São Paulo

Tobias Putrih, Compressions I, 2016, cardboard, plywood, metal, wooden clothespins, elastic rope, 39 3/4 × 42 1/8 × 3 1/2". From the series “Compressões” (Compressions), 2016.

Tobias Putrih, Compressions I, 2016, cardboard, plywood, metal, wooden clothespins, elastic rope, 39 3/4 × 42 1/8 × 3 1/2". From the series “Compressões” (Compressions), 2016.

Tobias Putrih

Luciana Brito Galeria

Tobias Putrih, Compressions I, 2016, cardboard, plywood, metal, wooden clothespins, elastic rope, 39 3/4 × 42 1/8 × 3 1/2". From the series “Compressões” (Compressions), 2016.

At first sight, “Compressões,” (Compressions), the first solo exhibition in Brazil by Boston-based Slovene artist Tobias Putrih, seemed to pay homage to the gallery’s own iconic town house, designed by Rino Levi and completed in 1959. The show featured thirteen suspended screens made from cardboard, plywood, metal, wooden clothespins, and elastic. Hung adjacent to a central pergola that created a setting for conversation, they coexisted gracefully with a beige-tiled open fireplace and a tropical garden designed by Roberto Burle Marx. The screens’ formal appearance echoed the conjunctions of perforated walls (cobogó) that compose different spaces within this modernist building.

The screens are each approximately ten feet square and feature the brown cardboard honeycomb panels typically used as cores in industrially produced household interior doors. Suspended from the ceiling at various heights and at various angles, they were suggestive of window shades. At certain points the material’s supple hexagonal cells were clipped together by clothespins. This manipulation of its shape offered abstract or figural evocations: One could see suggestions of mouths and noses or landscape reliefs—apertures that in turn allowed the viewer to peek through to the other side.

Putrih has long been occupied with experimental architecture. Take, for example, his wire sculptures, produced to re-create the soap-bubble experiments for lightweight structures originally conceived by the late Stuttgart architect Frei Otto, which were shown in 2010 at New York’s MINI/Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38. But on this occasion, the artist embraced the opportunity to create a direct analogy to the emblematic work of Levi, a Brazilian modernist architect little known abroad. Not only did Putrih’s “Compressions,” 2016, perform a sublime site-specific nod to the building within which they were shown, they engaged a wider context because they also resonated with some of the renderings produced by Levi for Brasilia’s Pilot Plan competition from 1957, for which the architect was ranked third. Levi’s designs featured isolated vertical housing blocks, thin slices of architecture that guaranteed always-panoramic views.

Visitors to this exhibition were invited to interact with the suspended sculptures and handle the clothespins to create their own diverse iterations of what the artist calls “compressions.” This open form recalled some of the more process-based works of the Brazilian modernists, such as the concrete-poetry experiments of Wlademir Dias-Pino (consider his 1956 artist’s book A Ave with its perforations and superimpositions), yet it also alludes to a simple childhood leisure activity. Thus, the “Compressions” functioned as stand-ins for the absent inhabitants of what was at one time a family bungalow, forcing the viewer to navigate the lounge area as if walking through a permeable labyrinth. It is this final consideration that brings Putrih’s installation closer to the oeuvre of another Brazilian artist, Hélio Oiticica, who equally made the observer an integral part of his work. In particular, Oiticica’s maze Grande Núcleo (Grand Nucleus), 1960–66, comes to mind as a piece that took on a new dimension through direct interaction with the public. Although in that work the different suspended panels vary in size and materials, they are similar in color and form to Putrih’s piece, and likewise engage the viewer’s spatial and temporal perception. Putrih’s lighthearted and playful installation seemed to be a visitor’s celebration of Brazilian art and architectural history.

Tobi Maier