Stanley Brouwn (1935-2017), they say, is almost an invisible artist. At his request, it is very difficult to find traces of his presence in specialized media or in any communication medium. This fact tells us a lot about his artistic conduct: to leave traces of his existence throughout the world, his works are evidence that cover the most prosaic moments of deeper reflections on the finitude of human existence. The conceptual and pragmatic condition of his propositions, which involve numbers, measures, phrases and statements that are constructed with simple and direct language (be it textual, graphic or manually drawn), seems to me to be a stage of his work, one that is tangible and verifiable. This stage favors a larger conceptual project, which also seems invisible at first glance: demystifying artistic activity as something extraordinary and placing it on equal ground with the most essential and basic needs—to be together, to move, grow, observe oneself and forget… and in the process, to become aware of the continuity of this very process. Brouwn, thus, does not need to link his artistic activity to a pre-defined identity, to a notion of uniqueness and authorship, distancing it from the common reading of art as a genial and exclusivity activity, very dear terms to the art system. And on the contrary, his work seems to me to be based on a very individual experience of existence to then echo common denominators—and we cannot mislead here, as it is not a desire for universalization or to establish a standard model based on oneself, but rather, it seems an effort to understand equality along with diversity.
The exhibition at Coleção Moraes Barbosa (CMB) is assembled following these schemes, organized and designed by artist Deyson Gilbert. Subject to the inherent condition of being an “etc.-artist”—a term coined by Ricardo Basbaum to define, in a broad way, the roles that artists need to assume in order to respond to the precarious and unregulated working conditions that artistic activity is subject to in Brazil—Gilbert curates, organizes and designs this exhibition display in a straight dialogue with Brouwn’s conceptual approaches. In this intricate exhibition, while delving deeper into the complex webs of relationships of archival material, which include a multitude of thirty-four artists and artist groups (including Cecília Meireles, Cildo Meireles, Richard Long, On Kawara, Hanne Darboven, Joseph Beuys), Gilbert spatializes archival sections, making us walk among objects, new and dated, collages and conceptual junctions that challenge the notions of history, art production, authorship and permanence. Here too we can think that a strategy of invisibility (by accumulation, citation and overlapping) is in place to create an awareness of the process and experience of art throughout time, activating our awareness about our own presence in this flow.
It seems symptomatic to me that this initiative is carried out by Coleção Moraes Barbosa, as the collection’s own activity—created by Pedro Barbosa—has been developed in a similar direction. Starting with an ordinary and traditional approach to collecting (acquiring artworks to form a private collection), the collector began to act as a kind of investigator/researcher, tracking and acquiring countless documentary materials, in a constant process to form a large archive—probably one of the most important repositories today of documents and information in Brazil regarding contemporary art and adjacent areas, with a keen focus on the broad universe of conceptual art from the sixties to the present day. Thus, documents, pamphlets, printed materials, posters, vinyls, K7s, photocopies, artist books, notes and the like gain a new status alongside the collection of works of art. Along with this initiative, a few years ago, the collection’s project space was opened at Travessa Dona Paula, a place where all the collection initiatives come together to have a public life with the programs unfolding through situations, experiences, dematerializations, encounters and concepts.
If the exhibition may seem, at first, an intricate entanglement of references that are somewhat difficult to access, being there and gradually accessing the relationships, the threads and clues, ends up making us realize ourselves as spectators and active participants in these stories. Surprisingly there is a reflective quality, almost like an immense mirror that trespasses the entire operation of this exhibition. From the opacity of the archive to the transparency of conceptual thinking, the exhibition gives me the impression of observing myself and being observed, perhaps without being seen—and thus, disappearing—a challenging sensation in today’s hyper-surveilled societies.
“A distância entre você e Stanley Brouwn cada vez que você se lembrar dessa sentença” [The distance between you and Stanley Brouwn every time you remember that sentence]
Organized by Deyson Gilbert
Through December 2
Coleção Moraes Barbosa
Travessa Dona Paula, 120, São Paulo – SP