Rio de Janeiro

Solange Escosteguy, Liberdade (Freedom), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 39 3⁄8 × 39 3⁄8".

Solange Escosteguy, Liberdade (Freedom), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 39 3⁄8 × 39 3⁄8".

Solange Escosteguy

Solange Escosteguy’s artistic trajectory began with her participation in the seminal exhibition “Nova objetividade brasileira” (New Brazilian Objectivity) at Rio de Janeiro’s Museu de Arte Moderna in 1967. In the exhibition catalogue, the show’s main organizer, the artist Hélio Oiticica, described Brazilian avant-garde art as characterized by, among other things, the participation of the viewer, the tendency for the object to negate and supersede the frame of the easel, the adoption of collective propositions, and new formulations of the concept of antiart. In considering the work of Escosteguy, it is important to remember that Oiticica differentiated the New Objectivity, which he called the “typical state of current Brazilian art,” from the “two main currents of today: Pop and Op, and also from those connected to them: Nouveau Réalisme and Primary Structures (Hard Edge).” If the language of Pop art was nevertheless evident in the oeuvres of various Brazilian artists, including Escosteguy, the content of their work was very different from that of American and English practitioners. The violence and censorship that characterized the dictatorship that had begun in 1964 were inescapable facts in Brazil, with its extremely unequal society and semi-industrial economy. The developmentalist utopia envisioned in the 1950s had become an ever-more-distant dream. Artists such as Escosteguy could not avoid dealing with these conditions.

Escosteguy’s most recent exhibition, curated by Raphael Fonseca, offered an excellent opportunity to evaluate the unique version of Pop that emerged in Brazil. Her “Anticaixa” (Antibox) series, 1965–89, represented here by two works from 1989 and one from 1973, features interlocking wooden objects with canvas and acrylic paint applied to them, indicating a meeting of painting and sculpture but also exploring the relationship between visual arts and fashion, another of the artist’s areas of interest. But recent paintings such as Liberdade (Freedom), 2019—which lent its title to the exhibition—make a more explicit connection to her political roots. The canvas brings to mind a poster or commercial graphic design. Between two orthogonally placed monochromatic strips appears a third, yellow one, like a beam of light, within which the word LIBERDADE appears broken and the letters DADE are flipped. Just as in the 1960s, this meeting of Pop and politics is informed by exceptional conditions: 2019 was the year Brazil elected a right-wing president who has spoken nostalgically of the “glorious” period of the dictatorship.

In terms of visual impact, a relationship between Escosteguy’s works and Brazil’s urban environment was likewise evident. Recent paintings bearing such legends as AH; PAZ (peace); and SORRIA (smile) have a graphic punch that recalls protest banners and traffic signs. The city is symbolically invoked as a space for political discourse critical of the status quo. Perhaps thanks to the heritage of visual poetry that was also seemingly important in the artist’s development, a focus on the isolated word draws attention to its importance. In Abismo (Abyss), 2019, a sinuously curving arrow points vertically down to the inscription of the work’s title. This winding path to the bottom might be an allegory of a Brazil where the Ministry of Culture was dismantled last year. Oiticica’s observation in the 1967 catalogue that artists should “address this world with a genuinely transformative will and way of thinking, on the ethical-political-social planes” remains relevant in Escosteguy’s work.

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers