A man in a boat has reeled in a mermaid with a fishing pole and steps into the pink waters as if to take her place. This is the central image of OSGEMEOS’s mixed-medium painting Um segredo do mar (Secret from the Sea, 2015), which was the first work you encountered in the graffiti duo’s exhibition at Lehmann Maupin, “Silence of the Music,” and as you looked around you realized that you, too, were stepping into a vibrant sea. The painting exemplifies the artists’ merging of different realms in their work. Floating around the boat are various images: the head of Saint Lucia; a baton-waving man, presumably a protester; an advertisement for fireworks that claims its product will never let you down. Meanwhile, our man, dressed in a sequined shirt and floral-patterned pants, balances a tray on his head topped with bottles containing rolled-up messages, a leather boot, and a miniature houseboat that appear like dream objects representing his aspirations and burdens.
The São Paulo–based twin brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo are known for their large-scale works in public spaces. In August 2015, they painted a huge mural that still stands on Second Avenue and their animation Parallel Connections was displayed every night of the month across forty-five screens in Times Square. In the Lehmann Maupin show, they captured the rebellious essence of graffiti inside a white-cube gallery.
Graffiti is about claiming spaces and asserting yourself, and OSGEMEOS certainly made the gallery their own, transforming every inch of it. They turned many of the walls into streetscape-type scenes by crowding their paintings with wooden doors and painted brick patterns; in one room, they painted a mesmerizing turquoise ocean on the walls. In what was dubbed the “B-Boy Room,” they hung paintings of boom boxes that have speakers embedded in them; each of these works plays music, and within the cacophony you could catch stray lines, such as the Afrobeat band Antibalas declaring, in their take on the salsa classic “Che Che Colé,” “Vamos todos a bailar al estilo Africano” (We’re all going to dance in the African style). The room was plastered with works that were a tribute to the hip-hop movement, which has allowed youths in different parts of the world to find a voice. In O Dia Da Festa de Break (The Break Party’s Day, 2016), which suggests a working-class family portrait, a young man distinguishes himself from his family members with his glossy red hair (rendered in sequins) and break-dancing moves. His T-shirt declares, poppin jozé, and he is literally popping, as he is a wood cutout protruding from the image.
Throughout the show, the paintings and the sculptures conveyed a sense of mischief and possibility. The eccentric characters, detailed patterns, loud colors, and equally loud music did not overwhelm. Instead, they transported you into the thriving subs—suburbs, subcultures, subconscious, subways—of a city where there is much swag and some hope amid adverse conditions. Rebellion was shown to be not just a mode of defiance but a way of defining oneself. With OSGEMEOS’s magical imagery, the definition remains slippery and layered even when it appears within simple outlines.