São Paulo

View of “Ricardo Alcaide,” 2014.

View of “Ricardo Alcaide,” 2014.

Ricardo Alcaide

View of “Ricardo Alcaide,” 2014.

On entering Ricardo Alcaide’s solo show “Settlements,”I was struck by a sense of déjà vu. As my eyes scanned the large industrial warehouse where it was installed, I saw bare walls and a floor dotted with dozens of groupings of discarded materials—cloth, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, pieces of wood, and so on. In downtown São Paulo, it’s not unusual to come across similar objects piled on the sidewalk. Here, some were also placed on freestanding steel shelves used to bisect the space and hold some of the smaller artworks; the shelves were installed diagonally across from the entrance in the middle of the room.

The Venezuelan-born Alcaide lives and works in São Paulo, creating art that is inspired by urban architecture, its inhabitants, and social issues. In the past, working primarily as a photographer, he made series such as “The Sitters,” 2002–2007, for which he invited London’s homeless to pose in a studio, and “Passersby,” 2005–2009, in which people on the streets of São Paulo were asked to don animal masks. By the time of his first exhibition at Baró in 2011, “A Place to Hide,” Alcaide was photographing provisional abodes made by the homeless—structures built from discarded materials—as well as making installations, sculptures, and objects.

“Settlements” marks a shift in a career built on a quasi-anthropological investigation of urban life from the perspective of the rejected, the disposable, the temporary, and the forgotten. Hence the floor pieces resembling piles of refuse from the street: a mound of wood and plastic bags (Uneven and If We Knew Then; all works cited, 2014); planks of wood balanced on a large cushion from a discarded sofa (Soft Settlement); bricks, foam, plywood, and other materials placed next to one another (Group); a white rectangular volume made of MDF with a Formica finish supported by pieces of wood and corrugated cardboard used for making doors and paneling (Setting). Others, such as Settlement nº6 and Settle Down,were cast in bronze to maintain their dejected sculptural shapes. Another group that includes Settlements nº7 (three levels of long planks supported by bricks, cardboard, and other materials) and Settlements nº5 (a set of steel shelves smaller than those in the center of the room, with an assortment of found objects and one bronze piece) was formed of vertical groupings of industrial materials. Then there were objects made with monochromatically painted canvases, some united by hinges and others placed inside boxes or on shelves (A New State and Encounter nº4).

Difficult to see upon entering the exhibition, blocked by the long stretch of freestanding shelves that divided the space diagonally in half, were tables displaying some twenty black-and-white photographs of modernist buildings, all with added materials—thus their designation as Untitled with Elements with different reference numbers, from the series “Interiors,” 2013–. For instance, Untitled with Elements nº24 depicts Palácio do Planalto, the president’s office in Brasília, with an abstract petroleum-blue plastic shape glued over part of it (referencing the shapes of the homeless constructions in the 2011 show); nº32 shows a corner of architect Lina Bo Bardi’s former residence in São Paulo with a piece of corrugated cardboard covering its bottom half.

Architecture lies at the formal core of all the artworks, from floor pieces that resemble building models, photos that depict them, and shelves that echo their modular nature, to boxes and planks that function as abstract units. Conceptually, “Settlements” was an exercise in observation and commentary on the complex poetics of the ever-changing urban landscape—in which space is occupied not only by buildings and bodies but by residue of all sorts, and spatial meaning can always be reassigned.

Camila Belchior