Reading time: 2 minutes
Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles, California, USA
September 14, 2017 – October 18, 2017
The exhibition begins with a series of geometric abstractions rendered in Formica by de Barros, along with silver gelatin photographs from both the beginning and end of his career. In their use of Formica, a plastic laminate that became particularly popular and even ubiquitous in Brazilian homes, offices, and stores during the postwar era, de Barros’s paintings promulgate the notion of future society characterized by social equality. De Barros was a founding member of the progressive furniture production co-op UNILABOR, and his interest in everyday materials reflected his personal political vision. Similarly, his photographs of street scenes, mass-produced furniture, and anonymous inscriptions link the formalist explorations in photography championed by such Europeans as Brassai and Man Ray, to quotidian Brazilian life.
While de Barros experimented with everyday materials in a formalist mode consistent with the aims of the Concrete art movement that arose in São Paulo, subsequent generations of artists, which emerged during the fall of Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1980s, rejected pure formalism and engaged the more sensual and interactive aspects of their materials. Represented by Ivens Machado, Paulo Monteiro, Nuno Ramos, and Celso Renato, this generation used elements like salvaged wood, readymade iron pipes and wires, and organic pigments to advance their own artistic dialogues about the direction of Brazilian society.
A generation of contemporary artists – represented in ‘Building Material’ by Rodrigo Cass, Lucas Simões, and Erika Verzutti – share their predecessors’ interest in reinventing formal processes and embracing common materials, including the iconic building elements of cement and concrete. While in no way unified by a manifesto, these artists share an aesthetic and intellectual touchstone in the radical sociopolitical imperative of postwar Brazilian art. Here, the artistic languages of the past reverberate in the work of artists who continue to define their own practices of materials and forms.