June 29, 2018 – November 11, 2018
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents the first anthological exhibition in Spain to be devoted to Joana Vasconcelos, without doubt the most internationally reputed Portuguese artist (although born in Paris in 1971) of her generation especially after her participation in the 2005 Venice Biennale and her major exhibition at the Palace of Versailles in 2010. Joana Vasconcelos. I’m Your Mirror, whose title is a tribute to Nico, the celebrated German vocalist who sang I’ll Be Your Mirror with the New York band The Velvet Underground, is a retrospective featuring some thirty pieces produced between 1997 and the present day. Some of the selected worksaare among the best known of her career, such as Burka (2002) and The Bride (2001–05), while others are more recent or have been created specially for this occasion, like the monumental Egeria (2018), installed in the Atrium. Two giant sculptures, Pop Rooster (2016) and Solitaire (2018), have also been set up outside the Museum.
Vasconcelos’s production contains references both to the popular culture of her country (appropriating the rooster of Barcelos, the heart of Viana do Castelo, and the ceramics of Bordalo Pinheiro) and to the most recent theoretical debates in contemporary art, especially those concerned with fostering viewer participation in the interpretation of artworks. The artist uses many materials from everyday life, such as household appliances, wall tiles, fabrics, medicines, urinals, pans, and plastic cutlery, exploiting the narrative and emotional charge they hold or release. Her sculptures, usually large-format works that sometimes have movement, sound, or lights are characterized by their chromatic richness and their exuberance. With an attractive sense of humor that shuns dogmatism, her work also explores issues of identity ranging from very intimate questions to universal sociopolitical themes linked to globalized postcolonial societies, such as migration or the exploitation of women.
The monumental Egeria to be produced for the main atrium of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao will be one of the most ambitious of this important group of works inspired by the female characters from Norse mythology. Following the Valkyries created for spaces such as the Palazzo Grassi, in Venice, and the legendary Palace of Versailles, or the ARoS Museum of Art and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Joana Vasconcelos will combine different industrial textiles with traditional handmade techniques and LED lights.
This series of iconic pieces is characterized by its suspension from the ceiling and its unusual organic forms. The Valkyries have known important and significant evolutions since the first work, created in 2004. This major installation will occupy the main atrium, interacting with Frank Gehry’s architecture, and the exterior through its large glass windows. Seductive bulbous shapes and elongated arms burst out of the main body reaching different levels of the building. Egeria will reveal an exuberant selection of colours, varied textures and rich details, resulting from an assertive combination of industrial textiles and artisanal techniques – patchwork, bead embroidery and crochet. The artist’s challenging work also incorporates thousands of LED lights, creating a spectacular play of light. Egeria will take on the character of a gentle guardian: the sublime heart of the museum that enlightens the creative spirit of woman.
POP GALO, 2016
Pop Galo is a monumental public art work inspired by one of the most relevant symbols of popular Portuguese culture: the rooster of Barcelos. Aware of its aesthetic value and iconic power, the artist revisited the rooster of Barcelos with a contemporary look, allying the tradition of national handmade tile-making to the more modern LED technology.
Keeping the aesthetic richness of the rooster of Barcelos, the artist makes four important transformations to this symbol: enlarges it to a monumental scale – 10 metres high; covers it with around 17 thousand handmade tiles – designed at the artist's studio and manually produced and painted at the centenarian Viúva Lamego factory; and introduces a dazzling game of sound and light, through the composition by musician Jonas Runa and thousands of LED lights – approximately 15 thousand – that fill the coloured surface of the work, conferring to this technological Rooster of Barcelos different interpretations, transforming the work from day to night. The extraordinary richness of the multiple symbologies associated to the rooster in different countries and cultures confer the work a singular capacity of international outreach.
A NOIVA, 2001-2005
Recognizable from a distance, an imposing chandelier displays a candid cascade of glistening pendants. When stepping closer to it, the viewer is surprised. Appearing at first to be made of glass or crystal, the thousands of pendants are in fact immaculate feminine tampons. Its shine results, after all, from the reflection of light upon the transparent plastic wrappings of the thousands of tampons composing The Bride; a work thus titled in order to expose the imposition of a hypocritical and repressed feminine sexuality to the corrosive action of irony and ambiguity.
CALL CENTER, 2014-2016
Call Center presents itself under the form of an enormous Beretta revolver built with recourse to the accumulation of 168 black landline telephones, each of the same exact model. The hyperbolized form of a Beretta revolver, built using dozens of telephones, points directly towards the violence that may be produced through the power of mass communication. The title, associated to the referenced objects, appears to report to the manipulation and dehumanized excess that is characteristic of many call centers. A weapon doesn’t free itself from its violent load - however noble may be the reason of its use; moreover, communication – when at a large scale, standardized, controlled and manipulative – will always be an exercise that overpowers the individual’s infinite singularities.
Answering to the artist’s challenge, musician Jonas Runa composed an electroacoustic symphony for the telephone rings. Each ring was slightly altered in order to produce different notes, transforming the work into a musical instrument. Some of the suspended receivers and, most of all, the powerful speaker installed in the interior of the “revolver” cannon work as the vehicles for the electronics that integrate this singular and intense electroacoustic symphony, transporting us to multiple environments.
Call Center summons everyday life objects of a specific time, connecting these to the dimension of sound, and, through ingenious operations of displacement, offers us an open, multidimensional and timeless work.
A gilded helicopter decorated with thousands of rhinestones, has the outer surface of its cockpit lined with an extravagant and colourful coat of ostrich feathers. At the front of the cabin, a featherless mouth-like gap reveals its sumptuous interior, exhibiting intricate woodworks, gildings and embroidered upholstery featuring Marie Antoinette’s initials. Lilicoptère draws on the rich, glamorous and bold aesthetics of the royalty of the late Ancien Régime in order to suggest a metamorphosis from machine to animal; a return to the origin and to the inspiration that motivated the realization of man’s dream of flying.
Red Independent Heart presents an enormous “heart of Viana,” an iconic piece of Portuguese filigree, entirely comprised of red plastic cutlery. Suspended from an axe, the work makes a circular rotation movement evoking the cycle of life and the eternal return, accompanied by the sound of three meaningful fado songs, Estranha Forma de Vida [Strange Way of Life], Gaivota [Seagull], and Maldição [Curse], performed by Amália Rodrigues, diva of Portuguese music in the second half of the 20th century. The title of the work is taken precisely from a verse of the first of these fados, written by Alfredo Duarte (Marceneiro) and Amália Rodrigues, whose lyrics invoke the conflict between emotion and reason. By using a large amount of plastic cutlery, this artwork, inspired by a precious piece of filigree, reaches the abstraction of its original forms, so that the initial referents are transfigured by the suggested new social and artistic systems, thus exposing the artificiality of the boundaries between luxury and banality, popular culture and high culture. Independent Heart presents itself as a powerful and emotive installation of sound and movement; a diptych dedicated to wealth, love, and death, recurring themes in the lyrics of fado.
Exhibition catalogue of the exhibition Joana Vasconcelos. I’m Your Mirror. With texts by Enrique Juncosa, Idalina Conde, and Petra Joos, and an interview of José Luís Peixoto with the artist, this catalogue includes images of the fabrication of the new pieces and of the installation of the works in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
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