Let X=X: Alair Gomes and Hudinilson Jr.19 June - 17 July 2021
Kupfer is pleased to announce the exhibition Let X=X, featuring works by Brazilian artists Alair Gomes (1921-1992) and Hudinilson Jr. (1957-2013). Belonging to different generations, both artists produced groundbreaking and experimental works focusing on the male body during the repressive years of military dictatorship in Brazil. Gomes and Hudinilson’s pioneering approach to homoeroticism and queerness within the largely heteronormative context of 1970s and 1980s Brazil had a lasting influence on the country’s contemporary art scene.
Based in Rio de Janeiro, Alair Gomes had a career in engineering and philosophy of sciences before turning to photography in the mid to late 1960s. In the political climate that succeeded the 1964 military coup in Brazil, photojournalism focused on exposing the abuses of power perpetrated by the regime, while another significant branch of photography focused on issues of social exclusion and cultural identity. According to curator Paulo Herkenhoff, ‘within the Brazilian heteronormative climate, Gomes was alone in the homoerotic tradition’.
The exhibition features works from Alair Gomes’ most ambitious and thought-provoking series, Symphony of Erotic Icons (1966-1978). Composed exclusively with pictures of beautiful, young male bodies, the Symphony includes thousands of images detailing slight variations of the nude body, sometimes portrayed in unusual angles, thus creating almost choreographic sequences which evoke the rhythm of musical scores. These intimate pictures are above all an ode to the young male body, simultaneously achieving an extraordinary sense of proximity with the subject and a feeling of detachment through repetition.
By obsessively capturing his object of interest, Gomes creates a unique kind of work situated somewhere between photography and film, or still and moving image. More than thirty years after its making, Symphony of Erotic Icons remains a challenging work which still raises questions about the compability of art and prurience, about our relationship with our bodies, our views on sexuality, and the intricate societal codes that determine image-making today.
Hudinilson Jr. was one of the most important Brazilian artists of his generation, influencing the entire Brazilian artistic scene, not only through his personal work - produced between the 1970s and 2000s - but also because of his active role as a catalyzing personality of artist groups and experimental exhibitions. Hudinilson started to work with photocopy in the late 1970s, learning to operate the machine to its limit and exploring all its possible graphic possibilities. He enlarged details, made cut-outs, distorting the images of his body to the point where they become pure abstract texture. He said that this exercise meant losing oneself to seeing, an “exercise of seeing myself”, as he would later name many of his series.
In his work, Hudinilson often included imagery of classical sculpture as prime examples of the ideal of beauty, sensuality and sexuality that prevails in Western societies. Let X=X features an untitled polyptych formed by twenty framed photocopy prints that shows Michelangelo's 'Dying Captive' (one of the two captives in the Louvre); a depiction of pain which, within the context of Hudinilson's work seems like a depiciton of pleasure or self-pleasure. The work is shown alongside a small photograph by Alair Gomes depicting the perfectly round marble buttocks of an unidentified classic sculpture; a work that is part of a late 1960s series titled Journeys (Europe, Art) which was motivated by the artist’s wish to expand his personal collection of images of male nudes.
Other works by Hudinilson Jr. presented in the exhibition include Xerox-Action (1979-80) a set of five vintage photographs showing the naked artist performing different positions on top of the photocopier in a remarkable documentation of his artistic process. Also on view are some examples of Hudinilson’s densely packed scrapbooks. Like Alair Gomes, Hudinilson was an avid collector of images cut out from books and magazines to compose what he called ‘reference books’. These fascinating personal atlases provide further insight into the artist’s methodology and interests, featuring the collision of art historical and pop imagery that becomes distilled in his work.
Let X=X is the first exhibition to bring together the work of Alair Gomes and Hudinilson Jr. While Gomes may be roughly described as the voyeur and Hudinilson as the narcissist, both artists played a pioneering role in breaking with the prevailing heteronormativity in Brazilian art under a dictatorial regime at the same time as producing trailblazing experimental works that challenged existing modes of art-making.
Symphony of Erotic Icons
‘I insisted so much in liberating the erotic - often it can be called pornographic; I never denied the possibility that my photography could be called pornographic - that, suddenly, certain categories were transcended.’
Symphony of Erotic Icons is Alair Gomes' most ambitious series. Composed exclusively with pictures of beautiful, young male bodies, the Symphony consists of 1767 photographs in which the male body appears either whole or fragmented, portrayed sometimes in classical, sometimes in unusual angles. His objective is to create, through a saturation of images, an effect of distance from the materiality of the body, in which the pores and skin should no longer be seen as fragments of the body, but rather as an evolution of cosmic images.
