Pinacoteca de São Paulo, Brazil, 2018
Laercio Redondo’s starting point for the intervention at the Octagon was a peculiar anecdote about the artist Estevão Silva (c.1844-1891), the first painter of African ascendancy to frequent Rio de Janeiro’s Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. When showing his still-life canvases, behind the paintings, Silva would conceal specimens of the fruits and flowers they depicted, so that the fragrances would enhance the experience of whoever was looking at the paintings. That was the point of departure for setting up this exhibition’s “olfactory dialogue”, which reaches beyond the visual and textual.
This olfactory dialogue with the narrative of the history of Brazilian art continues through another 14 of the museum’s galleries, where Redondo installed displays positioned strategically close to works by artists in the permanent collection, including Anita Malfatti, Almeida Júnior, Claudia Andujar, Maria Martins and others. Each display is accompanied by a card impregnated with a different odour, created exclusively for the exhibition and relating to the work with which that specific intervention dialogues. Thus, for example, the dialogue with the painting “O caipira” (The Country Man), by Almeida Júnior (1850-1899), has a whetted knife smell, while the exhibition text alludes to the complex figure of the “quiet” country man, who nonetheless “embodies the contradictory force of the bandeirante expeditionary and fortune hunter”. As they followed the course of the exhibition, visitors could gather the cards together into a folder of critical essays about the works, thus allowing them to take away a record of their visit.
In dialoguing with the permanent collection, Redondo applied a similar strategy to pinpoint where it was lacking in some way: here there were no odours, only exhibition cards pointing to the gaps, accompanied by black monochrome serigraphs printed on plywood, reproducing images of what was missing. Emmanuel Zamor, for example, a little-known artist of Afro-Brazilian origins, is portrayed in connection with the collection of the “Academic Teaching” room, which features the working tools of well-known artists, such as Bernardino de Souza, Clodomiro Amazonas and Rodolpho Bernardelli. Zamor, from Bahia, who was supposedly adopted by a French couple as a boy, frequented the famous Académie Julian in Paris in the nineteenth century. He then disappeared from history, to be partly rediscovered in Brazil in the 80s.
Under the light, the black on black of the monochromes takes on an almost silvery tone, curiously like the daguerreotypes that inspired Redondo to create the serigraphs. In order to be able to see the printed image, the spectator has to shift position in relation to the artwork.
Fernanda Pitta, curator of the exhibition, remarked that “in this artwork by Laercio Redondo, odour is a point of departure for unfolding histories made of traces, remains, erasures and returnings”, adding that “the sense of smell is favoured as a strategy to activate and liberate other memories, thus permitting other interpretations. Redondo has always worked with procedures that involve eroding, revolving and reconfiguring images, and this time pushes his iconoclasm to the limit, in an attitude that he felt necessary in order to escape from the images’ normalising power”.
All fifteen narratives that Redondo proposes are gathered together under the exhibition title, Relance (Recast), borrowed from a Caetano Veloso song. Redondo is attempting to bring about a critical displacement of the symbolic value and meanings commonly attributed to certain artworks in the collection, by uncovering, revealing, contrasting, but above all, holding up questions about the traditional art narrative that, to him, is also the narrative of the history of Brazil.
Texts: Fernanda Pitta, Kaira M. Cabañas, Daniel Lima, Soraya Guimaraes Hoepfner and Laercio Redondo.
Fragrances: Drom Fragrances, olfactory direction; Matthieu Ferreira, Renata Abelin and Kelly Medeiros
Exhibition design: Birger Lipinski
Graphic Material: Anja Lutz
Photos: Isabella Matheus, Levi Fanan
Video: Matthieu Rougé