CRG Gallery is pleased to present Brazilian-born, London-based artist Alexandre da Cunha’s first solo show in New York. Da Cunha takes everyday objects—beach towels, curtain railings, mop heads—and turns them into sculptures that, at a cursory glance, ask to be considered formally, within Modernist and Minimalist language.
The structural simplicity of the work masks the original use of the objects that make up a given piece. With the Kentucky Pied de Poule series, what appears to be an elegantly woven tapestry turns out to be made of dyed mop heads. Through the coloring, cutting, and weaving, da Cunha displaces the mops’ traditional function and re-defines it by its viewing as opposed to its physical utility. A go-to cleaning supply, traditionally utilized by the working and laboring classes, is elevated in the gallery space. The title itself highlights the mop heads’ transformation from a useful household tool to “high art” (and the craft and design realms that exist nebulously between the two) – “Kentucky” is the brand of mop head, “Pied de Poule” is French for the houndstooth pattern that the weave suggests.
In Horse III, a close inspection of the material reveals an ironing board, a leather belt, and cork. While the pieces make a sly reference to art historical tropes, they also ask the viewer to reconsider how operative and useful these consumer items are, and who uses them. The artist’s use of these commercial products is not just an interest in the ready made or notions of appropriation, it is also rooted in the idea of improvisation. In using ephemeral fastenings like brass fittings, tape, or even simple gravity, da Cunha evokes the sensation of something cobbled together, or impromptu.
With improvisation in mind, da Cunha constructed Felt, what appears to be a white canvas with a nipple-like protrusion in the center. It is a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Prière de toucher (Please Touch), a latex breast attached to black velvet which he designed as a sculptural cover for the catalog of a 1947 Surrealist exhibition. As the viewer approaches Felt, he realizes it is built of a sheet of white felt and a tan sun hat affixed by simple brass fittings. The hat references da Cunha’s Brazilian heritage and the stereotyping of Brazil as a sensual, tropical and leisurely locale. Da Cunha calls into question our propensity to over-simply not only other nations, cultures, classes, and tastes, but our own. It is only through the nullification of these items’ utility that da Cunha can poke fun, not only at our knee-jerk art historical and cultural associations, but also at our notions of functionality.
Alexandre da Cunha was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1969 and lives and works in London. His work was recently seen in exhibitions at the Centro Cultural Sao Paolo, The Camden Arts Center (London), the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts (San Francisco), and the Witte de With (Rotterdam). He is currently in the exhibition “economy of means” at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and will be included this fall in an exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum.