São Paulo

Ana Mazzei, Romana (Roman Woman) (detail), 2020, wood, pigmented wax painting, iron, engine, 4' 1 1/4" × 15' 4 1/2" × 15' 4 1/2".

Ana Mazzei, Romana (Roman Woman) (detail), 2020, wood, pigmented wax painting, iron, engine, 4' 1 1/4" × 15' 4 1/2" × 15' 4 1/2".

Ana Mazzei

Ana Mazzei works at the juncture of sculpture, painting, architecture, and theater. This cross-disciplinarity was manifested in the Brazilian artist’s recent solo show, “Vesuvius,” which foregrounded her ingenious use of humble materials. Prime among them is wood, which she varnishes and coats with wax paints, at times adding found objects to construct dreamy scenarios. The show revolved around the idea of remnants, in particular those of the frescoes at Pompeii. One might liken Mazzei’s approach to that of Canadian poet Anne Carson, whose 2002 translation of the works of Greek poet Sappho left blanks where the original text was missing, rather than imposing a semblance of cohesion. In Mazzei’s show, omission and ambiguity similarly left an opening for the viewer’s subjectivity.

Sometimes the artist’s sculptural arrangements seemed themselves to be mysterious excavation sites—an archeology of the unconscious. Desire coursed through a number of small watercolors; only two were officially part of the show, but more were on view in the gallery’s offices and provided useful contextual hints via their theatrical imagery, encompassing props, masks, and couples in amorous embraces. In these works, the representation of the female body was frontal and geared to the viewer, and felt highly performative. One gets a comparable sense of desire being staged when looking at, say, the frescoes relating to the cult of Dionysus in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. The bewildering energy of this lush, libidinous wall frieze from the first century BCE found an echo in Mazzei’s recent watercolors and sculptures.

In Romana (Roman Woman; all works cited, 2020), a wood cutout in a human form, with arms thrown up, evoked violent revelry. Painted with pigmented wax, in dramatic bands of black, red, yellow, and white, the figure reclines in a chair, powered by an engine, upon which she goes around a circular track. Romana seems to be a transposition of the Pompeian Woman with a Veil, a detail of the Dionysiac frieze; both works dramatically encapsulate a moment of shock or fright. Mazzei placed this sculpture alongside Cortina (Curtain), a painting in acrylic on velvet, whose forceful reds mirror the carmine background of the same frieze. Elsewhere in the gallery was a small watercolor on paper, Casal (Couple), whose carnivalesque depiction of masked lovers somewhat lessens the jolt.

Mazzei played on the idea of staging throughout the show, one of whose great pleasures lay in seeing carpentry turned into dreamscape as wood and ordinary thrift-shop finds took on enigmatic meanings. Mazzei’s winsome sculptures, with their thin, totemic bases, allude to animals (Bode encontrado [Found Goat], Pavão [Peacock]), body parts (Pezinho [Little Foot]), mythological figures (Adonis), theater (Russian Scenery), and sacred architecture (Templo [Temple], a totemic installation in the form of a square enclosure). Mazzei plays with scale, with most works at human or miniature size and thus harking back to the modestly sized nonobjects of Brazilian Neo-Concrete artists such as Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica. Unlike their works, Mazzei’s are meant to be seen rather than touched, but in walking around them one finds one’s attention drawn to how their spatial interconnections suggest a psychological, unconscious maze. If there’s unity in this open web, it’s poetic. While Mazzei borrows fluidly from multiple traditions—from Duchampian readymades and Russian Constructivism to Arte Povera, Minimalism, and Neo-Concretism—she imbues this lineage with a sense of theatricality and earthy sensuality that’s all her own.