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The comma has rules, but also subjective interpretations; it has a variable function; it carries a time in it, an erratic one. Before but, you have one; rarely before the and, except, of course, when there is a mobile group or one made of different subjects.

However, in the English language, we have the famous Oxford comma, which stopped being consensual, now used solely by a very restricted group of scholars. They, with grammar backgrounds, use it more often before the and. The translator arbitrates the dispute between the languages.

We also have the semicolon, whose use is dubious and popularity has dropped.

From a curatorship standpoint, the semicolon is a great metaphor for an exhibition. The curator’s work is to precisely determine a properly rhythmed, articulated text, with keen sentences, separating explanations from adverbs, empowering ideas, making transitions and guiding an inner voice, a watchful eye through letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, signs and meanings. Well, a curator’s work is to employ commas properly, while structuring a text.

This juxtaposition of dimensions between images, meanings and texts becomes even more meaningful when we realize that, in this context, there are several collections of deeply different geneses and lines, sometimes diametrically opposite to each other. It creates a cohesive narrative, allowing a fluid perspective, an extremely important task for the curators. This doesn’t mean that the comma is more important than other marks. There is room for ellipsis, exclamations or rhetorical questions that sharp one’s curiosity and pose major challenges. But, like we said, this tiny symbol gives a cadence, a time, a rhythm to the exhibition, fostering a synchronic performativity of the body and the glance of the visitor, the spectator, the subject. In other words, the comma throws the exhibition into an imagined textual realm, which requires reading and interpretations.

The exhibition The pull of a well-placed comma joins the private collections of António Cachola, Armando and Maria João Cabral and José Carlos Santana Pinto, in an effort led by curators João Mourão and Luís Silva at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Elvas (MACE). And if the comma is often seen as a separation symbol, the opposite happens right here: it emphasizes the relevance of getting together and establishing a dialogue between the parties, in a quite interesting (and stylish – one should say) curatorial exercise.

At first, it’s impossible to dissociate the show from an ethnological or even ethnographical perspective. Maria Loboda’s photographs protect ancient artefacts: a hand that tenderly cares about two objects, we don’t know if that’s a typical and scrupulous conservation measure, or a gesture of love and adoration, or both things at the same time; a mask drops an invisible tear which the human finger, covered with a white cloth, carefully wipes. In the centre of the gallery, two sculptures made of holm oak – from the duo Musa Paradise – embodies two heads, in what appears to be a reinterpretation of the anthropological vision between the plant, the human and/or the animal, but also between the myth and symbol.

The conceptual and the minimal comprise the second exhibition moment with works of Carl Andre, Lygia Pape or On Kawara. We look for meanings, keys, in words, definitions, structures and designs, we read the titles anxiously waiting for an unblocking moment. The vessels are, in fact, vehicles, urns for one last journey; a date is a precious moment in the biography of the artist or in the world’s historiography. There is something spacy as well – the attempt to create a chimeric space inside the museum.

And the text goes on.

The baroque staircase’s symmetry is reaffirmed by David.David, of Daniel van Straaten, which contaminates the purity of classical sculpture with a contemporary object. Simultaneously, it serves as a preamble to scenes of everyday life, the fleeting look, the fleeting moments captured by Wolfgang Tillmans’s photos. Modernity and contemporaneity give room to the immortalization of the banal, the beauty in inane small gestures. In addition, André Romão interrogates the sculpture in its timeless dimension, in the ability to make power and identity last.

A play of forms comes next, the relations between works, which implies a relation between collections.

After so many commas, the full stop arrives – not conclusive, however, but certainly a symbol of a catharsis or a pathos that had been prepared. The Family Finds Entertainment, of Ryan Trecartin, is an extravagant, hypnotic and hallucinating exercise. A party of vibrant colours and overlaps, turning the video into an almost pictorial and abstract experience. It’s a moment of liberation, madness and experimentation, both from the narrative – of the adolescent coming out – and from the technical and constructive standpoints.

In fact, there is no final work more suitable for an exhibition so challenging and different from what has been done at the MACE, hoping that this effort of dialog between the collection resident of António Cachola could be achieved more often with other Portuguese and foreign private collections.

Until 4 November.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) grew up in Campo Maior and studied in the grouping of Arts in Elvas. He earned a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. He completed the admission to order and the internship in António Barreiros Ferreira - Tetractys Arquitectos. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. He is interested in art, cinema, politics, literature, fashion, architecture, decoration...

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