Night Gallery is proud to present Stuck Rhyme, an exhibition of new sculptures by the Rio de Janeiro-based artist Barrão. This is Barrão's first solo show with the gallery and in Los Angeles, following his inclusion in our 2023 presentation at SP—Arte.
On coining the phrase “the theatre of the absurd” in 1960, the British dramatist Martin Esslin characterized contemporaneous theater by the likes of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionescu as “a bewildering experience, a veritable barrage of wildly irrational, often nonsensical goings-on… tragic farces and farcical tragedies.” It’s an admiring description that also fits the sometimes humorous, sometimes melancholic wall and floor sculptures of Barrão.
The artist builds up these absurdist works, each a small drama, from broken fragments of a vast array of mass-produced ceramics. He carefully collages them together with epoxy resin. A floor sculpture, one of three, Mirador (2023), features the feet of a porcelain dog—stately with its paws neatly together, standing balanced on a mountain of cracked and reassembled beer tankards. Yet the animal’s head is missing, seemingly submerged under what at first appears to be a sink plunger crowning the sculpture, and reveals itself as a ceramic pipe stuck in a grey vase. Of the six wall-hung works, Alô base! (2022) feels more precious, a jewel of turquoise pots and vases and animal objet d’art. There’s a teapot lid that sits like a single nipple, there’s a vase, there’s another headless dog; the artist reassembles the textures and tones of the ceramic glazes with a painter’s precision.
The Brazilian artist emerged as part of the “Geração 80,” a group of artists who left behind the austere conceptualism of previous decades and embraced Pop art and painterly subjectivity. Barrão approaches each work as a “problem” to be solved. Each sculpture is also bound by practical considerations of balance and strength. The artist relishes the restrictions placed on him by a palette limited to the ceramics he can source in the antique markets or junks shops of Rio de Janeiro, or the library of ceramic objects he has accumulated since embarking on this project in the early 2000s.
In Eu sou você (2023) the artist combines elements of a decorative maroon goose and the legs of an elephant in similar tones to those of the curved, blue-and-white crockery fragments. Dogs, elephants, birds and rabbits reappear because these are the decorative animals most commonly found laid out on blankets at Rio de Janeiro’s Sunday fairs: each work a testament to passing fashions and tastes, the forgotten histories of their previous owners.
Within these compositions runs a strain of violence: As the artist breaks the original objects, he imbues the work with its tragedy. Barrão nevertheless sees himself saving the ornaments from the worse fate of obsolescence. Each element is now freed from practical use or representation —no longer a vase or figure of a dog. Instead, in its fragmentation, Barrão’s materials revel in the elemental qualities of their ‘thinginess’—the form, tone, and color emphasized via juxtaposition and connection with neighboring fragments.
The artist hints at a realm of infinite possibilities with Coluna Osso (Spinal Column), a Brâncuși-esque tower of sink stands. Of the absurd, Esslin wrote “it is often unclear whether action is meant to represent a dream world of nightmares or of real happenings”: A similar dilemma ricochets through Barrão's work.