Interminável by Artur Barrio at CIAJG

Some of Artur Barrio’s most relevant biographical details are visible through his work. However, it should always be pointed out that he was born in Portugal in 1945 and moved with his family to Brazil in 1955. This small fact clearly shows the non-space where Barrio would have to place himself and then place his work.

You even asked me earlier if I was Portuguese. When I arrive in Portugal, I am considered Brazilian and here, from time to time, I am considered Portuguese. So I’m not from anywhere, which also defines my relationship with art.[1]

It also bears mentioning that the first exhibitions in which Barrio participated – Desenhos in 1967, at Galeria Gemini in Rio de Janeiro (collective) and in 1969 P…..H….. in Rio de Janeiro (solo) – are the spaces of the first situation and the consequent register – seminal terms for understanding his work.

From a broader perspective, we can perhaps position this artist in the Brazilian neo-concretist current – a response to the earlier concretism, based on the valorisation of the subjectivity of art as opposed to the objectivity and rationalism of the Brazilian art scene at that point. Barrio is part of a later phase of this movement, in a more conceptual and experimental strand, with names such as Cildo Meireles, Guilherme Vaz or António Manuel. The theoretical basis was the phenomenology of the French philosopher Marleau-Ponty:

The work of art does not limit itself to occupying a place in objective space – but transcends it by establishing in it a new signification -, that the objective notions of time, space, form, structure, colour, etc. are not enough to understand the work of art, to account for its ‘reality’. The difficulty of finding an exact terminology to express a world that is not carried away by concepts has led art critics to indiscriminately use words that betray the complexity of the work created. The influence of technology and science has also been striking, so much so that, today, as the roles are reversed, some artists, dazzled by this terminology, try to make art based on these objective notions as a creative method. Inevitably, artists who proceed in this way only illustrate a priori notions, limited by a method that prescribes the outcome of the work beforehand. Fleeing from spontaneous and intuitive creation, limited to an objective body in an objective space, the rationalist concrete artist, with his paintings, only asks himself and the spectator for a reaction based on stimulus and reflection: he speaks to the eye as an instrument and not to the eye as a human way of having the world and giving oneself to it; he speaks to the eye-machine and not to the eye-body.[2]

Part of the art criticism of the Brazilian Mário Pedrosa, as well as the works of artists such as Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Pape, allow for the emergence of this kind of expanded field of Brazilian art, a “particular critique of modernism, establishing the overt parameters of a postmodern art, in the context of a society that did not conceal, but rather emphasised the violence of the social, economic and political tensions that erupted within it”.[3]

Part of this disruptive artistic movement, Artur Barrio proposed to “safeguard art from itself”[4] through mechanisms that made him create situations with ephemeral materials, distancing the work from the fetishisation of the object, typical of the art world. The perishable side of the materials he uses made him need the register: mostly photography, video and the artist’s book, but with situations in which the traces of the artwork’s presence were on the body (external and internal). All this brings Artur Barrio’s work closer to art without a definite place for it. To understand this, we need to grasp the points from which Barrio started his creation: the (null) freedom of expression in the dictatorship and the inequalities of expression in capitalism, since “the contact with reality (…) in Artur Barrio’s work is a rebuttal of the social evidence of that same reality (…)[5]. We can also use the artist’s words in one of his manifestos, in which he states that he is “against the categories of art, the salons, the prizes, the juries, the art critics”[6].

Artur Barrio’s studio is in the street, in the social arena, where the situation arises. These places are privileged for creation, with one exception: the possibility of directly intervening in conventional spaces such as museums, salons and galleries, through “lightning actions”[7], i.e., to create a situation in the exhibition venue while maintaining the rules that Barrio used outside. An example is the core space of Interminável, in Guimarães.

At Centro Internacional das Artes José de Guimarães [CIAJG], Artur Barrio’s exhibition clearly displays the different instances of his creative corpus. Interminável is based on an installation with the same title, first made in 2005, which belongs to the collection of the S.M.A.K (Ghent, Belgium). This installation, which exists only during the artist’s lifetime, transforms the exhibition site into a kind of cave, almost an anti-museum: we see destruction, darkness, precariousness. Coffee is scattered on the floor and its odour fills the entire room. Among several inscriptions on the wall, we read “The curator is an unnecessary necessity”, a line said by the artist in an interview with the curator Paula Alzugaray. Despite this inhospitality, we are invited to lie down on a sofa in the middle of the room and even open one of the many bottles of red wine available to visitors. This attraction to the inhospitable is one of the great qualities of Barrio’s work. In this cave/laboratory, we are drawn to what attracts the artist, somewhere between the visceral and the perishable.

After the exhibition, we find works from institutional and private collections, as well as from the artist’s personal archive. And also documents and photographs that help establish relationships between Barrio and his interests. Of the various works, I highlight Áreas Sangrentas………………(Primeira Parte), which records a situation on Barrio’s return to Portugal after the Carnation Revolution.

Interminável by Artur Barrio, curated by Marta Mestre and Luiz Camillo Osorio, is open until September 3.

[1] Alzugaray, P. & Barrio, A. (s.d.). A Insubordinação de Artur Barrio. From UOL:,1.shl


[2] Excerpt from the Neo-Concrete Manifesto published in 1959 in the Sunday Supplement of Jornal do Brasil.

[3] Fernandes, J., Basbaum, R., Basualdo, C., Barrio, A. (2000). Artur Barrio – Regist(R)os. Porto: Fundação de Serralves. p. 12.

[4] Leal, Miguel – Um outro orgânico mutante. In: “Projeto Bunker (1996-99). Coimbra: Círculo de Artes Plásticas de Coimbra, 2000. p.3.

[5] Fernandes, J., Basbaum, R., Basualdo, C., Barrio, A. (2000). Artur Barrio – Regist(R)os. Porto: Fundação de Serralves. p.17.

[6] Fernandes, J., Basbaum, R., Basualdo, C., Barrio, A. (2000). Artur Barrio – Regist(R)os. Porto: Fundação de Serralves. p.226.

[7] Fernandes, J., Basbaum, R., Basualdo, C., Barrio, A. (2000). Artur Barrio – Regist(R)os. Porto: Fundação de Serralves. p.49.

Daniel Madeira (Coimbra, 1992) has a degree in Artistic Studies from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Coimbra and a Master's in Curatorial Studies from the Colégio das Artes at the same university. Between 2018 and 2021, he coordinated the Exhibition Space and the Educational Project of the Águeda Arts Center. Currently, he collaborates with the Círculo de Artes Plásticas de Coimbra (CAPC).

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