Three major venues of São Paulo’s art world commemorate the pioneering work of multidisciplinary conceptual artist Iole de Freitas. The threefold celebration is concomitantly held at Instituto Tomie Ohtake (“Iole de Freitas: Colapsada, em pé,” curated by Paulo Miyada), Instituto Moreira Salles (“Iole de Freitas, anos 1970 / Imagem como presença,” curated by Sônia Salzstein), and Galeria Raquel Arnaud (“Iole de Freitas: A iminência do gesto: da fotografia à escultura”). The trio of must-see solo shows focus specifically on her potent experimental work in Super 8 film, photography, installation works and performance, which the Minas-born artist produced in her twenties in the Italian city of Milan during the 1970s. The cultural effervescence of the seventies in the capital of Lombardy contributed to transforming the northern town into one of the main creative hubs to shake the art establishment and confront the social-political scene in the European landscape. The dynamics of body art with its questioning into the role of the female body, and the radicalism of Arte Povera defied the rigors of modern art while enormously widening the idea of what we now know as Art. The Brazilian artist’s bold experimentalism is among the major disruptive contributions that moved artistic manifestations to embrace the new spirit of the second half of the twentieth century. That potent narrative is at the core of her later work, from the 1990s on, in aerial sculpture. Grande dame Iole de Freitas, now seventy-eight years old, is also an intellectual of the arts and an indefatigable speaker and art teacher. Her inspiring influence is felt among many young Brazilian and Latin American artists.
This is what Iole de Freitas has to say to help us understand her works produced in the 1970s, in Milan:
The works from my onset into the visual arts, in the 1970s, are a quest into the structure of the plastic image. They convey psychic tension because this is not mere self-expression, but rather an act of invention. This concept follows the considerations of Mário Pedrosa [1900-1981, quintessential Brazilian art critic], which are at the core of understanding my oeuvre. However, to be really confronted by them, one should dive into each one of them—films, installations, sequential photography—to feel them welcoming the spectator. It is the path to be impregnated by the poetics of rupture of their proposition, either by absorbing their narrative or rejecting them, thus showing a compromise with the work. To achieve this, one should delve into the challenging process exposed with candor and poetics by the artist. Without this confrontation, any other postulate will prove innocuous.
Instituto Tomie Ohtake (ITO)
For ITO’s distinctive spatiality, designed by deceased architect Ruy Ohtake, Iole, as Brazilians fondly call her, recombined planes and lines originally created for previous works from the past ten years. Establishing its own dynamic logic, the two-part sculpture installation measuring in total 6.3 meters by 9.4 meters by 16 meters [20.7 feet by 30.8 feet by 52.5 feet], “Colapsada,” gives its title to ITO’s solo exhibition that also includes two video installations, both with the participation of the artist’s grandson Bento. Made up of a net of curved stainless steel tubes and polycarbonate crystal sheets, like sails of a sailboat lifted by the wind in a complex sculptural swirling movement, bipartite “Colapsada” seems to paint in the void, dance in the air and fly to the heavens in the Institute’s monumental atrium, conveying lightness, freedom, beauty, but—above all—immense joy. According to ITO’s chief curator, Paulo Miyada: “‘Colapsada’ is all about dance. Dance is its ruler, its seismographer, its drawing, its lab.”
Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS)
The gallery on the seventh floor in the distinctive building of the IMS on Paulista Avenue holds the largest of the three exhibitions dedicated to the artist, “Iole de Freitas, anos 1970 / Imagem como presença” [The 1970s, Image as Presence]. This referential exhibition shows an intersection between body art, performance and experimentalism in Super 8 film, photography and installation in the formative period of the very personal art language Iole is known for. The fluidity of the montage design conveys to perfection the atmosphere of the narrative of the artist’s 1970s radical works, most of them never seen in Brazil to this day. Three major installations have been specially reconstructed for this rare occasion: “Cacos de vidro, fatias de vida,” presented at the 1981 Bienal de São Paulo; “Glass Pieces, Life Slices,” originally shown at Galleria Giancarlo Bocchi in 1976; and “EXIT,” a solo in Galleria Marconi in 1977. These last two were first displayed in Milan, the artist’s home base, where she shared her life with now-deceased artist Antonio Dias. During this period, this maverick of Latin American conceptual art lived in Europe for eight years while participating in the decade’s ebullient cultural milieu north and south of the continent.
The chief curator of this impeccable, thought-provoking show is our interviewee, a well-known intellectual of the arts, expert on the artist’s oeuvre and long-time friend, Sônia Salzstein, professor of art history and art theory, and director of the Institute of Brazilian Studies at the University of São Paulo. The show is co-curated by researcher Leonardo Nones.
Sônia, can you explain the work produced by Iole de Freitas in the 1970s in Milan?
I’d like to highlight a valuable aspect of Iole de Freitas’ work produced in the 1970s in Milan: the intimate connection of her experimental practice to the art of dance in the sequence of photos, films, actions and installations the artist made in the period. During her stay in Milan, Iole was welcomed in a circle noted for the presence of female artists whose works involved issues revolving around the female body, deconstruction of representations and canons relating to women in manifestations that were usually provoking and disruptive. However, it is important to note that Iole brought from Brazil considerable experience regarding formal potentialities and body expressions. What led her to sequential photography and “home-made” Super 8 films in Milan was the fact that she couldn’t find in this Italian city an adequate place where she could further her training in dance. She landed there with a profound self-knowledge of the body after years devoted to the practice of dance in her homeland.
