Angel with a Gun: Homage to Guy Brett

Alison Jacques (London), May-Jun/24

This exhibition features 59 works by artists from Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela, many of which have rarely been seen, drawn from the collection of English art critic Guy Brett (1942-2021). ‘Angel with a Gun’ refers to certain 18th-century Latin American paintings that interested Brett. As the similarly named, concurrent exhibition at the Pinakotheke Cultural (Rio de Janeiro), testifies, these angels became the artists whose work he collected, who offered fresh perspectives on themes in contemporary art.

Installation view © the artists - Photo: Eva Herzog Studio, Courtesy Alison Jacques, London

During the 1960s, the British art scene was either inward-focused or influenced by American Abstract and Pop Art. Brett, by contrast, was drawn to artistic production in South America and Asia, and he played a key role in bringing wider visibility to the artists featured in this exhibition, some of whom founded Neo-concrete Art in the 1960s. Their aim was to make art that was colourful, poetic, that appealed to the senses and engaged the experience of the public. The works in this exhibition embody these characteristics: they have a clear connection with European abstract art, but show a more playful engagement, incorporating subjective elements and regional influences.

Lygia Clark. Óculos (Goggles). 1968 Courtesy Associação Cultural “O Mundo de Lygia Clark"

Lygia Clark’s “Sensorial Mask” and “Goggles” with magnifying lenses were designed to alter the visual perception and physical relationship of the wearer with others. These devices transformed the everyday visual experience, encouraging awareness of the environment and the body. Clark’s matchboxes, although appearing as fragile sculptures, were intended to be handled. Participants were encouraged to insert their fingers into the gaps, exploring the empty spaces and textures, thus creating a tactile and sensory engagement with those pieces.

In the gallery upstairs, there are objects that provoke viewers to come alive, or in Hélio Oiticica’s words, “situations to be lived”. For example, “Poem Box” contains materials of variegated colours and textures designed for viewers to touch and manipulate; and “Sex and violence that’s what I like” consists of interconnected fabric pieces intended to be worn in any way the participant chooses. These garments contain hidden messages, sometimes poetic, sometimes expressing solidarity, and other times serving as forms of protest.

Installation view © the artists - Photo: Eva Herzog Studio, Courtesy Alison Jacques, London

Much of the work in the exhibition was a manifestation of freedom, made in reaction to the political climate of censorship and repression in South America, where anything that did not conform to traditional values was suppressed. Eugenio Dittborn’s work “9 Survivors” consists of printed portraits on one large paper that he folded and sent via airmail to various parts of the world. He welcomed the creases and folds gained through travel, which serve as surrogates for the thousands of victims of censorship during Pinochet’s regime.

This enthralling exhibition carries a bittersweet taste since the work, which once adorned the home of one of Britain’s most influential critics, will soon enter the art market for sale. One can only hope that the works will find new homes where they will be loved once again.

Ana Teles for London Art Walk
May 2024