Ten to see: São Paulo

As SP-Arte rolls into town this week, critic Silas Martí picks the shows to see while in Brazil’s biggest city

By Silas Martí

Ana Elisa Egreja, Pink bathroom with octopuses, 2017, oil on canvas, 190 x 220 cm. Photo: Filipe Berndt Sonia Andrade, Untitled, 2001, rock crystal spikes and video projector, 400 x 300 cm. Photo: Claudia Laborne Alexandre da Cunha, Couple IV, 2017, Precast concrete benches, marble 165 x 124 x 76 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Luisa Strina Gallery Ana Maria Tavares, No Lugar Mesmo: Uma Antologia at Pinacoteca, São Paulo Avenida Paulista [Paulista Avenue] at MASP, 2017. Photo: Eduardo Ortega Anita Malfatti, Tropical, 1917, oil on canvas, 77 x 102 cm. Courtesy Pinacoteca, São Paulo Fabio Mauri, SENZA ARTE, 2017. Photo: João Musa. Courtesy Bergamin & Gomide Lais Myrrha, Corpo de Prova, 2017 at Sesc Bom Retiro, São Paulo. Letícia Parente, Eu armário de mim, 2017. Photo: Everton Ballardin. Courtesy Galeria Jaqueline Martins. Lotus Lobo at Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo


Alexandre da Cunha, Pivô, through 10 June

In this latest show, Alexandre da Cunha seems divided between two very distant realities. One side of Pivô’s brutalist galleries is taken up by the giant pieces of a cement mixer he found in the streets of São Paulo, sliced up to resemble strange, uncanny sculptural masses. They look like fragments of a spaceship plucked from the sky and dissected under a hard light. The other side of the exhibition, however, is almost the opposite. Here are delicate, hand sewn pieces of towels and bath robes neatly arrayed on the surface of a canvas, like a minimalist composition made of fragments of intimacy. On the first floor of Oscar Niemeyer’s Copan building, the biggest concrete structure in Latin America, Cunha creates a jarring contrast between the rough and tumble aspects of city-building and all the convoluted fears of close-up and personal relationships.



Ana Elisa Egreja, Pink bathroom with octopuses, 2017. 10 to see: Sao Paulo
Ana Elisa Egreja, Pink bathroom with octopuses, 2017, oil on canvas, 190 x 220 cm. Photo: Filipe Berndt

Ana Elisa Egreja, Leme, through 6 May

Kitsch does not begin to describe the exaggerated, baroque, unnervingly colourful world of Ana Elisa Egreja’s paintings. An up-and-coming artist who has struck out a place for herself in Brazil’s exuberant painting scene which blossomed in the last decade, she is known for her plush, textured views of surreal interior landscapes. Hers are houses bedecked in gaudy wallpaper. Vintage tables, lamps and couches surround sometimes equally extravagant animals, like flamingos aflutter in an artificial breeze. This latest series revisits the heavy, decadent décor of her grandmother’s house, with various surreal twists – such as the group of octopuses hanging around the bathtub and chickens milling about the stairs.



Ana Maria Tavares, No Lugar Mesmo: Uma Antologia. 10 to see: Sao Paulo
Ana Maria Tavares, No Lugar Mesmo: Uma Antologia at Pinacoteca, São Paulo

Ana Maria Tavares, Pinacoteca, through 10 April

The smooth, shimmering surfaces of Ana Maria Tavares’s stairways, mirrored labyrinths and acrylic contraptions, standing somewhere between furniture and torture devices, reflect on post-modernity’s staggering capacity to produce nothingness in the shape of architecture. This vast survey of her three-decade career spans her most ambitious aesthetic pursuits, from the massive installation at the heart of the show, where visitors find themselves reflected to infinity on the surface of floor to ceiling mirrors, to the horizontal black stripes that wind tightly around the walls of the galleries, an allusion to Adolf Loos’ never-constructed design for Josephine Baker’s Paris abode.



Anita Malfatti, Tropical, 1917. 10 to see: Sao Paulo
Anita Malfatti, Tropical, 1917, oil on canvas, 77 x 102 cm. Courtesy Pinacoteca, São Paulo

Anita Malfatti, Museu de Arte Moderna, through 30 April

One of the most radical figures in Brazilian modernism, Anita Malfatti is now the focus of this much-anticipated and robust survey of her production, from her early expressionist days to her overlooked decades of a still rather experimental return to order. Malfatti shocked São Paulo audiences in 1917 with a series of portraits rendered in the bold figurative styles she had learned from her time in Berlin and New York, this itself a rather atypical itinerary for the bourgeois paulistanos of her time. She was thought to have been frightened away from her riskier, masculine brushstrokes and unusual colour choices by a scathing review published right after that early show, but new scholarship suggests she was ahead of her time and above petty speculation, having planned all of the steps in her long-lived career. The wall of her male nudes, another subject unfit for single ladies to be painting at her time, is a true knock-out in this show.


