Pedro Cabrita Reis

Hamburger Kunsthalle/Galerie der Gegenwart

“One After Another, a Few Silent Steps,” curated by Sabrina van der Ley, was the first major retrospective of the work of Pedro Cabrita Reis in Germany. It elicited two ostensibly contradictory impressions: on one hand, an unyielding minimalism with a strong emphasis on material, and on the other, a sense of quiet, poetic allusiveness. It’s fascinating that in each of the works included, these two elements are simultaneously present and interlinked through Cabrita Reis’s artistic vocabulary. This dualism was underlined in Hamburg by the arrangement of the works, which, disregarding chronology, focused on the dialogue and tension between individual pieces—about sixty in all, with sculptures, paintings, drawings, and photographs made between 1985 and 2009 brought together to create striking rooms and sequences of rooms. Thus Les Heures oubliées (The Forgotten Hours), originally from 2004, a wall in the middle of the exhibition space roughly assembled from red bricks and partly bashed in, was re-created as a pair of walls that turned the room into a sort of rudimentary labyrinth and provided the only point of access to the chapel-like White Room (About T. S. Eliot), 2006, an installation featuring large-format monochromes of patterned white and off-white fabrics on burgundy-colored walls, whose formality stood in marked contrast to the more impoverished Les Heures oubliées.

It is often said that Cabrita Reis’s work has architectural themes, but an interpretation based on this subject matter is too limiting. It’s true that he often works with found pieces salvaged from demolished houses, such as old doors or window frames, but he also uses industrial materials such as neon tubes, glass plates, and steel beams. Motifs taken from everyday life appear in the form of tables and chairs. And yet the most important thing about his work remains the openness of the tableaux that Cabrita Reis conjures out of such crude materials and their ostensible use-value. His works seek the potential of the sensual, resonant gesture. In the creation of these works, everything seems to fall in place for Cabrita Reis: “Voices. I scrutinize among other sounds, intertwined ones, words, fading away breaths that still shine for an instant. I keep them and in my notebooks they figure as first drawings for works. And later as titles, words as iron bars, a wall painted orange. I cannot see why a painting may not be a sculpture, a drawing, or some other thing, this or that, anything else.”

Indeed, this suggestive orange hue appeared in several works here, such as I Dreamt Your House Was a Line, 2003/2009, a kind of stereoscopic image as reductive as it is associative: On orange-painted walls were mounted white neon tubes of various lengths, attached to one another both horizontally and vertically and surrounding the viewer in sweeping zigzags. The title of this energetic room suggests a notion of opening, of the dissolution of the borders of an individually occupied space into some brightly lit linearity. As a pictorial condensation, this work is exemplary of Cabrita Reis’s art. And, fittingly, it functioned here as a dramaturgic sluice gate: Two doors led, like distinct paths, into and out of the show—and on each of these paths one could locate Cabrita Reis’s “dream image” of a dissolution of spatial boundaries in one’s sights.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.