Grand Hotel, Neon. Entrance hall Sesc 24 de Maio, São Paulo

Em full military dictatorship, at the 1968 Bienal de São Paulo, the artist Carmela Gross presented three works, among them “Barril”, a reference to the instrument of torture used by the police at the time to provoke a situation of drowning in the prisoners.

The work was presented precisely at the Bienal do Boicote, so called because many artists stopped participating in the show as a sign of protest against the situation experienced by the country. “As an instrument of torture, it [the barrel] was, in turn, already a residue of the North American oil industry. A metaphor reduced to a minimum, almost a non-metaphor, but which implied foreign domination and Brazilian dependence, including in the clandestine practices of the dictatorship”. The current statement, which after 50 years presents a Brazil still submissive to the USA and with democracy threatened, is by the artist herself in the book “Carmela Gross”.

The new publication traces an overview of Gross' work from 1967 to 2017, therefore a broad view of 50 years of career, presenting 76 works in detail, many of them with accounts of the artist, as is the case of “Barril”.

Gross has been an artist with a strong presence in the city of São Paulo, whether in temporary exhibitions such as the Bienal de São Paulo (1968, 1989 and 2002), or in permanent works, such as “Grande Hotel”, the most recent in the book. It is located at Sesc 24 de Maio, designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha, opened last year in the city center. “The illuminated sign GRANDE HOTEL, installed in the building's entrance square, combines the discovery of a lost site with the evocation of a promise – that of the city as the greatest place for its inhabitants”, describes the artist in the publication.

Luminous lights created from neon lights occupy much of Gross' work, a way of establishing links with the city's own forms of communication, subverted, however, according to his desire. She wrote Hotel about the Bienal de São Paulo, in 2002, a way that can point to both the temporary and fleeting character of the show, as well as the limiting and privileged character that it contains.

This is a good example, by the way, of this very close relationship between the artist's poetics and urban codes, a dominant line in the publication, which also occurs with the appropriation of metal plates that usually call street names, but in Gross' work become strategies for naming those who do not always have visibility.

Extras, 25 enamelled iron plates

“Extrantes” (2015) portrays this possibility well, since: “It alludes to an unusual procession of dubious figures. These are those listed by Marx in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), as members of the December 10th Society, made up of handymen, ruined heirs, vagabonds and idlers of all kinds”, according to Gross' account in the book.

This approach to Gross's career is quite generous, using his own first-person testimonies along with the images of the works to get to know the artist's creation process, her inspirations and goals. After all, contemporary art is not always easy to communicate, but the artist's clear and precise texts are a way of giving some clues beyond the very visibility of each work.

This reflective concern expands even further in the second part of the book edited by curator Douglas de Freitas. “Carmela Gross” also features an interview with the artist conducted by him and three essays written by curators Paulo Miyada, Luisa Duarte and Clarissa Diniz.

Editora Cobogó, 280 pages, R$ 150

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