Marcelo Cidade (b. 1979, São Paulo) presents a remarkable installation at Galeria Bruno Múrias. Titled Equivalence and imbalance, it summons up fundamental questions, drawing on references both of an aesthetic and artistic character—Carl Andre's well-known Minimal sculpture series—and of an experiential, social, and political nature—the utterly imbalanced conditions that organise the world, under the spotlight of aggressive capitalism. In his work, there is a depuration of minimalist, even conceptualist inheritance that materialises in painting, sculpture, or installation. Installation is probably Cidade's most subversive area, e.g. when he calls the modernist ideals—rational, depurated, universalist—of modernist architecture into question, appropriating spaces and thinking over the individual and collective place via a markedly politicised and denunciatory stance. Let us pore over these topics.
The Minimal art movement arose in the late 1950s in New York, developing over the following two decades mostly in the United States of America. It initially manifested as a reaction against Abstract Expressionism; aiming at a depurated simplification of forms, all expressive contents were intentionally removed so as to achieve total abstraction, which took shape in formal reduction and serial production. These artists sought to examine the aesthetic possibilities of composition from neutral structures—"objects"—and from their relationship with space. In this context, Donald Judd's Specific Objects (1965) was a seminal text. In it, these "objects" are defined as painting and sculpture, breaking with their traditional boundaries. Minimal art intellectualised the work of art, and artists such as Sol LeWitt, Tony Smith, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, and, of course, Donald Judd or Carl Andre stood out.
Around 1959, Carl Andre (n. 1935)—the artist this show evokes—had begun using prefabricated, industrial units that functioned as modular units. No longer sculpted, his work was now welded, superimposed, cut, edified. In 1966, he was one of the participants in the exhibition that would present to the public several artists associated with Minimal art, titled Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors (Jewish Museum of New York City, organised by Kynaston McShine). In the same year, one of his most famous series would emerge: Equivalent. As expected from the title, the eight constituent sculptures of this series consist of 120 identical fire bricks. On the other hand, in 1967, Andre would create an installation at Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles, titled 8 Cuts. It is a perforated space with eight geometrical cuts. Such a visuality resembles—now not as a cut/empty/negative but rather as a volume/full/positive—Marcelo Cidade's installation itself, organised into eight volumetric sets.
Cidade arranges throughout room eight pieces consisting of identical concrete squares, though with a dangerous variation on them. And so we move from the aesthetic to the political field.
All the small blocks are set with angular, threatening stones, potentially aggressive to whoever touches them. Visually, it is a powerful image. But it is more than that. It immediately calls hostile architecture to mind.
Hostile architecture, also known as defensive architecture, aims to restrict or guide behaviour, ensuring a certain social order and conduct. It is usually directed at the homeless, preventing them from lying or sitting down on certain exterior public or private spaces, offices and banks being regular examples. It is not by chance that the latter are representative buildings of ruling capitalism. And thus such an antagonism becomes apparent, between capital holders and holders of none—of not even the bare minimum.
It is manifestly interesting, the relationship this installation establishes between social, political, economic critique, and Minimal art, which by definition moves away from emotion and, subsequently, from a certain background humanity. Such a junction becomes surprisingly operative and fortunate. The viewers themselves come across the resistance of the material, which forces the former to wind and detour along their path. Just like life. As a matter of fact, vitality is what one depuratedly breathes in this space, as well as in a certain matrix of Marcelo Cidade's engaged, lively, questioning work, in general.
At last, such a vivacity, at once simple but not simplistic, makes us think over the very meaning of an exhibition lato sensu, specifically at a time of returns and restarts in a year that has brought us to a standstill. As an art object, is its communication an effective one? Is there a sufficiently strong background idea/concept? Do curatorial options indeed cause some astonishment or innovation (conditions associated with the ontology of art)? Are curatorial devices and options actually singular and dissimilar? Unfortunately, it is often not the case. It is important that curatorship too reinvents and goes beyond itself. In a sober, depurated, but intense manner, this exhibition/installation has accomplished so. And this imbalance, in its way, takes on an organic, densifying balance, after all.
Isabel Nogueira (b. 1974). Contemporary art historian, university professor, essayist. PhD in Fine Arts / Sciences of Art (Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Lisbon) and post-doctorate in History of Contemporary Art and Theory of Image (University of Coimbra and Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne). Most recent books: "Teoria da arte no século XX: modernismo, vanguarda, neovanguarda, pós-modernismo" (University of Coimbra press, 2012; 2nd ed. 2014); "Artes plásticas e crítica em Portugal nos anos 70 e 80: vanguarda e pós-modernismo" (University of Coimbra press, 2013; 2nd ed. 2015); "Théorie de l’art au xxe siècle: modernisme, avant-garde, néo-avant-garde, postmodernisme" (Éditions L'Harmattan, 2013); "Modernidade avulso: escritos sobre arte” (Edições A Ronda da Noite, 2014). She is a member of AICA (International Association of Art Critics).
Translation PT-EN: Diogo Montenegro.
Marcelo Cidade. Equivalência e desequilíbrio. Exhibition views at Galeria Bruno Múrias. Photos: Bruno Lopes. Courtesy of the artist and Galeria Bruno Múrias.