Alexander S.C. Rower, or Sandy as he is known to his innumerable friends in the art world, travels widely as the president of the Calder Foundation, the very plugged-in organization dedicated to the work and legacy of his grandfather Alexander Calder. Here, Rower shares his top five highlights from this year's Bienal de São Paulo.
"Calder and Brazilian Art," curated by Luiz Camillo Osorio and presented at São Paulo's Itaú Cultural, was the perfect excuse for me to return to Brazil and see the excellent Bienal de São Paulo. Our exhibition delves into the artistic “reverberations” (Camillo’s word) that resulted from a series of important Calder exhibitions in Brazil beginning in 1948. It’s a jewel of a show, curatorially very tight and extremely gratifying for the new research it has generated. Serendipitously, the theme of the Bienal is “Live Uncertainty,” a grand subject in Calder’s unpredictable and performative work.
Cecilia Bengolea & Jeremy Deller
Bombom’s Dream, 2016
Almost an ode to Die Antwoord’s outrageous 2012 hip-hop release, “Fatty Boom Boom,” Bengolea & Deller’s Bombom’s Dream gave me a refreshing bath of Jamaican dance hall by way of a Japanese wig-wagging spinner and a randy lizard. Body language is supreme in the work, and the odd comic imagery stayed with me as I previewed the whole exhibition. In the end, I realized this piece presents the riotous audio/visual adventures of a Josephine Baker for the 21st century.
A Minute Ago, 2014
The thing that attracted me to this film by rising star Rachel Rose was not its situational engagement with the Glass House, but rather the artist’s attempt to engage in a dialogue with architect Philip Johnson. (I began my own process of dialogues with historic figures last year; the first was with the grandfather of electronic music, Edgard Varèse, just published in the Fondation Beyeler’s exhibition catalogue for Calder & Fischli/Weiss). The exercise requires significant research into the attitudes of the departed, and the blurry animated Phil/John in Rose’s film adds flowy poetics to the idea of an imagined dialogue. I’ve also just visited Lina Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidro from 1951, which is a fantastic interpretation of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (as was Johnson’s own Glass House), transposed into the Brazilian modernist landscape.
White Museum (São Paulo), 2010/2016
Rosa Barba’s White Museum (São Paulo), a transmission of squarish light onto the main ramp of Oscar Niemeyer’s virtuosic Bienal hall, is a subtle, dusty intervention in the grand space (one of only a few works actively engaging with that intimidating architecture). I arrived at the not-too-crowded preview and found an impressive scaffolding and great old-tech projector that confounded a few of my compatriots (some may have totally missed it altogether). Barba’s act of intervening was unmissable upon exiting the show, however, as it created dynamic shadows in the generous town-square atmosphere. I am delighted to say we are currently working on a project with Rosa, to be announced soon!
De-Extinction (S.P. Evolution), 2016
The super-tech camerawork of Pierre Huyghe's video zooming in on venerable insects in their amber entombment is a slick juxtaposition to the earthy readiness of the rest of the Bienal. But it was the next room, a triangular antechamber dead end where Huyghe had hatched thousands of fresh flies (actual living insects that are the current incarnation of the magnified amber beasts), that was the creepy coup of the presentation. The room of flies was not closed off from the projection room by a door, but the flies remained there nonetheless, self-organizing in the brightly lit annex. With all the diseases going around, I almost didn’t enter that claustrophobic volume.
Koo Jeong A
With this large-scale outdoor installation of a phosphorescent skate park, cool Koo continues to challenge the practicalities of art. On the opening night of the Bienal, her skateboarders took to the sculpture in a slowed-down, choreographed performance. Soon after, the spectators went crazy, utilizing their cellphone flashlights to draw ephemeral graffiti on the light-sensitive surface. The entire community took part in what became a brilliant work of “public” art that will continue to be utilized over the course of the Bienal by the ubiquitous skaters in Ibirapuera Park.