View of “Gonçalo Sena,” 2021. From left: Circular Spaces #14, 2020; To Intrude on Nature’s Way, 2021.

View of “Gonçalo Sena,” 2021. From left: Circular Spaces #14, 2020; To Intrude on Nature’s Way, 2021.

Gonçalo Sena

Galería Heinrich Ehrhardt

The Western tradition has some ineluctable images of water. One is the melancholic Psalm 137 (“By the rivers of Babylon”), which was set to music by Palestrina, Victoria, and Verdi, among many others. Another comes from the myth of Narcissus, whose fondness for looking at his reflection in a lake had tragic consequences. Then there are the material manifestations of our feelings about water: for instance, in the fountains in the palace gardens of the Alhambra or Versailles, which demonstrate architects’ mastery over the forces of nature.

For his exhibition “Circular Spaces,” Portuguese artist Gonçalo Sena installed a black plastic pond in the gallery. Inside it were two individual sculptures, Fonte fóssil (Fossil Fountain), 2019, and To Intrude on Nature’s Way, 2021, that double as fountains. Each more than six feet tall, two slabs—one marble, the other stone and metal components including a shapeless form that turned out to be the bronze cast of a tree branch the artist found after a storm—rose from the pond’s shallow pool thanks to a discreet steel structure. The word fountains may evoke misleading associations, however, because, although water comes out of these objects, it doesn’t jet out but spills through formless pieces of bronze adhered to the centers of the stone plates, flowing through their holes and cracks, breaking out wherever it can.

Around this main installation hung drawings that reiterated the circular forms of water falling on water. Although individually these drawings might have seemed insignificant, once integrated into the whole they reinforced the idea of the pool as a mirror. One almost felt as if the waves and splashes of water were invading the entire exhibition space. Rounding out the exhibition were sculptures with porous surfaces of concrete and polyurethane. The found “pedestals” Sena used for them included a broken plastic chair and a backpack, as well as a pair of aluminum-and-dyed-concrete benches outside the gallery’s main exhibition space.

The show as a whole seemed to oscillate semantically between suggesting an idyll and a ruin. Approaching the small pool into which water gently streamed, viewers could see their reflections floating above the synthetic darkness of the bottom. Whatever pleasure they may have taken in the stony solemnity of the main pieces, once the deceit of noble materials and scale (the weight of art history always looms in our gaze) wore off, images of tasteless countertops or nondescript garden tables might have broken the enchantment. “Circular Spaces” operated in this crack between the sublime and the mediocre. The artist was not simply playing at simulacra; rather, the exhibition attempted to unite these two opposites, showing that, although they cannot mix, they can coexist.

For example, one of the porous sculptures, Rocha rouca (Rough Rock, 2020), immediately evoked the silhouette of a seashell. Given the sound of falling water permeating the gallery, one was almost tempted to press one’s ear to it. Rough and full of small holes, its mysterious interior cast a seductive spell on the eye. At the same time, the work was frankly just some polyurethane, concrete, and wire on a plastic chair worn down under the glare of the sun. In “Circular Spaces,” apparently antithetical sensations coincided without fuss, as if—in a blurred and deformed manner—reflecting one another.

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.