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Form and Volume, a museum of contemporary sculpture at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art

Those who do not know the curator, nor the project showed in this exhibition, will be surprised by the atmosphere when stepping into the Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art gallery. The red colour, the entry text enwrapped in golden tones and the continuous platform, where the (several) works are exhibited, take us into a fictitious museum realm, which consubstantiates the familiarity we feel with certain exhibitive models.

Department of Carving and Modeling Section II: Form and Volume is the conclusion of a trilogy of exhibitions commissioned by Jens Hoffmann, entitled Museum of Modern Art and Western Antiquities. The first, at the Thomas Dane Gallery in London, which took place in 2007, was centred on painting. The second, at the Marian Goodman Gallery, in Paris, back in 2013, focused on contemporary photography. The last deals with sculpture as an artistic genre, proposing to analyse the recent production of a vast number of international authors.

The title and model of the curator’s project are based on the idea of an imaginary museum, conceived by Marcel Broodthaers between 1968-1971 (Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles). This emerged as a parody of the exhibitions and organizational institutions. These fictional museologies intended, more than anything, to break with preconceived ideas about how to show art.

Hoffmann, based on the same reflection, brought a curious difference to this cycle. “His” Museum of Modern Art and Western Antiquities were always presented in commercial galleries. The oddness felt in the crossing between a museum environment of another time and the gallery space is palpable, calling into question both definitions. Generally, the former is associated with the preservation of art, the latter is associated with its commercialization.

The exuberance of the display has a vaguely ironic tone, underlined by the apparent use of stereotypes and the simultaneous subversion. If an exhibition dedicated to one discipline seems unreasonable in this day and age, the works of Department of Carving and Modeling Section II: Form and Volume test the elasticity of the definition of sculpture. In addition to typologies easily associated with this practice, works on wallpaper (Kendell Geers), paper decals (Jennifer Bornstein) or small paintings (Juan Araujo) appear. Although discussions about the definition of what is or what is not – drawing, painting, sculpture, etc… – are of little interest today, the multiple approaches emphasize the contradictions and exaggerations that fuel the exhibition.

Hoffmann emphasizes the vitality of sculpture, after a period when the practice lost its brilliance, with the appearance of massified new means, and of other artistic genres, such as performance or installation. Sixty artists representing contemporary sculpture are present, allowing us to scrutinize some common characteristics: the return to the manual technique; the reappearance of ceramics; (also) the reinterpretation of the ready-made; or formal points of contact, as in the three “cardboard boxes” by Matt Johnson (in carved and painted wood), Mário Garcia Torres (in bronze), and Jonathan Monk (in bronze) – shown side by side, as if they could have been made by a single author.

Museum of Modern Art and Western Antiquities will certainly have more sections than the three shown. But, as an imaginary museum, the possibilities are endless. Of the three editions materialized by Hoffmann, we are left with a stimulating curatorial project. This, instead of illustrating a theme or an idea, focuses on the possibilities and on the limits to the act of exhibiting, and the way we look at art. We should appreciate whenever a gallery boldly bets on projects that question its practice, together with the artists that constitute it.

Department of Carving and Modeling Section II: Form and Volume – until January 11 at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art.

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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