Ana Maria Tavares and Gabriel de la Mora
Oct 30–Dec 20
1506 W. Alabama St.
Two exhibitions recently opened at the Sicardi Gallery, both by Latin American artists who turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Brazilian Ana Maria Tavares and Mexico City native Gabriel de la Mora presented two different kinds of artwork, but two exhibitions that successfully make viewers think, and look twice. Or more than twice.
Tavares’s Euryale Amazonica comprises a series of Plexiglas and stainless steel boxes elevated on pedestals of various heights, each containing intricate, hand-crocheted flowers made of yarn, silk, cotton, and velvet. The exhibit title comes from a species of flowering plant native to the Amazon River. The Euryale became a source of contention in Victorian England when several British gardeners waged a bitter fight over who could import and breed the impressive plant.
The flower inspired Tavares’s works in the exhibition, which were actually produced by seven artisans in the Ceará region of Brazil, in collaboration with fashion and accessories designer Celina Hissa. As Tavares explained, a large part of the process involved her relationship with these artisans, whom she took on “field trips” around the country, looking at Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx’s gardens as a case study. “Burle Marx was a very key figure in modernism,” Tavares tells me. “He was looking into the plants from the Amazon, and bringing them into the core of modernism. It was like bringing the ‘other’ into an order that was thought to be the order of modernism.” When it came to her own project, she says, “it was more of an idea of translation: how do you translate what you see in a garden into a technique that is craft?”
At the core of Tavares’s work is the dramatic juxtaposition of the modern and the exotic. Her flowers are placed on layers of mirrored or black glass inside their Plexiglas vitrines, which make them appear to be floating in water, while also suggesting a sterile, scientific display case. To her, the flowers “represent the ‘other’”—the natural world that was excluded from the Brazilian modernist project (typified by architect Oscar Niemeyer’s buildings for Brasilia), “that was all about visual purity and eliminating the ‘other.’” The iridescent paint on the vitrines was partially inspired by Niemeyer’s use of glass walls, and “represent this idea of [modernist] utopia.”
On the walls around the flowers are several montages exploring themes of modernism and the tropical, natural “other.” They’re the fruit of the year she just spent as a visiting scholar at Rice University. She co-taught a class entitled “Built Brazil” with art history professor Fabiola Lopez-Duran centered on the built environment, natural and architectural, as the major disseminator of modernism in Brazil. These montages feature images like a waterfall superimposed on Adolf Loos’s iconic striped house for Josephine Baker, and other meshing of ordered modernism and “powerful tropical nature.”
At first glance, Gabriel de la Mora’s show upstairs at Sicardi seems to consist of red, minimalist paintings. In fact, the series of artworks are made from thousands of friction strips from matchboxes that de la Mora spent years collecting and against which thousands of matches were struck. The exhibit, entitled Lucíferos, suggests several meanings. De la Mora points out that matches played a crucial role in industrialization, by making fire something accessible anytime, anywhere. The first matches were known as “Lucifers,” which is what the Dutch still call them.
De la Mora has always been a collector. When I ask how many collections he has, he can only answer: “a lot.” He says that he began collecting matchboxes as a child, along with drink stirrers, empty bottles, and error coins, and explains that he is currently collecting discarded shoe soles for his next exhibition. He assembled the matchbox works with a team of 13 studio assistants, and compared the constant match striking to spiritual exercises like yoga.
“The artist is a collector,” as he puts it.