Alair Gomes on Symphony of Erotic Icons
‘My obsession with the male body must be understood also in very direct, very literal terms. I wanted to produce a greater number of images of this kind, I was feeling almost suffocated by the image of the beautiful, young, male body. At the beginning, this almost irresistible tendency to produce large quantities of images was in contradiction with the desire to produce a very perfect, very elaborate photographic image. (...) Many times I came to think that if I insisted enough in photographing the young male body, taking simply a vast number of shots of that image in different situations (...) perhaps this accumulation of a fantastic number of images of the young male body in different situations could ultimately function as a kind of vision of the world, a Weltanschauung, from an almost philosophical point of view.’
‘So, as I considered the tremendous potential of composition in painting in relation to that of the photographic image, this very superior control a painter has over the image compared to photography, and as I considered also my tendency to take almost obsessive shots, I must have understood that my ambitious path in photography had to be the path of sequential photography instead of that of the single image.’
‘Taking multiple images gave me the impression that I was using a resource of photography that painting did not have. By that I mean precisely the capacity to turn a succession of several images of the same subject, all very similar, into something new, so that each one shows a certain novelty, something interesting that is worth observing and emphasizing.’
‘It was necessary to explore the potential, this photographic genre, and to reveal different yet very close aspects of the same subject, as each one has its own characteristics which deserve to be emphasized.’
‘The collection had to be structured to form a sequence. From that I saw that my problem in exploring photography was very close to the problem faced by cinema. Because cinema, in reality, is a composition based on a sequence of various images - the image moves for a while and is accompanied by sound. Photography does not exactly need sound because it does not have movement. This creates huge differences between a series, a sequence, a still, and the problem faced by cinema. But the relationship is clear.’
‘I simply chose the sequence - on the one hand, my obsession, a tendency to repeat the image; on the other, the idea that treating the multiple image offers the possibility of exploring a potential of photography which is unavailable to painting. This means photography can be made more independent from painting. When, for example, you present a huge quantity of photos which in isolation do not obey any of the values of photographic composition, and yet can contribute greatly to a sequence by adding meaning to it, no longer in relation to a single image but as part of a sequence.’
HUDINILSON JR. - XEROX ACTION
"Through the broadening of bodily details and skilled technical mastery, Hudinilson Jr. superseded the tool’s usual range in those times already filled with excitement over the relatively new medium of Xerox art: he achieved what he called Xerox Actions."
Paulo Myiada, To Caress, To Fondle, To Covet: Hudinilson Jr. in Mousse, Summer 2020
"As Ricardo Resende asserts in what is to date the most thorough piece of writing on the artist, if Hudinilson Jr. ever created a masterpiece, it is Narcisse Exercício de Me Ver II (Exercise of Seeing Myself II, 1982), a work whose making was photographically recorded by Afonso Roperto and was later given the status of a performance. Stark naked, the artist, who was already intimate with the photocopier, having relentlessly tested its resources and limits, climbed onto the glass top and transformed his own hairs, protuberances, and orifices into a matrix to be scrutinized by the mechanical light. Knowing that the voids would be translated into the toner’s dense black, he tried positions that were alternately more or less revealing, multiplying enlargements and subdividing his image into modulations. He executed a choreography in which the reproductive, serial machine repeated its movement and he improvised variations."
Paulo Myiada, To Caress, To Fondle, To Covet: Hudinilson Jr. in Mousse, Summer 2020
Interview with Hudinilson Jr. conducted between 2011 and 2013 by Vitor Butkus.
LIST OF WORKS
Born on December 20, 1921 in Valença, Alair de Oliveira Gomes obtained a degree in civil engineering in 1944 at the University of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro. The following year, he was appointed an engineer at the Brazilian Railway Company. He founded the literary review, MAGOG, with José Francisco Coelho and a few other friends in 1946. The same year, he underwent a profound religious crisis.
In 1948, he abandoned his profession as an engineer to devote himself to the study of modern physics, mathematics, and biology. In 1961, he received a philosophy grant from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He spent one year in the United States (1962-1963), where he was invited to teach at Yale University. From 1964 to 1976, he participated in numerous international conferences on the philosophy of science. He became a professor of Philosophy of Science at the Biophysics Institute of the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro and a professor of contemporary art at the School of Visual Arts (Brazilian Ministry of Culture), and then, an advisor at the National Institute of Visual Arts (National Foundation for the Arts, Rio de Janeiro).
