The Portuguese-born Brazilian artist Artur Barrio (Porto, 1945), winner of the Velázquez Prize for Plastic Arts in 2011, has been one the foremost figures of Action Art and conceptualisms in Latin America since he burst on to the Brazilian art scene in the late 1960s, at a time fraught with political tension and mounting repression under the military dictatorship. Interventions in public spaces and the search for a place of expression outside art institutions converge in this artist as a symbol of resistance to poeticise daily life, with the body of the artist the focal point of these actions in a critique of social coercion.
The work of Artur Barrio is a radical example of the way in which art can renounce its objecthood, a unique critique of the conditions of production, circulation and consumption in contemporary society. The artist uses impermanent and perishable materials, often organic, to form situacões (situations), making it impossible for them to be appropriated by an art system that remains committed to the fetishized circulation of the object or the document.
The exhibition is thus structured around two rooms: the first traces a historical route through the artist’s archive comprising the documents, photographs, films and manifestos which have recorded the situations and experiences he has created in different places and at different points across his career arc. For example, it contains the documentary records of emblematic actions that include DEFL…Situacão…+S+…Ruas… (1970), DES.COMPRESSÃO (1973), ÁREAS SANGRENTAS (1975), and LIVRO DE CARNE (1978-79), to mention but a few. There is also a broad selection of his CadernosLivros, the pages of which reconstruct an aesthetic thought cast and folded out into projects, texts, collages, etc.
The second room is made up of an in-situ experience created by the artist in the week leading up to the show’s unveiling: Barrio occupies the Museo, intervening in its space, testing the institution’s ability to respond and adapt to the spontaneous gesture and performativity of the artistic happening. Throughout his career, proposals of this ilk, known as “experiences”, have become moments of inhabiting place – exhibition rooms, galleries — as Barrio lives with the productive dynamics of the institution, encroaching on and creating friction in the normalcy of the everyday.
This exhibition is an approach to the operations and gestures that have shaped the critical syntax of Artur Barrio’s activism.