Are Artworks Contemporary?
May 18th – July 30th 2022
Madragoa is delighted to present Are artworks contemporary? a group exhibition that brings together works by Tamina Amadyar, Athanasios Argianas, Tatjana Danneberg, Pablo Echaurren, Alice Guittard, Ana Jotta, Renato Leotta, Shuang Li, Dianna Molzan, Carrie Moyer, Joanna Piotrowska, Tadáskía, Belén Uriel, Yuli Yamagata and Bruno Zhu.
The exhibition ironically takes its title from Bernard Rudofsky's Are clothes modern? an exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1944-45, and a book published in 1947. Rudofsky’s intention was to interrogate the relationship between people and their clothing in his contemporary moment, assessing what worked across cultures, what had become unnecessary and what needed to change along with the pace of modernity. In a passage of his essay, Rudofsky looks at the layers of man clothing as a tree, revealing the internal structure of a composition that we normally look at from the surface.
Are artworks contemporary? ignites a dialogue between the works of artists from different generations and backgrounds, with the aim of looking at the different pieces as products of a layering of materials, gestures, references and personal narratives that come from experiences tangential to those of the visual arts, and are brought back to the visual level. Although present, they are so embedded in the art itself that they disappear, often in compositions that exist between figuration and abstraction and that invite the viewer to dive in to discover more, reflecting the contemporaneity of the human being that created them.
The starting point of Tamina Amadyar's (b. 1989, Afghanistan) abstract paintings is the physical experience of architectural buildings and spaces, which, in a process similar to details fading in one’s mind, gives way to volumes and colors, rarefied impressions of atmospheres. These surface on the canvas as vaporous forms, marked by a few synthetic strokes and very diluted, non-naturalistic colors.
A similar process of rarefaction is found in the sculptural work of Athanasios Argianas (b. 1976, Greece), who draws on his musical background to investigate the relationship between the physicality of one and the immateriality of the other. The voids and solids of the sculptures evoke this relationship, the way a sound or song can occupy space, but also vice versa as a natural form can generate a music, including the body movements and gestures that perform it.
A low-fi photograph recording simple everyday situations represents the first step in Tatjana Danneberg’s (b. 1991, Austria) work. Printed on canvas, the artist intervenes on top of the image with paint, inks and various materials, which seem to offer it the possibility of expanding in time and space in unpredictable ways.
The superimposition of signs and materials creates a narrative overflow, estranging it from its original context, yet stemming from it. In a similar way, the images created by Alice Guittard (b. 1986, France) are suggested by the material itself. The artist is fascinated by the mineral world, in which the destiny of the image seems to be enclosed: the veins of the marble seem to contain in nuce the figure that the artist will extrapolate from it, in this case a tarot figure, which alludes to the same ability to glimpse one's destiny—but in the cards and their combinations. Chance, fate, the ability to listen and interpret, contrainte, and manual talent intertwine in the work.
The image is also suggested by the environment in Renato Leotta’s (b. 1982, Italy) work, which aims to offer a record of the natural landscape itself, forgoing the usual means of representation. In his photograms, the image is imprinted directly on photographic paper, utilizing the ability of the landscape itself to become and function as a camera obscura, turning it into the subject and medium of the work at the same time. In this photogram, the artist has portrayed a sea urchin floating in water, evoking a celestial body in the sky.
While firmly grounded in the materials and structural format of painting—canvas, linen, stretcher bars, oil paint, brushes and palette knife—Dianne Molzan (b. 1972, United States) constructs singular, nonfigurative painting-objects, sculpted after abstraction of 1980s-eratextiles, fashion, pop culture and interior design. Despite the formal and material tactics the artist deploys, her works still retain the appearance of painting, they are the result of a loop that starts and returns to painting.
