Os caminhos do corpo: Alberto Carneiro at 3+1 Arte Contemporânea

Several key works to understand the work of Alberto Carneiro (Trofa, 1937-2017) are in the exhibition Os caminhos do corpo at Lisbon’s 3+1 Arte Contemporânea. Known above all as a sculptor, his work encompasses photography, drawing and sculpture. This exhibition reveals the artist’s vast universe, highlighting different moments in his life and work.

Alberto Carneiro is one of the most important Portuguese artists. He left us a singular work, where art, the body and nature come together in a language close to conceptualism, minimalism, arte povera and land art. This was due to his stay in London in the late 60s, when he attended the renowned Saint Martin’s School of Art and where he encountered the emerging artistic trends of the time.

He presented his work in several solo and retrospective exhibitions, including 1991 at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Serralves Foundation, or 2001 at Contemporary Art Center of Galicia in Santiago de Compostela. He represented Portugal at the Paris Biennale in 1969, the Venice Biennale in 1976 and the São Paulo Biennale in 1977 and took part in Ernesto de Sousa’s Alternativa Zero exhibition in Portugal in 1977. Among the awards he has received, the National Sculpture Prize in 1968, the AICA National Prize for Plastic Arts in 1985, and the commendations of Grand Officer of the Order of Infante D. Henrique in 1994 stand out.

His work is innovative in the Portuguese context. Of particular note is O canavial: memória metamorfose de um corpo ausente from 1968, a work in which he approached a new way of understanding sculpture from its natural elements. In the following years he made several interventions in the landscape and nature, recorded through photography. One of the most important is Trajecto dum corpo, the work that opens the exhibition Os caminhos do corpo.

The photographs in this piece recorded the route that the artist took naked, carrying a rolled pebble in various natural and affectively close environments. It started on the beach of Labruje, where he found the stone that he took to the mountain landscape of Vale do Coronado. The path was marked by a performative action, where Alberto Carneiro pierced the stone transversally, portraying himself stretched out on the earth, in a kind of meditative action, where the landscape acquired an erotic and sexualized side. According to Catarina Rosendo, these gestures represent a very important component in Alberto Carneiro’s work in these years, as they were a reflection on sculpture, the acts and gestures that give rise to it.

Together with the forty-four black and white photographs, two colour photographs form part of the set. These two photographs show the stone exhibited at Galeria Quadrum, in Lisbon, in 1976, a moment in which the stone becomes art, an artificial condition that the gallery adds to this natural element.

The artist clarified his intention to use black and white photography in his work. Through it, he sought to create a distance between what is represented in the photograph and what the photograph reports directly to, for the images taken from nature are artifices and not nature itself. In his words, the black and white photographs are «the artificial nature of man».

Finally, the last photographs of the work are again in black and white, showing the return of the stone to the landscape in Serra de Fafe.

After years devoted solely to photography and drawing, after 1983-1984 Alberto Carneiro returned to sculpture, using the electric saw as a working tool rather than the typical scope and hammer. Later, from the mid-1990s, he became interested in sculptural work in wood, where he tried to extract the energies of the material. In his sculptures, he registered the veins in the wood, the hidden sap or the furrows dug into the surface by a possible watercourse.

Coluna com fim: 1 para 7 para 9 from 2005, Meu corpo planta 3 from the same year and Murmúrios da Floresta from 2004 are examples of this research. The former pays tribute to Constantin Brâncuşi, one of his favourite sculptors, along with Alberto Giacometti and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

In this exhibition, we find several drawings, made by Alberto Carneiro in 2015 – in the final part of his life – and shown for the first time in 2018 at Cooperativa Diferença. Sem Título presents a sequence of skylines drawing different perspectives and reminiscent of oriental landscapes.

Along with these drawings, two works executed for the artist’s 2003 solo exhibition at Porta 33, in Funchal, are now exhibited for the first time in Lisbon. The paths of water and the body on earth. Os caminhos da água e do corpo sobre a terra. Linha do olhar: do corpo sobre a paisagem and Os caminhos da água e do corpo sobre a terra are two friezes: one composed of drawings and the other of photographs.

Both works derive from walks that the artist made along the levadas of the island of Madeira and recover many aspects of Alberto Carneiro’s works from the 1970s: the black and white photography, the frieze that displays continuity, a horizon line reinforced by the black line that crosses all the drawings and photographs.

Os caminhos da água e do corpo sobre a terra is concluded by a mirror that includes the spectator in the work itself, where it is possible to read «you are the nature of art and in it another nature».

In these two works, Catarina Rosendo points out a curious aspect in Alberto Carneiro’s artistic career. Although the artist has been associated with the image of a sculptor since the early 1980s, when he returned to this practice, his work revisits his own artistic exercise regularly, through previously used supports and/or practices, such as photography, drawing or the recording of paths in the landscape and questions about artistic know-how.

Os caminhos do corpo can be described as an exhibition that sums up Alberto Carneiro’s work, one of Portugal’s most important artists, presenting a diverse and wide-ranging sample of his artistic practice. An exhibition not to be missed, at 3+1 Arte Contemporânea, in Lisbon, until October 30.

Joana Duarte (Lisbon, 1988), architect and curator, lives and works in Lisbon. She concluded her master in architecture at Faculdade de Arquitectura of Universidade de Lisboa in 2011, she attended the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands and did her professional internship in Shanghai, China. She collaborated with several national and international architects and artists developing a practice between architecture and art. In 2018 she founds her own studio, concludes the postgraduate degree in curatorial studies at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and starts collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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