CONCEPTUAL FINE ARTS

At the show with the artist: Marina Rheingantz visited Concrete Cuba at David Zwirner

Maria do Carmo M. P. de Pontes

Marina Rheingantz (b. 1983) is a Brazilian artist based in Sao Paulo and represented by Galeria Fortes Vilaca. She is one of the four finalists of the Premio Pipa 2015, along with Cristiano Lenhardt, Leticia Ramos and Virginia de Medeiros. A few weeks ago we visited with her Concrete Cuba, a retrospective exhibition organized by Dawid Zwirner’s gallery in London to shed some light on the Cuban group of abstract painters called Los Diez Pintores Concretos (Ten Concrete Painters), which was active from 1959 to 1961. What follows is a transcription of a brief conversation we had with Marina about it.

 

 

It is interesting how one sensibility’s works in a group show. There were several artists exhibited in Concrete Cuba at David Zwirner London, but the pieces you like the most always happen to be by the same two or three artists, although they are often quite varied works made by a same person. There were no captions on the walls, so you only realised who the author is when looking at the map afterwards and, without knowing, you identified with them in particular.

Indeed, I didn’t took the map when I entered the show, and as I walked through the works, I realised that the pieces which interested me the most were either by Loló Soldevilla or by Sandú Darié. When I enter a group exhibition, authorship is, at first, of little account. I enjoy this moment of discovering the works on a purely aesthetic basis, and then trying to understand their context, where they come from.

 

When I saw a piece signed ‘Loló’, I was immediately taken by it, without knowing whether that was a man or a woman. But it was a pleasant surprise in a very subjective way, as the name bears an affective meaning for me. When I first started painting, I shared the studio with artist Bruno Dunley, and I can’t remember why or where did it came from, but we have been calling each other Loló ever since – and that’s over 10 years ago. So when I entered the show and read ‘Loló’, it felt like I was experiencing the connection of both of our practices in a third person, and in a way her work – as I later came to realise she was a woman – is quite related to the recent history of Brazilian art, which I was studying a lot at the time I shared the studio with Bruno. The same geometric abstraction present in Loló’s work is characteristic of the Brazilian production during the 1950s and 1960s. We have Alfredo Volpi, Milton Dacosta, Waldemar Cordeiro, Sérgio Camargo, Lygia Clark.

 

Loló’s collage on the second floor was what touched me the most. Probably due to its simple forms and straight lines, but I was amazed by how the combination of all these geometric elements become something so grand: the lines become curves, the rectangles slowly start to shape landscapes and, in the end, there was something like a microcosmos for me in there, as if it was the mockup of a world that is yet to become. I like the feeling of immersing myself in an artwork and being able to build a third thing, that in a way is mine only: sounds emerge from there, trains run through, crossing those lines, the roofs of a house in the countryside…

 

At the same time you discern the works you like, you also quickly identify the ones you don’t, which is an equally curious process. Sometimes its hard to verbalise what is it that bothers you about a certain work; it is often harder to write a review about a show that you disliked than a review about a show that you related to. There are no absolute aesthetic values, not even when it comes to one’s own set of values, and you may have different feelings about a work depending on the circumstances you see it – time, conditions of display, narrative of the show, etc.

Yes, some works I may not pay so much attention at first. At Concrete Cuba, after seeing the whole show, I came back to a painting by Pedro Álvarez, an abstract canvas with some gradient figures which, at first, stroke me as a bit tacky, a bit disfigured. But when I returned to the exhibition for the second time, for my surprise, I started to appreciate that gradient and, in the end, I was quite taken by it. It is a rather fresh composition, that by all means could have been made today, but its over sixty years old, and comes from a completely different context! Those geometric forms, which become various animals, among an unusual choice of colours… I’m not sure what it was about it which reminded me of a jurassic moment, those jurassic landscapes, kind of without proportion or scale. It was a joyful discovery; a gift, in a way.

 

On the other hand, some works were clearly not my thing, despite my effort to establish a relationship with them. The overly graphic canvases, for instance, kind of futurist, they have no appeal to me. It is hard to relate to them, also the colours; I’m not sure I can explain, but a very objective and emotionless work strikes me as uninteresting.

 

Generally speaking, my relationship with a certain artwork is both variable and unstable. Each moment of my life is marked by different artists, and along the way, it changes: some stay, others I increasingly loose interest on their works, and yet others, as you discover, they change your way of thinking. When I started painting, I would look up to Iberê Camargo quite a lot, he was important for me, in the beginning. I still like him very much, but he is not as influential as he once was. And, throughout the years, I encountered artists who were key influences: the abstract expressionists, the German and Belgian painters.

 

To look at other artists is, in a way, to discover a new world, to see the world through different prisms, and I find that very generous. Several artists I dislike the work, but I acknowledge they are very good; others I neither like, nor think they are good! Taste is something extremal subtle, and I find it hard to explain why I think a work is good or bad. The good part is when it happens that, while looking and before realising, you find yourself immersed in a work; it immediately establishes a connection with you, demanding your presence. And it shakes you, takes you off your balance. On the other hand – and in general terms – I dislike works which are overly narrative or illustrative of a certain subject, or when they demand an ‘instruction manual’ to understand them.

 

The show surveyed a crucial moment in Cuban art, in the 1950s and early 1960s. However, out of eleven artists included, there were only one woman – Loló. It is curious to notice how important movements and exhibitions are, generally speaking, predominantly marked by the presence of male artists. Take Harald Szeemann’s When Attitudes Become Form (Kunsthalle Bern, 1969) for instance, one of the most influential exhibitions of all time. There were only three women (Hanne Darboven, Eva Hesse and Jo Ann Kaplan), and 66 men! Even in the catalogue, when they refer to solo and two person shows, they say respectively ‘one man show’ and ‘two men show’. And we don’t even have to go that far, until recently – if not until now – art was mostly a male affair. Is that something that bothers you?

That is something which bothers me, since I believe it shouldn’t matter whereas an artwork was executed by a man or a woman; it shouldn’t be assessed in terms of gender. But, in the end, it often is, and that limits the way you relate to a work. But, nowadays, I think things already changed a lot. In London, for example, Barbara Hepworth is now showing at Tate, until recently they were also showing Agnes Martin and Sonia Delaunay… It seems like things are changing. In Brazil, we have great female artists, exhibiting all over the world. I guess painting is a particularly male oriented environment. I have the feeling that it is as if you must have something masculine about you to have the strength to paint. I don’t know, perhaps because I quite like the work of Willem De Kooning and Martin Kippenberger, who create very strong, gestural canvases. It actually just occurred to me that, indeed, if you ask me who are the painters I look up to the most, the majority is men! Even though there are extraordinary women painters – Mamma Andersson, Mira Schendel, etc – whom I also quite admire the work. But as I said, at the end of the day it shouldn’t matter whether an artwork was made by a man or a woman.

 

There were a curious piece of information in the press-release about the group of artists exhibited there and their relationship with politics. It states that, although they opposed Fulgencio Batista’s government, they had a relatively peaceful relationship with him while he was in power. However, after Fidel Castro takes over in 1959, it was the beginning of the end for the group, as their art was seen as utopian and, as such, dangerous.

I guess its understandable that they felt apart as group. The works are abstract, yet precisely because of this, indirectly they are political. The fact that they are mostly untitled makes that even more explicit, as it doesn’t trace a specific direction, it is nearly a questioning in itself.

 

Abstract works are less controlled, in that they have a more subtle narrative and less objective meanings. And thus I believe that an abstract artwork may be much more political than a political engaged one, as it presents itself open-ended, allowing a myriad of interpretations.

October 28, 2015