From 1977, Gomes became more active in the fields of art criticism and photography. Between 1976 and 1984, he exhibited his photographs in New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Toronto. He was murdered in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.
2017 - Alair Gomes and Robert Mapplethorpe, Fortes D’Aloia Gabriel, São Paulo
2012 - 30th International São Paulo Biennial
1988 - Donations and recent acquisitions, Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo
1984 - First Photography Quadriennal, Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo
1984 - Photopgraphie Contemporaine au Brésil, Espace Latin-Américain, Paris (Mois de la Photo)
1980 - Art in the Mall, Shopping Cassino Atlântico, Rio de Janeiro
1978 - Carnival Salon, Belo Horizonte
1977 - Bologna Art Fair, Bologna
1976 - Walker Street Gallery, New York
2016 - Alair Gomes: Muito Prazer, National Library, Rio de Janeiro
2009 - Alair Gomes: A New Sentimental Journey, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris
2001 - Alair Gomes, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris
1999 - Alair Gomes, Photographer - Museum of Image and Sound, São Paulo
1997 - Representations of the Body - Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo
1996 - International Photography Biennial, Curitiba
1995 - Alair Gomes (In Memorian), Casa de Cultura Laura Alvim, Rio de Janeiro
1984 - Alair Gomes: sequential photography, Galeria de Arte do Centro Cultural Cândido Mendes, Rio de Janeiro
1980 - School of Visual Arts, Rio de Janeiro
Hudinilson Urbano Jr. was born in São Paulo in 1957. Between 1975 and 1977 he studied visual arts at Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado – FAAP, having dropped out before completing his degree. In 1979 he founded with artists Rafael França (1957–1991) and Mário Ramiro (1957) the group 3NÓS3, which made artistic interventions in the city of São Paulo up to 1982. Between 1975 and 1981, he coordinated Xerography Hub at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, where he enabled the production of practical, theoretical and editorial works in that medium.
From the early 1980s he developed an extensive and pioneering body of works using photocopy machines as an artistic medium. Hudinilson often used his own body in his works, placing different body parts against the machine’s scanner and manipulating the resulting images to create multi-panel wall pieces displayed in grid-like structures. The strong orthogonal presence of the grid in these works evokes the constructivist legacy of late Brazilian modernism; however geometry features here in stark contrast with images of the nude male body. Produced at a time when the country was still under a military dictatorship and queer bodies were being decimated by the AIDS pandemic, these fragmented works also seem to refer to bodies whose integrity is dangerously under the threat of political repression and disease.
Hudinilson's first intitutional exhibition took place at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in 1981. In 1984, he took part in the 1st Havana Biennale and in the exhibition Arte Xerox Brasil, held at Pinacoteca de São Paulo and curated by himself. His work was also exhibited at the 16th and 18th São Paulo Biennales (1981 and 1985) and at the 3rd Mercosur Visual Arts Biennale in 2001. Following his untimely death in 2013, Hudinilson's work has been widely exhibited in several international exhibitions including the 31st São Paulo Biennial (2014), Glasgow International (2014), Cantor Arts Centre - Stanford University (2018), and Migros Museum (2019).
His works are present in important collections including MoMA (New York, EUA), Museu Reina Sofia (Madrid, Spain), Migros Museum (Zurich, Switzerland), MAGA Museo d’Arte (Gallarate, Italy), MALBA (Buenos Aires, Argentina), MASP (São Paulo, Brazil), Pinacoteca do Estado (São Paulo, Brazil.
2019 - Maskulinitaten, Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn
2019 - United by AIDS, Migros Museum, Zürich
2018 - The Matter of Photography in Americas, Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University
2017 - Histories of Sexuality, MASP, São Paulo
2014 - 31st São Paulo Biennale, São Paulo
2014 - Glasgow International, Glasgow
2014 - Taipei Biennial, Taipei
2012 - Perder la forma humana, Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
2020 - Hudinilson Jr, Galeria Jaqueline Martins, Brussels
2020 - Hudinilson Jr.: Explicit, Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo
2018 - Cut Up the World, Scrap Metal Gallery, Toronto
2016 - Zona de Tensão, Centro Cultural São Paulo, São Paulo
2015 - Hudinilson Jr., Sultana Gallery, Paris
2014 - Hudinilson Jr.: Around Narcissus, MAC/USP, São Paulo
1999 - Ecco Narcisus, Pinacoteca do Estado - São Paulo
1983 - Xerox Action, Hudinilson Jr., Museu de Arte Contemporânea, São Paulo
1981 - From detail to exercise, Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo