Antonio Henrique Amaral: Inside out
Curated by Raphael Fonseca and Pollyana Quintella
Multiple and polyphonic, Antonio Henrique Amaral strove to construct an oeuvre that would defy univocal interpretations. His more than six decades of production resulted in a multifaceted path that has been the subject of recent revisions by essays and monographic exhibitions that situate the artist beyond the works of his iconic and emblematic Bananas series, executed between 1968 and 1975.
This exhibition is a further step toward establishing an innovative view of the artist’s production, with the aim of contextualizing works centered on the body and its wide variety of negotiations. From the 1950s and 1960s, we see works in drawing and printmaking – fundamental in Amaral’s coming to be as an artist – which present deformed and transfigured anthropomorphic figures, tensioning the parameters of representation in the search for more expressive, fantastic and delirious gestures. His human figures appear in an increasingly molten form, as though they were about to melt away under our gaze. In the 1950s, he was constantly experimenting with the metamorphosis between a human body and an animal one, bordering on the unnamable – which is what we conventionally call “monstrous.” While in his drawings we become aware of the importance of isolated applications of color in his research, in his printmaking we see the artist experiment with different sizes and manners of appropriating the grain in the wooden printing blocks.
At the center of the largest room of Casa Triângulo, hanging from the ceiling, we are presenting various series of paintings produced between the 1970s and the 1990s, in which AHA takes a look at the human body, though in a more iconic way. Produced in the late 1970s, precisely in 1979, the series of paintings Máquinas [Machines], manifests the fusion of machines and bodies, metals and viscera, in order to question the borders between nature and culture and to spur us to recognize the body permeated by the technological dimension. The motion of these machines – which curiously resemble the weightlifting devices that became popular precisely in the 1970s – depends on a repetitive effort from the human body. It is difficult to observe this series of images and not sense the relationship with the most repressive years of the military dictatorship in Brazil. Torture machines or machines for disciplining the body? Is there any way to separate the two possibilities?
Curiously, when we observe others of his paintings featured in the exhibition and dating from the 1990s, the notion of body proposed by the artist is presented in a less hieratic and futuristic way, somewhat like a dialogue with the landscape, with the history of modern art in Brazil and, once again, with metamorphosis, but now from a botanical perspective. His Torsos series brings elongated silhouettes, bereft of any identity and suspended in time and space, while his paintings that allude to forests seem to cite and create narratives based on formal elements found in the production of Tarsila do Amaral, his distant cousin. In regard to a series of drawings from the 2000s, also present in this room, it is interesting to note how the images seem to deepen his interests from the 1990s through compositions that border on the limits of abstraction and suggest shattered fragments that recall myriad microorganisms, typical of the exercises of zoom in and zoom out which the artist used to great effect.
Last but not least, in the gallery’s second space – with a low ceiling height and more intimist character – the body is shown in a more explicitly political key through a selection of works from the 1960s, the period when the military dictatorship arose in Brazil. Through images with a pop art aspect and a frank dialogue with mass culture so well represented by comic books and cinema, the artist produced some iconic works where mouths play a central role. The mouth that speaks, the mouth that screams, the mouth that executes – the gaze of the artist who, far from passionate denouncements, also weaves a commentary on militarism, oppression and the telephone calls responsible for so many “erasures.”
By way of a spatial distribution which takes place not only on the walls of Casa Triângulo, but also in the occupation of its monumental space, Antonio Henrique Amaral’s different phases and interests converse with one another ethereally yet obsessively. We hope that as the visitor walks through the space he or she will perceive not only the artist’s insistent gaze on the human body, but also the experiments by which it was reinvented through drawing, printmaking and painting. We are especially interested in visitors being able to contemplate Amaral’s work “inside out” – reflecting on his research as a creator of images that extended far beyond his celebrated paintings that situate bananas as phantasmagorias of tortured bodies. Curiously, we believe that many of the images gathered here are relevant to the growing interest in figurative painting and its potential for twisting, as is currently being explored by young artists in Brazil and worldwide.
May this ephemeral gathering of works allow us to learn more about the artist, his different nuances and temporalities, and, clearly, about our own bodies and our inside-outnesses.