The abyss that stares back at you

António Neves Nobre is showing todavia, his new exhibition at galeria 3+1 Arte Contemporânea until March 4, in Lisbon.

Usually, when I start writing a text on a contemporary art exhibition, several editorial decisions are made before the blank screen of my computer is filled with a swarm of black characters. These decisions influence my practical order, just as I ponder the best approach. Often, this process of contemplating the beginning of a text can cost me hours or even days.

For this piece you are now following, dear reader, the drafting process took five minutes, perhaps a little longer. The reason for this brevity was that I soon realised my utter ineptitude.

If I wanted to fully respect todavia, in all its magnitude, I would have to study the hermeneutics of the universe. After all, each piece, though unnamed, exists and symbolises everything there is, while at the same time enunciating the most absolute nothingness. So, perhaps this is one of its most sincere features.

Well, let’s do this. First, the obligatory formalities.

Seven oils on canvas are on the two floors of the gallery, alongside three sculptural sets, totalling six volumes of sculpture. At first, all the canvases are similar formally. They are composed of a solid layer of colour and share an element at the bottom base of each painting – a density in the visual composition.

The sculptural pieces also show some formal similarity or, rather, they present themselves to the public using the same language. They are sculpted bronze spheres, open in the middle, arranged randomly on the floor. Each semi-sphere is presented in two ways: with the internal volume filled or empty, a kind of casing that had a secret that has since been broken.

António Neves Nobre is represented by galeria 3+1, alongside artists such as Adriana Proganó, Alberto Carneiro, Carlos Noronha Feio, among many other renowned figures. Although he is thirty years old, I will not decree him young (despite the national urge to do so), since his artistic path has enough solidity and maturity to dispense with the epithet of youth. Last year he won the New Talent Award by DRL and Viarco, as well as being present in collections such as Coleção António Cachola, and co-founder of the Lisbon venue Uppercut.

His works are not tangible in the media used, adding to the unknowns regarding the creative process. According to the information I was given by the gallery on the visiting day, the artist decided not to include any textual content in todavia, wanting the viewers to have the purest possible experience, without prior influences.

And I would argue that it was the best decision he could have made.

As we enter the Gallery, the glazed shop window announces to passers-by the mystery inside the exhibition.

The first impact made by one of the blue paintings, as I have affectionately dubbed them in my head, is the cloud of mystery of its presence. At first glance, the blue is so deep and solid that the eyes require an approximation. As we do so, our senses are absorbed into the painting itself, into the depth of detail with each flick of the eyelids. The previously solid colour fades into infinite subtleties, as if peering through the microscope in a school science class. By the time I realised it, I was already caught in the blue immensity, in the lines and shapes that made my escape an irresolvable cat’s-bed. Nobre had captured my attention.

The more I entered the Gallery corridor, the more I felt submerged. On the first floor there are four copies of the “blue paintings.” Admiring them for a long time, as I did, requires a huge effort to focus on the other pieces. Their magnetism is based on the perception of the infinite individualities and roughness indicated by Nobre on each pictorial surface.

One of the cameos, or rather one of the bronze sculptures, is at the entrance to the staircase. It guides the visitor to the second floor on the gallery’s lower level, where we see the rest of its relatives. Each sculpture, as had happened with the paintings, elicited different reactions. Some caused unease and disgust at the prominent roughness. But others, especially the one on the lower floor on the right side, aroused the feeling of admiring something highly sensuous. After each motion of my eyeball, I was overcome with a thirst to peer into the pieces’ inner curves, in an intoxicating passion to know more, like hearing a new whisper of an infamous secret.

The exhibition’s final visual third is headed by the ‘purple paintings’ and, yes, this is another unauthorised moniker. They share with each other a feature other than colour, a central division caused by the addition of a vertical line above the bottom base. Rather than being on the wall of a gallery, they could be placed on the wall of an altar, for they become meditative when admired for a lengthy period. Their central ascending line looks like the vein of a leaf or a river cutting through a forest, flowing into some central, pivotal place.

At the end of the exhibition, visitors can only turn around and leave the gallery, re-starting the clock and returning to their humdrum daily lives after this intoxicating aesthetic experience.

Todavia is an exhibition about the hermeneutics of the universe, as it talks about nothing but, at the same time, takes advantage of everything, in a dichotomy worthy of an adversative subordinative conjunction. It takes advantage of colours, lines, protrusions, details, structures, in an impressive disparity with what the figurative calls real. Despite this, all the pieces have the purest and most elemental of reality. What is that? I don’t know yet. But, if I had five more minutes with some works by António Neves Nobre, I could have found out. Just like when we face intoxicating addictions, the urge to know more. The greatest trait shared by the works exhibited in todavia is that they spark thirst in the spectators, making them look for a little longer.

Maria Eduarda Wendhausen (Rio de Janeiro, 2000). She graduated in Art and Heritage Sciences from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Lisbon and is a student of the Masters in Criticism, Curatorship and Theories of Art from the same institution. She also studied at Sotheby's Institute of Art on the Writing for the Art World, From Idea to Submission course. She works as a writer and curator in Lisbon, Portugal. She collaborated with Manicómio in the Pavilhão31 exhibition space and with Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa. Her last performance as a curator, took place at ARCOLisboa2022 with the exhibition CRACK THE EGG of the Millennium bcp Youth Art Prize, in 2022. In 2023, she started collaborating with CentralC as content manager. She writes regularly for scientific and specialized magazines as a freelancer in the field of art criticism, as well as features and academic essays, with the aim of disseminating and promoting to the general public, the multiple facets of art studies and their unfolding in everyday life.

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