Erika Verzutti’s first museum presentation in her native Brazil is a feast for the eyes: many of the seventy-nine sculptures on view, made between 2003 and 2020, comprise bronze or concrete casts of fruits and vegetables that have been cut, stacked, and painted. The show opens with Porn Star (2016), for which cacao pods were cast in bronze, splattered with pink and white acrylic, and stacked on end to resemble Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column (1938). The work is emblematic of Verzutti’s playful reconfiguration of modernist masterworks using the naturally abundant iconography of the tropics.
The exhibition, which also includes totems cast from jackfruit and soursop, small fetishes fashioned from squash and bananas, and wall-mounted panels in bronze and aluminum that resemble slabs of cultured meat, approaches Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade’s “Anthropophagic Manifesto” (1928) with deadpan literalism. That text, key to the development of twentieth century Brazilian art, argued that, drawing on the country’s history of ritualistic cannibalism, artists should metaphorically “cannibalize” other cultures, borrowing freely to metabolize something entirely new. Verzutti, in turn, cannibalizes the canon, transforming hallmark works of European and Brazilian art into tart feminist entrées.
Verzutti’s acidic humor surfaces most clearly in “Tarsila” (2004–18), a series of small bronzes inspired by the modernist painter Tarsila do Amaral, whose work directly influenced de Andrade. In Tarsila com Novo (Tarsila with New, 2011), a phallic form inspired by Tarsila’s Sol Poente (Setting Sun, 1929) faces off with its near twin, cast from a zucchini. The later Tarsila with Koons (2015), meanwhile, places a single cast grapefruit, painted metallic blue to resemble one of Jeff Koons’s Gazing Balls, at the base of do Amaral’s flaccid column. It’s a symbolic orchiectomy of a male artist whose work fetches some of the most inflated prices on the market.
Other works are similarly neutering: Batalha (Battle, 2010), for instance, piles ninety watermelons cast in concrete like impotent cannonballs. Nearby, for Cocar (Cockade, 2014), Verzutti has enlarged a rosette worn by eighteenth century military officers and fashioned it absurdly from bronze-cast bananas and paintbrushes. These works stand within view of a selection of Verzutti’s “Venuses” (2013–17), rotund stacks of concrete and bronze-cast slices of pumpkins and soursop. Resembling the Venus of Willendorf (c. 25,000 BCE), a paleolithic fertility fetish, they stare down stereotypes of women from the Tropics as voluptuous and fertile at a scale and density that overpowers such misogynistic tropes.
The exhibition’s title, “The Indiscipline of Sculpture,” seems like a misnomer: Verzutti is rigorous in her irreverence towards the art-historical canon. Take Achrome com biscoito (Achrome with Biscuit, 2019), her rendering of a Piero Manzoni “Achrome” (1957–62)—all-white, mixed-media relief paintings—as cookies scattered on a napkin. “Nausea is the inescapable destiny of the glutton,” Brenner wryly notes of Verzutti, though the likeliest result of the artist’s omnivorous references is something baser—and ultimately more satisfying. Manzoni famously canned his own shit, a rude metaphor for the metabolic process of artistic production. Verzutti, in turn, celebrates the shit that won’t conform to the disciplinary regime of modernism.