Belén Uriel’s (b. 1974, Spain) sculpture takes as its starting point the design of furniture, clothing and accessories, objects and utensils, and from window display devices, to explore the reciprocity between the human body and objects designed to protect, support, envelop, and empower it. The casts of these elements, usually durable and marked by the wear and tear of their use, are transformed into delicate glass sculpture, set up in metal supports, in which the roles between container-armor and body-content are blurred.
In her videos and sculptures, Shuang Li (b. 1990, China) investigates the relationship between the projection of human identity in digital platforms and the penetration of forms of artificial intelligence into everyday life, as well as the relationship between the human body and screens. Her imagery, inhabited by hybrid and asexual entities, is inspired by the world of anime, which the artist read and watched during her childhood—they inhabit in different ways her work that studies the migration of images and their interpretations in a globalized context.
In the practice of Joanna Piotrowska (b. 1985, Poland), the photograph is only a final step in a process rooted in performative action, executed in response to instructions given by the artist, who in turn has done research in a variety of fields, including psychology, philosophy, feminist studies, dance and choreography, or body language more generally. In the photographs this layering of research is condensed into uncanny images and tense poses that are difficult to decrypt. A work that arises from introspection of self is that of Tadáskía (b. 1993, Brazil), who is an artist, trans, and writer, formerly known as max wíllà morais. Her drawings, photographs, and installations explore the possibility of metamorphosis of forms, reflecting on identity transformations experienced on an intimate level and visualize invisible experiences of black diaspora.
A “detour” into the political sphere gives rise to the works of Pablo Echaurren (b. 1951, Italy) and Carrie Moyer (b. 1960, United States). Echaurren’s artistic practice is fueled by his activity in the counterculture movement, of which he was a protagonist in Italy in the 1970s, drawing the visual imagery related to this historical moment as it is imprinted in the collective memory. He designed fanzines, graphics for magazines, newspapers, comics, and posters, developing a type of communication that incorporates the taste for paradox and detournement, coming from the historical avant-gardes of Dadaism and Situationism, updated to the language of the masses—which earned him and his group the definition of "indiani metropolitani".
Moyer’s work, influenced by a background in design and queer activism, intricately weaves together concept, research, and lived experience with a range of stylistic and physical references. With their evocative, bodily forms, transparent veils of aqueous color and flat surfaces, Moyer’s paintings forge distinct traces of 20th century art—Surrealism, Color Field painting, Pop and 1970s Feminist art—into a contemporary vision uniquely her own. Ana Jotta's (b. 1946, Portugal) unclassifiable work is extraordinarily diverse in conception, formulation or presentation, but also in execution, resorting to different media, so much so that it is impossible to use an adjective that encompasses her practice. It is a work on language and a critique of the authorial figure, which resembles the mechanism of Penelope's web: at the moment she creates the work, she unravels the figure of the artist as its creator.
Yuli Yamagata’s (b. 1989, Brazil) works are nurtured by a pop imagery that turns them into objects charged with a familiar strangeness. She often works with sewing and pieces of ordinary fabrics found in popular stores to build a very peculiar visual universe. She is specially interested in a mixture of images and references, ranging from classic design to the vibrant colors of athlete’s Lycra attires, to develop dynamic works that combine anatomic volumes, fast-food visions and elements of popular culture in textile assemblages, paintings and sculpture.
Intersecting fashion design, self-publishing and scenography, Bruno Zhu (b. 1991, Portugal) built an inventory of hybridized forms and characters, including men’s trousers as opera gloves, mosquito matriarchs and men in the closet. The action associated with sewing— tearing, stitching, mending—is a metaphor of deconstruction for a montage that interrupts the flow of normativity, the divisions of social roles as they have become sclerotized over time. The work is close to what Rudofsky wanted to do with his exhibition from the 1940s, whose purpose was to “bring about an entirely new and fresh approach to the subject of clothes, to focus attention on dress as though it were an utterly new phenomenon, and to take the blinders of tradition off modern eyes so they can see that certain conventions, accepted as inseparable from dress and therefore never questioned, are in fact useless, impractical, irrational, harmful and unbeautiful.