You don’t expect catchy titles from high-brow events like São Paulo’s 30th Art Bienal, which started lasts into December under the title ‘The Imminence of Poetics’. But skip to the curator’s notion of ‘constellations’ and take it with you inside the sprawling exhibition, and the concept crystallises into hundreds of artworks that seem to come together and spring apart again as you wander, forming constellations of motifs, themes and techniques that are a delight to discover.
Curated by Venezuelan-born Luis Pérez-Oramas of New York’s MoMA, the almost 3,000 artworks by 111 artists have been chosen for their capacity to conjure up connections in the viewer’s mind – ‘a constellation of oeuvres that share a common theme, process or ideology’ – rather than focusing on single artists or particular works.
And with a large component of lesser-known names and artworks, the exhibition, free to all and set inside Niemeyer’s immense, purpose-built building, is a chance to wander the Bienal’s spaces within spaces and let the artworks interact, setting neural pathways crackling into life.
In Anna Oppermann’s two installations, for example, an almost overwhelming mass of everyday objects and images shares evidence of the same compulsion to collect, control and catalogue with the rows of strange objects made by the late Arthur Bispo de Rosário. The mystical banners and cloaks sewn by Rosário spring into your mind’s eye again as you stare at the embroidered artworks of f. marquespenteado just a few feet away, where a beautiful sequined cape sends conceptual sparks flying back to Rosário’s ceremonial garments.
Strange and compelling, the works of Rosário, who spent most of his life in a psychiatric hospital and whose artistic output was the result of a vision that told him to create an inventory of the world, act as a kind of North Star for the eclectic battery of artworks on show at the Bienal.
|A ceremonial cape by Arthur Bispo de Rosário
A photo series by Hans Eijkelboom at first appears lightweight, like a style-on-the-street page from a magazine. But with more than a dash of Bispo de Rosário’s urge to collect and sort, Eijkelboom haunts city streets equipped with a hidden camera and a shutter release in his pocket, hunting for repetition and pattern in the people he sees, then arranging the images into grids: men walking and talking on their phones; women in diamond-pattern jumpers; girls with too-short T-shirts, showing glimpses of belly.
Just around the corner are Mark Morrisroe’s intimate portraits of himself and his friends, young, beautiful and damned in 1980s Boston, while Nino Cais turns the lens on himself too – and then dodges it, veiling his face in a series of faux-allegorical tableaux complete with mundane props (teatowels, potplants, crocheted doilies) that take nothing away from the compelling power of the images.
Hot off the loom
The great US textiles artist Sheila Hicks has had an immense influence on fellow artists over the more than fifty years of her career, and she was in town to see her immense installations in cotton and linen, Lianes de Beauvais Parts I and II, mounted alongside a huge array of her smaller, wall-hung works.
Indeed, a resurgence in textile as a medium is a fascinating motif at the Bienal this year, from the aforementioned pieces by Rosário and f. marquespenteado and the embroideries of Elaine Reichek, to a luscious cream woolen wall-hanging by Alexandre da Cunha that’s made, on closer inspection, of interwoven mop-heads.
Taking the inspection of everyday life into new terrain for many viewers, the drawings ‘Knowledge of the World’ by the visionary Ivory Coast artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré show the mind of another ‘outsider’ genius at work. Like Rosário, Bouabré’s mission to document all of life – ‘to represent everything that may be revealed or concealed’ – was given to him in a vision, and his life has been devoted to these delicate and beautiful observations of man and nature, love and death, custom and folklore.
From the art of everyday to the grand-scale gesture, you can’t miss the installation by Thiago Rocha Pitta, who has created a landslide inside the Bienal from a pile of earth, or the intervention in the building itself by the French artist Olivier Nottellet, whose delicate patterns in yellow and black adorn the columns and balustrades all around the main space, the vão.
Then step outside the building and find the Bienal taking place all over the city in a series of events and exhibitions grouped under the banner 'Bienal na Cidade' (Bienal in the city). See our highlights below.
Read our interviews with three of the Bienal's artists, talking about their favourite works at the Bienal
'Bienal na Cidade' highlights
Looking at Listening, a mixed-media exhibition at the Casa Modernista.
Rua Santa Cruz 325, Vila Mariana (11 5023 3232). 10am-3pm Tue-Sat, from 7 Sep – 9 Dec.
All in your Mind: A Journey in Two Acts (Tudo em Sua Mente. Viagem em Dois Atos), a narrated tour from the Bienal to Morumbi.
1pm Tue-Fri, 3pm Sat, Sun. 7 Sep – 9 Dec.
Dance Constructions, a performance piece that will take place inside the Bienal building.
3pm Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun; 6pm Wed, Fri. 7 Sep – 9 Dec.
Activities and workshops
Poetry readings. Weekly readings for children and families in Portuguese.
Ateliê Educativo, Pavilhão Bienal. Saturdays, 11am.
Artist workshop. Every Saturday, artists offer workshops for groups of up to 40 people. Ateliê Educativo, Pavilhão Bienal. Saturdays, 11am.
Seminar A series of afternoon seminars related to the concepts behind this year’s Bienal takes place at SESC Belenzinho. In Portuguese. 2pm 2, 7, 8 November.