Reviewing the challenges of abstraction

There are several ways of understanding and evaluating curatorship – a field that has been steadily growing. But it is safe to say that some of the most successful are those that research and suggest new readings on art, art history and political and social contexts of the eras in question. Allied to the essay, and without compromising the scientific accuracy, the research implies the expansion of the exhibitive subject matters, it often promotes a historical review of certain topics and, as such, it is a critical challenge for the audience.

Using the collection of the Caixa Geral de Depósitos Foundation – Culturgest – as its only resource, Contra a Abstração is a complete exhibition in this regard. Half research, half essay, this is a show that questions, reviews and displays the legacy of a generation that expanded the concept of abstraction in contemporary art, beyond a hegemonic idea. Based on five nuclei, the exposition, in the words of the curator Sandra Vieira Jürgens, “even though the title put abstraction under the lens of criticism and doubtfulness, (…) proposes an exercise of debating, of activating a language that continuously swings between moments of crisis and self-overcome, creating a broad review space and a plural and multidirectional analysis of the concept”. In other words, the intention is not to foster an acquiescent, but rather a frictional discourse that exposes the dissent and the several perspectives suggested by the artists. Otherwise, we can look at this curatorial position, which does not provide a univocal path on the matter, as a democratic, horizontal exercise, leaving everything to the viewer’s criterion, and according to their sensitivity, underline what is most relevant for each one.

This is particularly clear in the first set entitled Abstração Eclética, whose wide array of works reveals the plurality of voices and understandings of abstraction. Not only from the point of view of representation, but also from the means and techniques used. Painting, assemblage and fabric (Margarida Reis, Estrutura e Movimento, 1986-87), the abstraction of the authors reject a common understanding: some consider a conceptual and narrative line, others one that is vaguely figurative (Bartolomeu Cid dos Santos), and there are others that mention the geometric and spatial compositions of painting.

The second nucleus – Círculo Dialético – outlines an essay around the dialogue and the art’s ability to communicate the major subject of mankind. Ana Jotta (Calvin, 1993) and Gerardo Burmester (Mãe, 1992) evoke, respectively, the affectivity of childhood and motherhood, in two works that are exhibited face to face.

Nevertheless, it’s Instalação 191093 (Parte 1 e Parte 2) (1993), of Francisco Rocha, the ultimate impressive moment in the whole exhibition and in this nucleus in particular. By removing the spectator from the attentive and wandering silent, Rocha throws us into the contemporary noise and modernity, into the defining myths of world history, the existential, plastic and cheap restlessness. A suspended and inverted Tower of Babel, made up of barking toy dogs, is followed by a discreet notebook with poetic and mysterious quotes of introspection: “of the hidden life | of excessive abuse | of the absent voice | of insufficient memory | of so many hells […] | of the naive consolation | of the degenerative processes”.

And hypnotized, we look at it, and bewildered we yearn for silence again.

In Laboratório Moderno, the curator looks back to Modernism and to abstraction as a turning point in the understanding of art. This step back, however, is made through contemporary art and its ability to survive the practices of the past. The geometrization and appropriation of non-European cultural models, typical of the European hegemonic and unifying cosmopolitanism, are reviewed here, especially the work of Ângela Ferreira, who unleashes the debate on issues of identity and colonialism from remote geographies, relying on the traditional geometric patterns of African countries and vexillology.

Júlia Ventura and Leonel Moura create another impressive moment of the exhibition, at the nucleus Contra-Campo. In a chromatic complementarity, the artists signal the current political narratives: Ventura with the feminine vision, in a work divided into the staging, the fragility, the combativity and the feminine power; and Moura, who conceives a sort of metaphysical biography of Europe, based on the portrait of writers and philosophers who have made this continent through a complexity of languages, cultures, politics and identities. (It would be interesting and curious to see the outcome from a clash between this piece and the one of Francisco Rocha, mentioned above.) Green and red shed light on two great achievements under construction: feminism and the European Union.

Finally, Espaços Comuns, which grabs the playful trait as the mobile of its speech. The pieces refer to sculptures and to installations or to things that can be used. The utility of art is questioned here at its intersection with design or architecture, with works by, for example, Fernanda Fragateiro and Bruno Pacheco.

It should be emphasized that that Culturgest’s itinerant cycle is a necessary program, albeit ambitious. And if it is accepted that art does not have to obey ideological or political motifs, and it can be absolutely disinterested and neutral, the fact is that the curators and the public institutions do not need to abide by this bourgeois vision of art – much to the dismay of many. The art, here, and the Caixa Geral de Depósitos Collection are now at the mercy of the population and exposed in a show of territorial cohesion.

In this sense, Contra a Abstração represents the auspicious inauguration of a cycle and is an outstanding curatorial exercise and a unique opportunity to catch artists and works seldom seen, either because they are thrown into the solitude of the archive and the reserves, or because, exhausted in the market quotation and art system, they are no longer exhibitive on national exhibition projects.

Until October 27, at Centro de Artes e Cultura of Ponte de Sor.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine.

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