Art of the City SP-Arte 2015

The Traffic Can Be Hell, But the Galleries Are Great! A Look Around São Paulo

Betty Woodman at Mendes Wood.

Betty Woodman at Mendes Wood.

Because of São Paulo’s infamous traffic, it takes some time to get around to galleries by car (no dealer has yet installed a helipad on his or her roof, like the most exclusive hotels in town), but if you set aside a bit of a time cushion to account for traffic snarls or long walks, pleasures await: local dealers have timed major shows to coincide with the SP-Arte fair, which runs through Sunday.

In the tony Cerqueira César district, just north of the fair, Mendes Wood DM, a closely watched outfit that opened in 2010, has three shows on offer in three separate spaces.

Patricia Leite at Mendes Wood DM.

Patricia Leite at Mendes Wood DM.

First, the familiar: a solo show by Betty Woodman, who is 85 this year and who splits her time between New York and Antella, Italy. Neon raspberries and electric yellows abound, and the ghost of Matisse lingers. In a similar vein, Patricia Leite, of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, is showing painted scenes that teem with flora, though they are darker than Woodman, in both material and tone. The Tobias brothers may come to mind. Finally, Mendes Wood has a jewel of a show by the Brazilian Celso Renato (1919–92), the miner and artist whose small wood paintings and constructions, on which he’s delicately laid lines, curves, and triangles, recall tantric paintings. They are spare, worn, solid objects.

Mining is at the heart of Alfredo Jaar’s unflinching show at nearby Luisa Strina, a hometown heavyweight who has been in business since 1974. For Jaar’s first show at the gallery, titled “Gold in the Morning,” Strina is presenting a 1985 series of photographs and videos that he developed while at the gold mines of Brazil’s Serra Pelada. They show miners working in squalid, brutal conditions—hundreds of them trudging through dirt in environments that look out of another century. In portraits, solo and in groups, they stare down the camera, confident, almost confrontational. It is a chilling show, and makes walking past the jewelry shops on Rua Oscar Freire, just a few blocks away, deeply uncomfortable.

Anselm Kiefer at White Cube.

Anselm Kiefer at White Cube.

But speaking of gold, Anselm Kiefer, who is now 70, has used quite a bit of gold leaf to coat about a third of one of his huge new works at White Cube, a painting on photograph mounted on canvas that measures more than 18 feet long and 10 feet tall. Jay Jopling opened the space, which is about a 15-minute drive south of the fair in relatively light traffic, in 2012. It measures just under 5,000 square feet (modest by White Cube standards), which provides enough room for exactly four Kiefers paintings. The works come from his recent “Morgenthau Plan” series, and present thickly painted and sliced pastoral scenes adorned with the odd metal scale or measuring device. Kiefer fans will swoon. Those who, like me, have grown weary of his Sturm und Drang, can at least wander down a hallway toward the gallery’s office to find a series of intricate little drawings from the 1990s by Franz Ackermann.

Lygia Clark, Retrato da concertista Angelica da Motta Rezende, 1940s, at Galeria Bergamin.

Lygia Clark, Retrato da concertista Angelica da Motta Rezende, 1940s, at Galeria Bergamin.

On the more modestly scaled end of the spectrum is “Portraits: The Last Headline,” a delightful show of dozens of works, stretching from the mid 19th century to the present, at Bergamin, which turns 15 this year. The show was organized by Ricardo Sardenberg, who sounds like he needs some Prozac (“Portraiture nowadays is a mausoleum of itself,” part of his curatorial statement reads. “A museum of dead and bygone things.”), even though he has done a superb job of offering up an idiosyncratic history of portraiture that ranges from well-trodden blue-chip fare (Alex Katz, Chuck Close) to art-historical curiosities. Cindy Sherman poses as the Madonna in a black-and-white photo, Joaquín Torres García paints Piet Mondrian in 1927, all buttoned up in a suit and glasses, and R.Q. Monvoisin portrays a resplendent Dom Pedro II, the final emperor of Brazil, in 1847.

Installation view of ‘Ana Maria Tavares: Sinfonia Tropical para Loos’ at Vermelho.

Those seeking headier conceptual concoctions can head to Vermelho, which started two years after Bergamin and which has an ambitious show by Ana Maria Tavares concerning the house that Adolf Loos designed for Josephine Baker in Paris that was never built. Tavares has placed its zebra-stripe façade on the walls of the gallery and installed a video against one side that provides a gliding tour through the structure. It is perfectly situated with the walls, and watching it borders on trippy. (“It took five fucking days to align,” a director told me.) But the real highlights are small, intricately knitted Amazonian lily pads that fill vitrines throughout the gallery, hints of nature—mediated by art—flowing into the modernist building.

Viola Yeşiltaç at Boatos Fine Arts.

Viola Yeşiltaç at Boatos Fine Arts.

Thursday night, Boatos Fine Arts, which went into business only late last year, presented its fifth-ever show, a one-person outing by the German-born Viola Yeşiltaç, who is based in New York, where she shows with David Lewis Gallery. It is a quiet and elegant affair. Her trademark paintings on vinyl—lush green-yellow spills, with works and figures washed out—share the space with black-and-white photographs of nondescript architecture, like a Container Store along a highway and a slice of the Lower East Side (a distinctly surreal sight for New Yorkers in attendance) with bits of the snapshot scratched out. There are hints of a narrative that never fully cohere, a melancholic fact that feels true to life in any sprawling city.

More images from the shows follow below.

“Art of the City” is a weekly column by ARTnews co-executive editor Andrew Russeth.

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