São Paulo


The Brazilian artist Pazé’s recent work, A Coleção (The Collection), 2009, transported the viewer inside a spectacular hall of painting, an illusionistic space on printed wallpaper that covered the walls of Casa Triângulo from floor to ceiling. His invented gallery was packed salon style with famous works ranging from Caravaggio’s Musicians, 1595, to Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait, 1906, all in the public domain and all including figures that look directly at the viewer. The artist reinforced the ambiguity of the fictional space by repeating it as an inverted view, thus producing a seemingly infinite mirrored environment, a doubly confusing mise en abyme.

But this was an abyss with specific historical referents. Inspired by Georges Perec’s book Un Cabinet d’amateur (1979; translated as “A Gallery Portrait,” 1996), Pazé modeled his work on David Teniers the Younger’s Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in His Painting Gallery in Brussels, 1647, which shows the Hapsburg regent and collector in his gallery—which housed one of the most important painting collections of the time (now part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna)—along with Teniers, who was his gallery director, and several other figures. The Brazilian artist takes up Teniers’s distorted illusionism by playing with the arrangement of the paintings to create a dynamic, kaleidoscopic environment. The paintings seemed to slide into the illusionistic space, which bent in different directions, while figures in the reproduced paintings collectively gazed at the viewer. Such a complex trompe l’oeil might, in fact, be less comparable to Teniers than to Velázquez’s Las Meninas—or, more precisely, to the painting’s interpretation by Michel Foucault, who argues that, while looking at the painting, “we must therefore pretend not to know who is to be reflected in the depths of that mirror, and interrogate that reflection in its own terms.” In other words, it is our eye that becomes a mirror. Although that work was not shown in Pazé’s piece, A Coleção is likewise a reflective, flattened space that elicits a complex interaction with the viewer, and it attempts to address the dissemination of art within a specific system of relationships. A Coleção was about a gallery inside a gallery, rather than a painting inside a painting.

Indeed, according to the Brazilian critic Magnólia Casta, the work is not only about visual experience (and its distortions) but also about collecting. “If completeness is a cause of admiration,” she asks in the exhibition brochure, “what is it that motivates someone to form a collection that cannot be completed?” One might wonder, though, to what extent this exhibition really managed to address this question. A presumed dialogue with collecting appeared to be simply projected onto the fictional gallery from the accompanying text. Other broader questions might be asked first: What is the significance of appropriating paintings from the past? What does it mean to replicate and hybridize a European gallery in a Brazilian commercial gallery, or any gallery in any place for that matter? Paradoxically enough, what appeared particularly engaging as one viewed Pazé’s colorful installation was that despite its historical referents and its strong, slightly claustrophobic presence, the most pertinent question it posed was about the ambiguity of the place contemporary art occupies in the white cube.

Marek Bartelik