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25 years of Pedro Gomes at the MNAC

Curated by Emília Ferreira and Hugo Dinis, in Encontro às Cegas we should not expect expectations to match reality. If we do, we may feel misled in the end. After all, if a meeting is based on the present and a presence, inside the MNAC rooms we run the risk of finding neither. Pedro Gomes’ exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art underlines not only the diversity of plastic solutions that the artist has explored in the last 25 years, but also the coherence of his image and conceptual language.

Gomes’ work is a fragmentary universe, between decomposition and construction (or formation). In this unstable dichotomy, the only certainty is the notion that everything is ruin: the figures – which fade, burn or are made of garbage – and the places – intangible or resulting from the destruction of the surface (the paper). But ruin is not attached to any romantic longingness. It is a feasible and limited result of the incapacity of human memory. None of the works exhibited directly evokes a time that is not its own; they are part of an abandoned, empty present, deprived of humanity, but still familiar to us nonetheless.

The entrance corridor narrows as we encounter the 5 drawings of Linha de Fogo (2000). The figures, hidden in anonymity by the absence of a face, “attract” those who pass by. In their relationship with the viewer, they assume a position of superiority. The camera is the object of power. Despite being an intimidating weapon for the target, it makes its carrier burn when triggered. Cartier-Bresson, as a photography professor, asked his students in their first classes to read the work Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel. He talks about the physical and mental learning necessary for an archer, drawing a parallel between shooting the bow and capturing an image. In Pedro Gomes’ drawings, this relationship is paradoxically corroborated and boycotted, because the camera, instead of generating an image, is responsible for its destruction – the fire inscribes the figures in the paper whiteness while erasing them.

Escaping from the cameras for now, the refuge is the series Masturbações (2003). It proves that the inhumanity in the work of P. Gomes not only does not end in the absence of an intimate side – which is present in the interplay between intimacy and exhibition, private and public – but is even more evident in this room. In the representations of figures or places, emotional subjectivity is replaced by the symbolic dimension. The canvases made up of garbage and dust, rigorously agglomerated, end up forming male, black, sandy figures that are sexually aroused, albeit without any sign of pleasure. They are icons, part of the common imagination, but confined to “intimacy”. Perhaps that’s why they take on a form through the accumulation of household dirt.

The remaining rooms, curated by Emília Ferreira and Hugo Dinis, speak of a path associated with drawing – except the sculpture Estarei sempre contigo (1995) and the remarkable set of portraits in cast aluminium [Untitled, 1997], diluted in the abstraction of matter. But the more recent series of works (the architectural and exhibition spaces) also explore a “semi sculptural” tension. In them, the artist’s attention to the surface’s material potential is abundantly clear. The drawing emerges only when the paper is torn, opposing the whiteness of its interior to the uniformly painted colour. Architectures and exhibition spaces, by the concentration and orthogonality of lines and shapes, are approximations of the abstract art legacy, geometrically and specifically, of Maria Helena Vieira da Silva. They are uninhabitable spaces, with no entrance, which, at the end of the preceptive illusion, inevitably lead us to the plane. They are like walls, with successive layers of paint flaked by time. This idea of insurmountability is reinforced by the panels made up of modular drawings.

In the opposite direction, the three large drawings made with a ballpoint pen, in a broad gesture that falsely emulates the detachment of a doodle, vaguely depict recognisable, almost atmospheric interior spaces. But they still give us a strong perspective, which attracts the eye and the body. Although, as we approach, we find the surface again, the image fades and only the skeleton remains; this time around, the circular lines.

Nowadays, in which the identity of individuals is threatened by the profusion of information and technology, the relevance of the work Pedro Gomes has been doing for over two decades is impressive and uncomfortable. Likewise, his use of the basic elements of the languages of drawing or sculpture, in a logic that crosses several ways of doing.

Due to the pandemic, we only recommend a virtual visit:

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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