"Sum of days", at MoMA (2011). Photo: Courtesy the artist and Nara Roesler Gallery

Carlito Carvalhosa at his solo exibithion at Galeria Nara Roesler (2017). Courtesy the artist and Galeria Nara Roesler

The untimely death of Carlito Carvalhosa last May, at the age of 59, aroused a strong feeling of sadness and impotence, strongly expressed in the social networks of admirers, artists, critics, collectors, dealers and all those categories that make up the diffuse group known as the “arts scene”. The impossibility of holding a farewell ceremony and collectively elaborating the mourning added to the feeling of hopelessness experienced in the country as a result of the health, social and political tragedy in which we are immersed. It is known that the artist did not die from Covid-19 and that he had been fighting cancer for many years, but there is still a feeling that losses like this sum up the fraying and destruction of a civilizing project in which art would play a fundamental role. Object of intense expressions of affection and admiration, Carlito Carvalhosa and his work ended up embodying this notion of art as an element of reflection and transformation, so violently threatened today.

If there is something that characterizes the artist’s work in a more general way, it is his desire to act on the perceptive frontiers, transforming our apprehension of the world and reaffirming the transitory character of things. His career began in the 1980s, linked to a project with a collective approach, together with a group that included Fábio Miguez, Nuno Ramos, Paulo Monteiro and Rodrigo Andrade. The group, known as Casa 7 (referring to the number of the studio they shared), shared common interests such as the link with neo-expressionism and the use of non-noble materials such as Kraft paper and industrial paint. Carlito’s initial experiences with drawing and painting, little by little, also gave way to research of a more sculptural nature, for a growing interest in the occupation of the surroundings. He began to explore the environment, incorporating simple and crude elements, but with a strong symbolic charge, such as light, translucent fabrics, wood and plaster, materials that became frequent in his production.

“I wanted to tie a knot in this space”, he confessed during the assembly of his first large site-specific installation, held at the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture and Ecology (MuBE), in 1999. In this work, entitled Duas Águas, Carlito Carvalhosa literally transferred his studio to the museum and clashed with the rigorous and straight architecture of Paulo Mendes da Rocha (another big loss in recent weeks), creating in loco a series of monumental plaster structures, with organic forms, which inverted the notion of interior and exterior. With a light appearance, but weighing eight tons, these pieces kept that paradoxical, inscrutable aspect that the artist claimed to seek in his work.

This work inaugurates a series of dialogues he engages with museum environments of great institutional and architectural importance, considered as milestones both in his production and in the growing importance of large installations in Brazilian contemporary art. This is the case, for example, of the Sala de Espera, which inaugurated in 2013 the annex of the new headquarters of the Museum of Contemporary Art of São Paulo (MAC-USP), of the installations Sum of days, with similar versions presented in the the octagon of the Pinacoteca do Estado (2010) and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2011), or even of the monumental sculpture It was already like this when I arrived. The piece, originally exhibited at MAM Rio in a temporary exhibition held in 2006 and later incorporated into the Sesc Guarulhos collection, refers to the image of Sugar Loaf Mountain in reverse, a voluminous mountain that floats inverted in the air, provoking the visitor with its unstable and precarious. A secondary but intriguing aspect of Carlito’s work is the attention he pays to the word. His titles always bring a poetic dimension, a temporal or narrative suggestion that adheres to the work, adding to the formal aspect and generating another layer of meaning.

There is in common in all these projects, which play with light, balance, volume, depth and transparency, a permanent desire to subtly transform our apprehension of what surrounds us. By activating these spaces through small interventions (such as when he raised the Eva Klabin Foundation’s mobile heraldics, placing fragile glass cups under them) or actions with greater visual or sensory impact (such as the large spirals of translucent fabric that make up the scene in Sum of days), it creates a kind of place outside time, in which the sensations of belonging and absence overlap. Something that Lorenzo Mammì defined as a “non-place”. Or, in the words of Marta Mestre, a situation that is extremely ambiguous, “because it permanently vacillates between contemplation and experience, between distance and approximation, between optical and haptic”. In other words, Carlito Carvalhosa’s work goes beyond challenging the viewer with thought-provoking temporal and spatial provocations. Over more than three decades, he problematizes the relationship between the work of art and the public, incorporating himself into the best tradition of contemporary Brazilian art.

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