Chicago

View of “Lucas Simões,” 2017–18. From left: Abismo n.83, 2017; White Lies 14, 2017; Abismo n.86, 2017. Photo: Tim Johnson.

View of “Lucas Simões,” 2017–18. From left: Abismo n.83, 2017; White Lies 14, 2017; Abismo n.86, 2017. Photo: Tim Johnson.

Lucas Simões

PATRON

View of “Lucas Simões,” 2017–18. From left: Abismo n.83, 2017; White Lies 14, 2017; Abismo n.86, 2017. Photo: Tim Johnson.

Corpos de Prova” (Bodies of Proof), Lucas Simões’s first exhibition at Patron, conjured a stark, almost antiseptic atmosphere, its compressive sculptures evenly spaced throughout the gallery. In pieces such as White Lies 14 (all works 2017),stacks of nonarchival computer paper—destined to curl and yellow over time—were pressed beneath or between rectangular or polygonal concrete slabs. Most of the unforgiving assemblages were in turn suspended on the wall or held aloft by empty metal rectangular prisms. These objects could be regarded as bravura meditations on interdependence, grounded in a systematic set of revelations about paper’s weight-bearing capacities. In that sense, Simões’s works could also be considered structures with affinities to architecture, albeit at a reduced scale, rather than models per se.

A trained architect who gave up his practice in favor of sculpture, Simões has utilized concrete since 2013. This choice of material stems from his long-standing interest in Brutalism’s signature béton brut, or raw concrete, hulking or suspended in weighty volumes, which marked the movement’s departure from International Style’s machine aesthetic. Simões previously researched the London archives of Alison and Peter Smithson (who were considered leaders of the New Brutalism), and has also learned from key examples closer to his home country of Brazil. São Paulo, in particular, has a rich Brutalist tradition that includes the many public and private buildings of João Batista Vilanova Artigas, Lina Bo Bardi, and Paulo Mendes da Rocha. Architecture scholar Guilherme Wisnik recently argued that Brazilian Brutalism circa 1970 represented a utopian attempt at creating “a more candid and generous new sociability inside buildings” in the midst of the country’s repressive dictatorship. Landmarks in this genre, such as Artigas and Carlos Cascaldi’s Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade de São Paulo (1961–69) and Bo Bardi’s Museu de Arte de São Paulo (1957–68), feature massive concrete slabs positioned atop vast open spaces, as if sheltering provisional publics. Completed at the end of the abertura, Brazil’s transition to democracy, Bo Bardi’s Centro de Lazer Fábrica da Pompéia (1977–86) refigured Brutalism in the guise of public space itself: The recreation facility was accessible to all classes. These experiments seem almost idealistic when considered alongside the challenges of contemporary Brazil, which has regressed into a new authoritarianism that has ousted a democratically elected president and unleashed angry mobs at political demonstrations and art exhibitions alike. This fraught national history and dismal present feel literally condensed into Simões’s sculptures—compacted, placed under pressure.

While linking his materials to Brutalist histories at home and abroad, Simões is no representational artist, and therein lies his strength. That his architectonic impulse is toward operations rather than models is what allows him to cross-reference art-historical precedents as well, rather than fetishizing specific buildings in an overtly “research-based practice.” Consider the wall pieces Abismo n.80 and Abismo n.83, in which two trapezoidal slabs—merging into a hexagon in the former and into a downward chevron in the latter—pinch together to hold dangling strips of delicate architectural tracing paper. One thinks of fellow Paulista Mira Schendel’s Trenzinho (Little Train), 1965, a long ream of rice paper suspended by cotton thread across a gallery corner. The delicacy and lightness of that different era’s experiment collides here not only with architecture’s materiality but also with the discipline’s habit of testing and pressing matter into functionality. In Simões’s hands, these materials evoke a grim present, one captured most viscerally by corpo de prova 29, in which a sea cucumber–like section of brown cloth, its bottom dipped in gray cement, sits suspended in a cylindrical vitrine. Like its paper counterparts, this fragile object seems hopelessly imprisoned by its obdurate constraints.

Daniel Quiles