São Paulo

View of “Jacques Douchez and Norberto Nicola,” 2021–22. Photo: Karina Bacci.

View of “Jacques Douchez and Norberto Nicola,” 2021–22. Photo: Karina Bacci.

Jacques Douchez and Norberto Nicola

Texture, volume, and depth were fundamental characteristics of the twenty-six tapestries, hung from the ceiling and surrounded by mirrorclad walls, in “Os pássaros de fogo levantarão voo novamente. As formas tecidas de Jacques Douchez e Norberto Nicola” (The Firebirds Will Take Flight Again: The Woven Forms of Jacques Douchez and Norberto Nicola). Curated by assume vivid astro focus—a collective whose variable personnel in this case consisted only of its founder, Eli Sudbrack—the show presented the work of two artists who were business partners in the weaving studio Atelier Douchez-Nicola, established in 1959 in São Paulo. Despite running the studio together, the artists always kept their creative autonomy, and their work has not been shown side by side as the focus of an exhibition since the dissolution of their enterprise in 1980. Both continued to work on tapestries individually and to exhibit in group and solo shows to the end of their lives. This exhibition, which was not organized chronologically or as a full retrospective, interspersed thirteen of each artist’s three-dimensional works throughout the room. Labels were laid on the ground in a circle under each piece, highlighting the area each occupied in space and inviting visitors to walk all around each work rather than viewing it from one position. The pink-painted ceiling above was, according to Sudbrack, a subtle way of acknowledging the artists’ homosexuality.

Douchez, who was born in Mâcon, France, in 1921, and Nicola, a native Paulistano born in 1930, met through Samson Flexor’s Atelier Abstração, an organization that helped spread geometric abstraction in Brazil in the 1950s. Their manifesto “Formas Tecidas” (Woven Shapes), written in 1969, claims their objective in tapestry as that of creating “a woven object” free from “the traditional idea of flat representation”; the text ends with the declaration “The woven work must model space in a multidimensional form.” Bound to the systematic grid used for creating designs that were to be handwoven on looms (by both the artists themselves and hired professionals), Douchez and Nicola worked independently to create fiber artworks that explored the tensions between dichotomies such as empty and full, taut and loose, smooth and hirsute, flat and voluminous. In Isfahan, ca. 1970, Douchez uses an overall patterned weave in cool blended earthy tones and wrapped warp threads to create a play between predominantly rounded and rectangular shapes. On one side, the work is a colorful three-layered surface that explores positive and negative spaces, and on the other it’s a flat single plane in beige, with a large brown circle in the middle. An untitled tapestry by Nicola in mainly warm orange tones, also from 1970, has sections of the weft wrapped into three central woven columns. Flanking these columns, thirteen individual woven strips on each side—in warm blended palettes of oranges, yellows, and pinks— overhang the otherwise tense tapestry plane, bringing a sense of weight to the bottom section of the weave not visible from the reverse. The result reflects Nicola’s interest in the three-dimensional potential of loosening strands, which he continued to investigate over the years and that was here evident in many of his tapestries on display.

While Nicola mostly explored three-dimensionality in ways that brought to mind hanging roots and vines, Douchez’s works used systematic fissures and tight overlaid strands to release tapestries from the two-dimensional plane. “The Firebirds Will Take Flight Again” served as a means of reigniting interest in these artists’ alluring works and of highlighting their individual approaches to the art of tapestry. More broadly, the show threw down the gauntlet for the importance of materiality and medium even as so much contemporary art activity seems to be migrating into the digital realm.