Rio de Janeiro

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) (detail), 1972, seven C-prints, each 16 × 20". From the suite Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), 1972. From “artevida,” 2014. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) (detail), 1972, seven C-prints, each 16 × 20". From the suite Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), 1972. From “artevida,” 2014. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C.

“artevida”

artevida

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) (detail), 1972, seven C-prints, each 16 × 20". From the suite Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), 1972. From “artevida,” 2014. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C.

The citywide, large-scale group exhibition “artevida” (artlife) examined the relationship between art and life around the time of the Brazilian military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985. The show, curated by Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, with Rodrigo Moura, director of the Instituto Inhotim near Belo Horizonte, revolved around three by-now iconic artists: Lygia Pape, Lygia Clark, and Hélio Oiticica, all of whom practiced in Rio de Janeiro during that era and—together with Amilcar de Castro, Franz Weissmann, and others—gave birth to Neo-concrete art. The legendary Brazilian art critic and militant politician Mario Pedrosa referred to this movement as exemplifying the prehistory of Brazilian art, suggesting that it had brought art back to a point of origin, from which it could be completely renewed.

Brazil was not the only country that underwent radical changes in both politics and art during this period, and the exhibition’s aim was to examine regions of the world that were dealing with similar issues, exploring such themes as the making of art under dictatorships, the dematerialization of the art object, the human body as a space for self-determination, and the overcoming of traditional artistic conventions. What distinguished “artevida” from earlier exhibitions exploring similar territory, such as “Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s” (Queens Museum of Art, New York, 1999) or “Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949–1979” (The Geffen Contemporary of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1998), was the fact that it focused deliberately on artists from the global south (Africa, Asia, and Latin America) and from Eastern Europe, largely leaving aside artists from North America and Western Europe.

The exhibition was divided into four sections presented in as many distinct areas of Rio de Janeiro. “Artevida (corpo)” (body) at Casa França-Brasil and “artevida (política)” (politics) at the Museu de Arte Moderna formed the two main pillars, and the chapters “artevida (arquivo)” (archive) at the Biblioteca Parque Estadual and “artevida (parque)” (park) at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage formed a short prologue and epilogue. “Artevida (arquivo)” featured selections from the archives of two artists: the Recife-based Paulo Bruscky (curated by Cristiana Tejo) and the Rosario-based Graciela Carnevale. At Parque Lage, works by Martha Araújo, Tsuruko Yamazaki, and Georges Adéagbo—with the show’s single new commission—explored the relationship between art and nature by reflecting on the unusual mix of concrete jungle and tropical rainforest that characterizes the urban landscape of Rio.

Focusing on the use of the body as artistic material, a territory of protest, and a medium of resistance, “artevida (corpo)” had (unmarked) subsections centered on identity, the self-portrait, the body in transformation, and the cut, among others. Another emphasis was given to an examination of organic lines, textiles, and weaving as alternatives to the grid and orthodox geometric abstraction. Presented throughout this venue were interactive, relational, and participatory works, including pieces by Ana Mendieta, Dóra Maurer, and Geta Bra_˘_tescu, but also by artists who would have been relatively obscure or completely unknown to most audiences, such as the Cairo-born, Paris-based Turkish feminist Nil Yalter or Araújo, a Brazilian who—like Oiticica and Pape—worked with cloth and costume to create a form of living, ever-changing sculpture.

“Artevida (política)” gathered works made in resistance to authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, under occupation, and in opposition to other forms of repression. This dense display successfully presented relatively traditional media such as painting and collage addressing topics such as racism, democracy and elections, maps and flags, war and violence, strikes, and revolutions. Standouts included Gülsün Karamustafa’s paintings of political protests in Turkey from the 1970s as well as works by the self-taught Palestinian painter Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara, who chronicles the recent history of the Palestinian people on large and colorful canvases.

Rather than wanting to “correct” established narratives, “artevida” pointed to the idea of multiple and simultaneous developments and fragmented histories. The amount of research behind it was remarkable, and much of the work was being seen in the Americas for the first time. The biggest problem of the exhibition was the paucity of interpretative material on hand. Though many of the works speak for themselves, and though relationships could easily be recognized by viewers thanks to fine-tuned juxtapositions, nonspecialized audiences might have found it difficult to grasp the full meanings of the pieces on display. The forthcoming catalogue will presumably fill this void. United by a highly poetic curatorial voice that seemed intensely informed by the artists and their sensibilities, the exhibition let us listen in on a rich dialogue among artists from the South and proposed an alternative history of politically engaged art in the 1960s.

Jens Hoffmann