Al Cartio and Constance Ruth Howes from A to C
There are countless exhibitions whose curators are crucial for their inception and some may even be considered curator exhibitions, such is their relevance, either by choice or because the exhibition came to fruition after the artist has accepted the curator’s invitation.
Al Cartio and Constance Ruth Howes from A to C is the outcome of an invitation from the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum to Ana Jotta and Ricardo Valentim, in which they would have to exhibit themselves as a duo at Espaço Projecto. The response to this invitation was a proposed curatorship for an array of works created by Al Cartio and Constance Ruth Howes. This exhibition may very well be the result of a twofold dialogue of artists: Al and Constance, as a result of the dialogue between Ana and Ricardo. But the artists who sign the works raise suspicions, when taking into consideration the anonymity of their paths.
The works attributed to Constance are tiny, idyllic watercolours of rocky and bright landscapes. The works attributed to Al Cartio are mosaics with words ingrained that establish relationships between them through a letter or a subject and typographic games.
The works of Al Cartio and Constance Ruth Howes are completely different from each other. And the exhibition route becomes a dialogue between artists, using the presumed works of both of them, virtually unknown creators. It is up to the visitor to believe that these American artists do exist and are not a product of Ana Jotta and Ricardo Valentim. There are two works that step out of the established device: a sculpture of Al Cartio, Exit C. and a watercolour (the only framed work) of João Marques that may have been acquired by Constance during her stay in the Algarve. They are also the only works there whose origin is mentioned, fuelling the visitor’s doubt about Cartio and Constance Ruth Howes even more, along with other clues that we can identify inside or outside Espaço Projeto, including in the image that accompanies the presentation text on the Gulbenkian website.
The History of Art is filled with alter egos, heteronyms and even, often for political or other reasons, anonymity cases (the authorship of many of these was discovered in the end). Here we have the creation of a persona with a signature and a biography that is much more than a simple heteronym. Al Cartio and Constance Ruth Howes (a brief search on the internet reveals that she was born in London in 1888 and died in 1970) serves the intention of the artist-curators to propel the (increasingly) ever-relevant debate on the artistic and work authorship of an art curator.
The authorial question is as old as the History of Art. Until the 20th century, artists often had studios or workshops where their apprentices helped produce the works thought by their masters. Often, this line between the master who thought the work and an apprentice who actually did it is blurred and we now have masterpieces whose creator is not precisely the one who signed it. In this case, Ana Jotta and Ricardo Valentim seem to prefer to have this debate under the umbrella of curatorship. Back to the beginning of this text: is the curator, nowadays, an author? An artist? Museums often invite curators to create projects for specific areas, giving them the power to decide which artists to invite and even to establish a leitmotif that serves as a motto for these same artists. In this case, the Gulbenkian Museum invited the artists themselves, who opted to create two kinds of works (we do not know how the split between both was made, but we can make a guess), then attributed them to Al Cartio and Constance Ruth Howes, hence creating, with plenty of humour and wit, a pure detective story.
It is not a trick, but an invitation to reflection.