Tunga, the Brazilian artist known for his work about the body and its relationship to its surroundings, died yesterday afternoon of cancer-related causes. He was 64.
Though Tunga has been working since the ’70s, it wasn’t until the past few years that American audiences have come to appreciate his work. New York’s Luhring Augustine gallery, which currently represents the artist, cemented Tunga as one of Brazil’s most important contemporary artists with several shows of his recent sculptures. Many combine industrial forms with natural ones and feature allusions to genitalia, arms, and hair. Tunga’s work draws comparisons to the shamanistic German artist Joseph Beuys, but Tunga’s work was less didactic. Drawing on the legacy of Surrealism, his combinations of forms are mysterious and hard to penetrate.
In interviews, Tunga often highlighted the importance of his work’s spiritual content, which allows viewers to consider the connection between their bodies and the universe. He said that he preferred this to a drier philosophical or scientific approach, explaining, in a 2014 interview, “Each method of transforming matter corresponds to spiritual change. According to alchemical theory, everything we do to matter has repercussions in the spiritual world.”
Born in 1952 in Palarmes, Brazil, Tunga studied architecture, but went on to do work in sculpture, performance, and installation. In 2005, he became the first contemporary artist to have a show at the Louvre in Paris.
“Tunga was a tremendous force both personally and artistically, and was as firmly rooted in Brazilian aesthetic, cultural, and philosophical traditions as he was in their international counterparts,” Luhring Augustine director Donald Johnson-Montenegro said in a statement. “He was both rigorous and curious in his investigations, and he leaves behind a remarkable legacy through a complex and sensual body of work that is equally distinctive and evocative.”