Now tell us how the neo-concrete movement in Rio influenced her artistic practice.
Her experience had a singular trait, since her formation had been impregnated with a radical debate that marked a generation of Brazilian artists during the period of the dissolution of the neo-concrete movement in Rio, in particular, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape. The centrality of the body and aspiration for an emancipated body in the neo-concrete manifestations are well-known, particularly in the experiments of these three artists. As a young woman aspiring to an experimental expression in dance, Iole became part of Rio’s circle of artists where she met Rubens Gerchman, Carlos Vergara, Hélio Oiticica and Antonio Dias, who became her companion and interlocutor during her Italian phase in the 1970s.Of the Milan experience, what remains in her five-decade oeuvre?
Although somewhat undisciplined, the experience was nonetheless persistent and left a decisive legacy in the first phase of her artistic trajectory. In Milan, as Iole began to explore the potential of the image in film and photography, she took the first steps in her artistic career, albeit with no previous training in the visual arts in painting or sculpture as was common for artists of her generation. The fact that her onset took place in a multidisciplinary field was, finally, advantageous to the resourcefulness she has since displayed in her sculptural works, which escapes from the tradition in sculpture, in her quasi five-decade activity.
What is the main legacy of Iole de Freitas’ 1970s experimental oeuvre?
It is the fact that while in Milan she delved into works of her own that always have the body at the core. She began this production due to the strong impact of the post-concrete experience of the group of artists she got acquainted with in Rio. It is no coincidence that Iole’s mature work—her large-scale urban, aerial, multidirectional installations devoid of a center—instigates us to reconstitute, retroactively, a silent, non-obvious interlocution with the folds and cuts found in Lygia Clark’s topological grammar. Iole’s 1970s production has this singular mark, it is born at the convergence point of two historically contrasting ethos, relative to the body: on the one hand, the Brazilian disenchantment with the constructive utopia that culminated in a radical critique of the provincialism of peripheral society and in the fight for a profound transformation of subjectivity, and, on the other hand, the vibrant feminist wave rooted in the social imaginary, especially in affluent society. This, as I see it, is the distinctive trait of Iole’s oeuvre in the scenario of contemporary art.
Galeria Raquel Arnaud
Reigning in the artsy neighborhood of Vila Madalena and feted by the art establishment for her fifty years at the helm of her namesake gallery, Raquel Arnaud is the country’s longest-standing contemporary art dealer and an icon of the Brazilian art world. Since 1997, she also headed the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, the emblematic IAC, as it is known in the local art milieu, founded by her indomitable determination, the only private nonprofit organization in Brazil to safeguard historical documents by living and deceased visual artists, among them the Iole de Freitas estate. Raquel and Iole met in 1978 and have since developed a forty-five-year artist-gallerist relationship that has grown in friendship. Currently, Galeria Raquel Arnaud displays the solo “Iole de Freitas / a iminência do gesto: da fotografia à escultura” [Imminence of Gesture: from Photography to Sculpture]. Focused on the artist’s pioneering work produced in Milan in the 1970s, among them, “Glass Pieces, Life Slices” (1974/2018), “Spectro” (1973/2018), “Pés” (1972/2018) and the 1981 series “Faca na água,” the show completes and binds the threefold commemoration.
Here, Raquel Arnaud highlights some moments in her forty-five-year relationship as the artist’s gallerist.
I met Iole just as she returned from Italy to Brazil, in 1978. Soon after we organized an exhibition of her work at Galeria Arte Global, a gallery in São Paulo where I was executive director, owned by Rede Globo broadcasting TV network. From then on, Iole’s work was exhibited in our gallery and in several important venues, such as the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, the Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica and the Paço Imperial—both in Rio de Janeiro, as well as in numerous public spaces in Brazil and abroad. As Iole’s work “flew” from the interior of museums and institutions to the exterior of the buildings, we shared our friendship with important art critics and curators like Paulo Sérgio Duarte, Paulo Venancio Filho, Lorenzo Mammi, João Bandeira, Sônia Salzstein, among others. In 2007, Iole created a huge installation for Documenta 12 in Kassel that occupied all the space in one of the main rooms on the first floor of the Museum Fridericianum. It remains to this day one of my favorite pieces by this outstanding artist.
“Iole de Freitas, Colapsada, em pé” at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima 201 (entrance at Rua Coropes), Pinheiros, São Paulo, through September 17.
“Iole de Freitas, anos 1970 / Imagem como presença” at Instituto Moreira Salles, Avenida Paulista 2424, Bela Vista, São Paulo, through September 24.
“Iole de Freitas / a iminência do gesto: da fotografia à escultura” at Galeria Raquel Arnaud, Rua Fidalga 125, São Paulo, through November 4.
Rio-born Cynthia Garcia is a respected art historian, art critic and journalist fluent in five languages stationed in São Paulo. Cynthia is a recipient of the 2023 APCA (Paulista Association of Art Critics) award as a contributing editor of Newcity Brazil since its founding in 2015. Her daughter America Cavaliere works in the contemporary art market and her son Pedro Cavaliere, based in LA, is in the international DJ scene.
Contact: [email protected], www.cynthiagarcia.biz