Cut - Contact - Contamination
Cut - Contact - Contamination
If displaying numerous, mostly unseen works created between 1981 and 1996 by Ricardo Basbaum is the primary goal of this exhibit, the second one is to expand upon questions raised in his text Pintura dos anos 80: algumas observações críticas, in which he reviews that decade’s visual art dynamics. These are two “landmarks” that not only define important axes for the construction of Brazilian contemporary art – whose structure evolved from the yet-little historicized 80s- but also delimit Basbaum’s working pace: at once plastic and discoursive.
In keeping with this (breathinglike) rhythm, this exhibition proposes to come closer to a specific segment of the artist’s work, and from there “extract” the counter-discourses needed for revising the historical narratives of that period.
One of the established consensuses about the 80s in Brazil, regarding which Basbaum’s text and work offer a considerable critical access, is the correspondence of three denominators: “transition to democracy,” “neoliberalism,” and the “return to painting.”
The underlying narrative is more or less as follows: the demise of dictatorship in Brazil swept away the politically engaged art tendencies of the 60s and 70s; re-democratization laid the groundwork for the country’s embracing of international markets from the 80s onwards; a “return to painting” was promoted in the art circles, underpinned by a young, euphoric generation and the new “trans-avantgarde” and “neo-expressionist” styles spread then by the international art system. Thus the conditions were put in place for Brazilian art to emerge from the peripheral position it seemed circumscribed to and finally converge into the cultural and economic “project” of the global world.
1984 is a year which accommodates these three denominators, both at the level of events and of collective imagination. It was the year the “Diretas Já” movement burgeoned – as Brazilians called for elections for the first time after dictatorship ended – and the year of “Como vai você, Geração de 80?” [How Do You Do, 80s Generation?] – an exhibition in Parque Lage (Rio de Janeiro) featuring many of the artists who are now household names in Brazilian and international art –, the prevailing critical view in 84 was that a brand new “free” generation, creating an art “invested in the present,” “in pleasure,” and “in emotion”arose out of a widespread political will to renovate the structures of power. Surely the notion of “youth” was the most visible (and ambiguous) form of a reaction against what some considered the “hermetical, purist, overly intellectual art that prevailed throughout the 70s”. But what might have become an “affirmative” moment, critically and institutionally speaking, was ultimately dominated by slogans and commonplaces about the identity of Brazilian art, the local “currency-of-sorts” for a flourishing global art market.
To delve into period productions and archives of an artist and thinker as relevant as Ricardo Basbaum is, in a way, an opportunity to confront the narrative we have just outlined. Not through text of our own, but through said productions and archives, opened and revisited in the present. In that sense, the account given by Jorge Guinle Filho in the film “Egoclip” (1985) by Dupla Especializada – a duo formed by Ricardo Basbaum and Alexandre Dacosta and devoted to mass media interventions – is altogether symptomatic, and even “unexpected” (if it weren’t for the fact that he was the 80s’ most painterly painter). Disputing the idea of painting as the prevailing practice of the artists of then, Guinle Filho regards the Dupla’s collaborative practices as “very closely related to 70s art (…), a playful brand of concept art that involves various participants and requires viewer integration with the artwork.”
Examples such as this, taken from the rereading of archives, allow us to rebalance, and even challenge, some of the cultural consensuses of an era as exciting and diverse as the 80s, both in Brazil and elsewhere in the world. Moreover, they allow us to glimpse into the counter-narratives, experimental and “disobedient” of the expressive values of the “80s generation,” produced by artists whom, like Basbaum, averted the canon of painting. And to understand that these counter-narratives were precisely what ensured the continuation of the revolutionary, outsider 60s and 70s experiments which, though they became covert during the 80s and 90s, did not cease to beand are now resurfacing, in the context of the crisis of neoliberalism and the comeback of conservative forces. Thus, more than simply being explained, the structure of this “counter-narrative” had to be deducted from features intrinsic to the work of Basbaum, in a movement that would at once allow one to trace back this artist’s individual construction, and to derive from it an alternative constellation of references for those decades.
Looking to “un-stagnate” the canon of painting in the light of an output rendered inviable by that very canon, this exhibit is organized around his three most solid projects of the 80s – “Olho” (Eye, 1984-1990), “Corte de Cabelo” (Haircut, 1985/86), and “NBP - Novas Bases para a Personalidade” (New Bases for Personality, initiated in /90) –, the ones that enable Ricardo Basbaum to construct an open-ended program built around communicational and participative practices that combine protocols of work and discourse agency on contemporary art.
While making no pretense of linearity, this exhibit attempts to highlight the idea of “archive” and “series,” a procedure Basbaum uses from the outset of his work as a means of creating sequences at once visual and discourse-based, often prone to “contamination” or even “viralization” – a concept forged in the media culture of those years and immediately preceding the digital revolution that would ensue. Therefore, he departs from the idea of “document” typical of 70s conceptualisms and he puts forth a new idea of open-ended archive, with a unique willingness inclination towards negotiation and collective use, an aspect which has proven one of the more idiosyncratic denominators of his productions.
The materials featured here – drawings, texts, annotations, paintings, photographs, graphic pieces, videos, and objects – bring us the early years of this construct, and a different take on what the 80s in Brazil were. It is perchance less “hedonistic” or “luminous” than the culture of those years is habitually thought to be, yet profoundly prepositive when it comes to the artist’s action and to the communicational dimension of art and its discourses. It is also decidedly critical of the close connection between economics and subjectivity production, in the formative years of democracy in Brazil. As Ricardo Basbaum put it, “one had to build some sort of direct contact with the viewer, to find other modes of distribution of art forms in a world going global. We sensed an urgency to produce new publics...”