A really enjoyable show opening this Friday at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is the retrospective about Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto. The event is curated by Petra Joos and will stay open until the 18th of May; it offers a unique opportunity to experience the artist’s work in one of the most inspiring and striking museum spaces in the world.
If Frank O. Ghery’s building has been often been described as a competitor of the art displayed inside for its expressionist features, this show seems to be one of the more successful combinations between the contested container and its content. Entering this building you certainly expect a unique and special experience even before knowing its artistic counterpart on the inside; and in this sense Ernesto Neto’s retrospective will certainly meet visitor’s expectation. Nevertheless far from attracting just curious passers-by or tourists, the show offers the chance to explore a different dimension of seeing, perceiving and experiencing ourselves and the world we live in.
The exhibition will present more than 50 pieces of the Brazilian artist from the 1990s to the present day and will include special installations and site-specific works developed in close collaboration with the artist specifically for the event. Neto’s work escapes labels and definitions for the variety of mediums, materials, and concepts experimented over the years. The artist’s roots and historical references include modern sculpture, the Brazilian movement of Neo-Concretism, the Minimal Art, a phenomenological approach to art and the anthropological views of Eduado Viveiros de Castro. His work has also often been described as organic or humanist since it strictly relates to the human body and the natural world. The title of the exhibition clearly states his vision; Ernesto Neto – the body that carries me.
Especially from the turn of the century Neto has increasingly produced stunning installation art – and has even overcome its definition, entering the realm of ambience or environment design. It is challenging to describe or conceive Neto’s artworks outside of the context they are produced for; this is especially true for his indoors works which strictly relate to architecture and the spatial experience of the viewer. His art is bound to and completed by the visitor presence and his/her interaction with the work and the space that surrounds it. The show encourages the visitor to enjoy the experience of the works with all senses and to be completely absorbed in the art journey; the artist wants us to take a break from thinking and find refuge in art.
The show is curated through six sections: Why Are You Going to Rome Again?, That’s Life, Tent of Dreams, Sweet Border, Never Mind the Mess, Candy Man Candy. The first section opens with one of the most striking installations of the show, The Falling Body [Le corps] female [from Leviathan Thot] (O corpo que cai [Le corps] fêmea [de Léviathan Thot]), originally produced for the Pantheon in Paris in 2006 and hanging from the 55-metre-high ceiling of the atrium of the museum. The piece is here adapted using just the “female” part of the original installation and refers to the body as both physical entity and body politic; it also refers to the Leviathan as both the biblical marine creature and Thomas Hobbs’ appropriation of it in his book commonly known as Leviathan. Underneath the installation the visitors are invited to enjoy the view lying on mobile hammocks of another piece entitled Looking at the Sky.
Other sections include site-specific installations created for the show which encourage the interaction of the viewer such as Barter Barter (2013) in the last section of the show. The installation is made with paper bags containing glass beads and everyday objects which can be replaced by others brought by the visitors from the beginning of the exhibition. In the last section (Candy Man Candy) there is a work inspired by Brazilian popular culture, Drum (2010); it is made out of strings sewn with the crochet technique which create a colourful web that holds plastic balls and percussion instruments.
Other interesting pieces from the artist’s recent production on display are Life is a body we are part of (2012) in That’s Life section and what he calls the “animal architecture” of the installation Stone Lips, Pepper Tits, Clove Love, Fog Frog (2008) in the Tent of Dreams section.
The Ernesto Neto show is a unique opportunity to get to know one of the most prominent figures in the art scene; it offers the chance to enjoy the journey through his work as a unique sensorial experience and at the same time to reflect on the theoretical views that lead the artist’s practise.
How can we frame this event and the recent production of the artist in the current design scenario? The show recently opened at the Royal Academy, “Sensing Spaces” has interesting points in common with Neto’s retrospective, what do they share? How can architecture and art modify our way of looking at the built environment and social interaction?