Avenida Paulista [Paulista Avenue] at MASP, 2017. 10 to see: Sao Paulo
Avenida Paulista [Paulista Avenue] at MASP, 2017. Photo: Eduardo Ortega


“Avenida Paulista”, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, through 28 May

São Paulo’s most famous thoroughfare is dissected here by the gaze of a powerful group of artists, from omnipresent Lais Myrrha, who has shot a new film within the ruins next to Lina Bo Bardi’s most famous piece of architecture soon to serve as the museum’s secondary space, to up-and-coming Daniel de Paula, who has created a huge installation using the old light fixtures that used to light up Paulista at night; sentinels to a history of raw city life, protests and sometimes outright battles. Luiz Roque’s film shot in stations of the avenue’s underground rail network also hints at a hidden history of neglected, swept away sexualities that corrode and ignite South America’s most populous metropolis.


Fabio Mauri, SENZA ARTE, 2017. 10 to see: Sao Paulo
Fabio Mauri, SENZA ARTE, 2017. Photo: João Musa. Courtesy Bergamin & Gomide

Fabio Mauri, Bergamin & Gomide, through 29 April

This first ever exhibition of the Italian artist in Brazil recaps some of the series Mauri showed at the last Documenta and Venice Biennale. Two of his rugs with inscriptions such as ‘I was not new’ and ‘perhaps art is not autonomous’ strike a powerful note in the context of a country that endured a style of fascism in its own right, like Mauri’s impoverished, war-torn Italy. Heavy with works from the 1970s and 1990s, this is a gallery show with wider reaching institutional ambitions, capable of revealing the strength of an artist fearless of his time and its dangerous contradictions.



Lais Myrrha, Corpo de Prova, 2017. 10 to see: Sao Paulo
Lais Myrrha, Corpo de Prova, 2017 at Sesc Bom Retiro, São Paulo.

Lais Myrrha, Sesc Bom Retiro, through 25 June

Just months after creating her monumental installation at last year’s Bienal de São Paulo, Lais Myrrha is back with yet another powerful series of reflections on the destructive, sometimes amnesiac nature of tropical modernism. While the two towers she built near the curving ramps of Oscar Niemeyer’s pavilion compared and contrasted indigenous and modern building strategies, here she juxtaposes the solidity and potential for dissolution of different materials used in architecture, namely wood and broken bricks. Along the walls of the gallery is a compilation of famous demolitions around the country, with a brief account of a building’s life cycle. Hers is a silent meditation on the fragility of all that is built to last.



Letícia Parente, Eu armário de mim, 2017. 10 to see: Sao Paulo
Letícia Parente, Eu armário de mim, 2017. Photo: Everton Ballardin. Courtesy Galeria Jaqueline Martins.

Letícia Parente, Jaqueline Martins, through 20 May

A pioneer of video art in Brazil, Letícia Parente explored her own body and domestic environment to construct one of the strongest meditations on what it meant to be a woman during the country’s military dictatorship. The gallery here reconstructs Medidas for the first time since 1975, when it was first installed at Rio de Janeiro’s Museu de Arte Moderna, at the very height of political terror in the country. In it, she tests the audience’s ability to see, to resist pain and even to assess its own physical attributes – weight, height, facial features, hair – by means of questionnaires arrayed on a series of tables. Parente’s vision of a world gone wrong is both subtle and highly charged, trailing what appears to be a thin line between the horror of police interrogations and glib beauty parlour banter.


Lotus Lobo at Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo. 10 to see: Sao Paulo
Lotus Lobo at Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo

Lotus Lobo, Mendes Wood DM, through 12 May

Under the radar for the past decade, Lotus Lobo returns to the contemporary art stage with an overview of her longstanding practice in lithography. Her etchings revisit the now forgotten industrial vocabulary of labels and stamps used in all kinds of mass produced commercial items, from butter, sweets and biscuits to rolling tobacco. This artisanal, delicate approach to a history of impersonal, distant symbols closes the gap between what would appear anonymous – remnants of a consumer culture long gone – and the sentimental affect these elicit. Lobo seems to touch on the very personal by rescuing bits and pieces of everyday life that years and decades painstakingly sweep away.


Sonia Andrade, Untitled, 2001. 10 to see: Sao Paulo
Sonia Andrade, Untitled, 2001, rock crystal spikes and video projector, 400 x 300 cm. Photo: Claudia Laborne


Sonia Andrade, Marcelo Guarnieri, through 29 April

Another pioneer of video art and performance in Brazil, Sonia Andrade now crowns her return to the artistic scene after years of reclusion with her first ever commercial exhibition. The artist, featured at last year’s Bienal de São Paulo, shows some of her cryptic installations, made by joining seemingly unjoinable objects to create sculptures that seem to recalibrate everyday existence; useless machines, like a vase that seems to spring to life with real plants from the solid base of a wooden cross. She also revisits some of her classic videos and installations made of crystals and film projections.


Silas Martí is a journalist and art critic based in São Paulo. He is the visual arts, architecture and design staff writer and columnist at Folha de S.Paulo newspaper.

Online exclusive 5 April 2017.