São Paulo

Three shows to see...

By Oliver Basciano

Lucas Simoes, 'O Peso, O Tempo', courtesy Galeria Emma Thomas Runo Lagomarsino, Heaven Falls, 2013. Courtesy the artist and Mendes Wood, São Paulo Felipe Cohen, Untitled, 2013, wood, glass and glass bottle 90 x 110 x 70 cm, courtesy Galeria Miillan

My gleaming new trainers, that looked so at home in the imposing, pristine art palaces that make up the São Paulo’s commercial exhibition halls are now ravaged with grime. My gallery tour was interrupted by Virada Cultural, an epic weekend-long annual street party held across the city from the main gallery areas in downtown São Paulo, a neighbourhood with such a fearsome reputation for crime that many born and bred Paulistanos, haven’t ever ventured into its grubby sprawl. Tuesday’s Foha de S. Paulo post-party reportage noted that four attendees were wounded in gunfire (one dead) and six in knife attacks. The party – think Glastonbury amongst concrete but with more crack addicts and prostitutes hanging around – nonetheless attracted up to four million attendees, and for the most part they were happy to sweat it out in front of over thirty music stages as Skol and ‘chemical wine’ (don’t ask) got ingested at an alarming rate. There’s too much to say about this orgiastic, garrulous Paulistano tradition that would void my travel insurance, but limping home in the early hours, the state of my soul matched that of my sneakers.

All of which is in marked contrast to the numerous sophisticated commercial galleries that the Brazilian city boasts. The power in São Paulo’s art scene lies with a small group of art dealers, and their buildings signpost the sway they hold. Whilst the architectural marvel of these white cubes could have easily diverted the viewer’s attention from work shown within them, for the following exhibitions, the artists confidently held their own.

Runo Lagomarsino: We Have Everything, But That’s All We Have, to 15 June, Mendes Wood

In this elegantly realised solo show Swedish-Brazilian artist Runo Lagomarsino evokes childhood stories of adventure and quest, colonisation and diaspora. Two walls of the main gallery space (Mendes Wood have a second gallery through a manicured courtyard) are wallpapered with rolls that sport reoccurring line-drawn motifs of a knight on horseback partnered with a clipper sailing ship. A monotonous slideshow of jungle knives, titled Heaven Falls (2013) is projected on the third wall; the forth has a shelf on which sits a concertinaed length of paper, each section containing a pencil drawing portrait of parrot. The centre of the gallery is interrupted by a floor to ceiling wooden column, appended on to which, at intervals, are a series of glass jars, inside of each is a burned lightbulb – a substitution for the traditional ship in a bottle. In a space divided by a temporary wall to the back of the gallery, there is an empty egg carton and a film being screened, which together offer some explanation to the show’s motifs. The film documents the artist and his father in Seville’s Parque del Alamillo y San Jerónimo (the largest park in Andalusia). After carefully unpacking eggs from bubble wrap the pair then take the delicate ingredients, which they had bought in Buenes Aries and carefully smuggled from Argentina to Spain by way of São Paulo, and stride with them through the gardens until they reach the park’s 32-metre ‘Egg of Columbus’ bronze sculpture. Titled Birth the New World it was originally gifted to the USA by the Georgian artist Zurab Tsereteli, only for the American government to reject the spectacularly ugly work. On reaching the monument Lagomarsino junior and senior throw the eggs at the work. It’s a poetic sign-off that talks about the entanglement of history and an uneasy relationship to cultural baggage.

Lucas Simões: O Peso, O Tempo, to 29 May at Galeria Emma Thomas

Simões’s training as an architect is plain to see. Set upon a series of wood tables is what appears to be a series of architectural models. Rather than constructed using the traditional mode of model making however, these are blocks of Layered paper which have then had space cut into them, determining various forms with the remaining material. The shapes the buildings take are abstract, with little in the way of practical details. They invoke the theoretical designs of unrealised architectural competition entries, undiluted by the pragmatics of actually having to be built. Yet they also have a dichotomy to them – the forms take influence from the CAD-era of architectural design, but are made by a laborious process that finds its origin in ancient paper craft. On the gallery walls are photographic seascapes, yet Simões’s interest in the formal possibilities of the paper medium is in evidence here too. The artist has heated each photo to a temperature that has enabled him to carefully peel off the photographic ink seal from the photographic paper it was printed on. Simões then reattached this flimsy material back on to its original mount, with all the various modulating creases and air bubbles. The warped image – together with the sculptural installation – offers a neat essay on the problems and possibilities of environmental, spatial, representation.

Felipe Cohen: Lapso, to 1 June, Galeria Millan

Cohen’s sculptures are easily the most beautiful I’ve seen in a long time. If these aren’t all snapped up by collectors I’ll be surprised. A clear glass bottle sits atop a vitrine. The other side of the glass, on the floor of the vitrine, a bottle stop neatly meets the bottle's reflection, 'sealing' it. A second bottle – balanced this time on its neck – a second vitrine, another reflection: here the illusion – caused by a block of glass with the same circumference of the bottle, placed exactly under it within the display case – is that the reflected bottle appears to have an inch of water within in. On the floor a series of brown cardboard boxes lie. Each have their top flaps folded out, the box empty and unsealed. Filling the void between the folded out flaps and the floor are exactly fitted foam blocks that measure and fill the area that each cardboard container has colonized. A wall-based vitrine contains a cracked area of missing glass. Inside the vitrine a slab of marble sits, the exact same size as the violent opening. In another two works similar slabs of marble are contained in plastic document sleeves. It’s hard to say whether the wallets are holding the marble, or the marble is holding down the sleeves, leaving one to conclude that the work isn’t just notable for its aesthetics, but also has a lyrical take on ideas of measurement and the occupation of space, of form and of content.