October 7th, 2010
Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo. Through December 17, 2010

“First and Last, Notes on the Monument”

 Scott Indrisek

Much like the New Museum’s 2007 show “Unmonumental”, this Rodrigo Moura – curated exhibition, spread across both of Galeria Luisa Strina’s locations in São Paulo, questions the nature of the monument — or rather debases it, mocks it, and knocks it down to size. There are no egotistically heroic gestures here, no soldiers cast in bronze or carved from stone. There is, however, an electric sander running wild inside a closed vitrine and a small wall composed of xeroxed images of rocks.

“First and Last, Notes on the Monument” is a pleasantly straightforward show of sculpture and photography as well as installations. In the original Luisa Strina gallery, Robert Kinmont’s photo series “8 Natural Handstands,” 1967, answers that age-old question, How can we make our bodies into makeshift monuments in fields or forests or on large rocks? The artist photographed himself, mid-handstand, in just such natural landscapes and with a slapstick humor that recalls portraits from the same period by the Icelandic artist Sigurdur Gudmundsson. Nearby is the aforementioned sander-in-vitrine, a 2010 piece by Marcius Galanthat is a sort of electrified Koons: The device whirs away behind glass, turning MDF board into fine dust. (A friend pointed out that MDF is fabricated using highly carcinogenic formaldehyde, making the vitrine’s powdery contents a health and human-safety nightmare for anyone handling the piece.) Upstairs, the Belo Horizante–based artist Pedro Motta’s photographs imagine earth mounds on construction sites as incidental land art. And on the exterior terrace off the third floor is an actual example of the latter: “Gramado,” a 2010 installation of grass, sand, and pigeon food by Brazilian expat-in-London Tonico Lemos Auad. Is the piece brilliant? It doesn’t much matter. It’s a monument to the neat view of São Paulo visible from the high-minded lawn, plus a reminder that all galleries could benefit from outdoor spaces, if only to air out some of the stuffiness that white walls engender.

At Luisa Strina’s newer outpost nearby, on the ground floor of a building that once housed the U.S. Embassy, the deflating of artistic grandiosity continues. Threading through most of the space is Gabriel Sierra’s untitled sculpture, a perverse handrail abiding by its own confused, angular logic. Alexandre da Cunha marries two concrete park benches and adds simple elements — foam, beach towels — to create minimalist icons that truly live up to this show’s intent: Lo-Fi Monuments? Monuments to Increasingly Lowered Expectations in a World Growing More Fucked Up by the Day? Take your pick. And in the back room, Pedro Reyes’s “Simulador de Temblores” encourages gallerygoers to arrange wooden blocks on a low-lying table that, at the touch of a foot switch, begins to shake in a simulated earthquake, sending the blocks crashing loudly to the floor. (Fine art as Jenga.) Perhaps this piece holds a warning for the entire exhibition: We build things knowing that they’ll break, and nothing truly endures.