Horizontal, color photo. View of the MOTO-CONTÍNUO exhibition, by José Damasceno, at Estação Pinacoteca. In the background, SOUNDTRACK, which with hundreds of hammers hanging from nails on the wall, creates the representation of mountains. In front, several columns of the building's structure. Among them, you can partially see two works by José Damasceno. Right, SNOOKER, left lower work, at ground level.
View of the exhibition. Photo: Isabella Matheus/Pinacoteca de São Paulo

It gives a certain relief to enter the exhibition of José Damasceno, perpetual motion, at the station picture gallery, in such an unfavorable context, when a CPI reveals all the absurd acts of a government that contributed to the almost 500 thousand deaths due to Covid-19 in the country.

The diversity of procedures, from magnanimous installations to delicate drawings, the disparity between the materials used, from noble marble to the decadent and perishable cigarette, and the absence of an explicit theme, can point to how an exhibition that deals at its limit with art as an “experimental exercise in freedom”, in the definition of the art critic Mário Pedrosa (1900-1981). In times of a pandemic, freedom can be everything.

As the American curator Lynn Zelevansky points out in the exhibition catalog to describe one of the artist's works, but which serves for the exhibition as a whole, Damasceno creates “a world of its own, inhabited by strange creatures”.

Among the more than 70 pieces on display, made between 1989 and 2021, some of the works that help with this feeling of disconnection from the context are those that, due to their dimension and seriality, create strange landscapes, such as Soundtrack, with hundreds of hammers that hanging from nails create the representation of mountains, and Snooker, a snooker table covered in wool yarn that comes out of the light fixtures above it. The same principle is seen in landscape growing, where hundreds of cigarettes that look like dots on the wall create images of trees.

This is a set of works that seduce through the tricks of their compositions and provoke that Mona Lisa smile, due to their ingenuity and originality. In his text, Zelevansky seeks to value this strategy by pointing out that there is a “psychological dimension in Damasceno’s work that borders on the surreal” and cites the artist’s favorite authors such as William James, Edgar Allan Poe and Jorge Luis Borges as possible dialogues with his work.

In fact, the works already mentioned have surreal dimensions, since their unusual construction processes, from mountains made by nails and hammers to lights composed of wool yarn, result in images that resemble collages of contradictory elements. However, contrary to the multiple possible meanings of surrealist works, there is nothing much more than the elements of the works themselves. Hammers follow hammers, wool threads follow wool threads, which takes contemporary art into a mere formalistic exercise.

Another set of the exhibition that points to this superficiality are the so-called Rubber Sculptures, made in marble that hyper-dimension common everyday objects, such as the school material that gives title to the works.

When the spectator realizes this lack of depth, relief turns to irritation, because the virtuosity of the show points to a total lack of connection to any context, other than the art itself, and the only possible lens to observe the set is thinking in categories of art itself. It is not by chance that Zelevansky's text in the catalog develops around the technique of drawing.

In a society so polarized, conflicted, prejudiced, and one can say so many other terms that point to a failure of any humanist thought, the exhibition curated by José Augusto Ribeiro brings a selection and a disposition of highly aestheticized works, a set that reveals a cold and distant beauty, full of puns like Can you hear me? (can you hear me?), with two trumpets joined by the mouth.

Interestingly, the catalog of perpetual motion goes in the opposite direction, practically an artist's book, since most of it is composed of photos of a lambe-lambe with the image of the effigy of the Republic that illustrates the notes of a real pasted on city walls, most in decadent and impoverished, and in some of them political manifestations such as “Fora Temer” can be read, giving a sense of the context and becoming a documentation of a powerful public installation.

It is this vitality that is lacking in the exhibition itself, which turns out to be too monotonous because it is so beautiful and perfect. Leaving the building in the Cracolândia area is a shocking contrast, but it ends up being a relief to return to the ugliness and difficulties of the real world, with all its dynamism and potential.

JOSÉ DAMASCENO: CONTINUOUS MOTORCYCLE
WHERE: Pinacoteca Station (Largo General Osório, 66 – Santa Ifigênia)
WHEN: April 24, 2021 to August 30, 2021
free tickets, visit by prior arrangement.

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