas examines this historical mode of introspection derived from the artistic way of life as an iconographic device, with particular reference to the self-portraits of canonical artists from the Renaissance to the present.

The Collector (all works 2007) is a smartly dressed mannequin sitting on a folding chair. By cutting out its eyes, nose, and mouth, Sendas has disfigured it in a way that recalls the slashes in the canvases found in the studio of Francis Bacon after his death and also René Magritte’s famous painting The Son of Man, 1964, in which a man’s face is replaced by a green apple. Approaching the life-size figure, one sees that the inside of the face houses a smoked-glass mirror—similar to those sometimes used by painters making self-portraits—which reflects one’s own face, thus transforming the observer into the observed. (Sendas earlier manipulated the gaze via optical mechanisms in Eye Cast, 2005, an object in which the viewer looks through a keyhole and sees someone looking back.)

This play between observer and observed is repeated in the digital photocollages, composite portraits of famous artists who here gazed out toward the center of the gallery, where the sculpture was placed. The self-portrait images are cut and pasted in elegant combinations that evoke modernist aesthetics—for example, Sarah Lucas and Velázquez, Velázquez and Dürer, Dürer and Mapplethorpe. Andy Warhol’s face meets that of the Portuguese Aurélia de Sousa, while Bruce Nauman can be found in a pairing with Goya that possesses a rare, albeit grotesque, beauty. In deconstructing and reconfiguring these well-known faces of Western art, Sendas satisfies his iconoclastic impulse.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.