cross-cuts, chapter 1 | antonio dias | the illustration of art
january 12 – 16 , nara roesler new york
curated by luis pérez-oramas
Antonio Dias (b. Paraíba, Brazil, 1944, d. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2018) is among the most celebrated and relevant Brazilian artists of the 20th century. A paramount figure whose career embraced, with distinguished singularity, the entire repertoire of late modern art - from film to installations, from pop to conceptual art and post-minimalist painting. Between 1971 and 1978 Dias notably produced one of his landmark series of works, known as The Illustration of Art.
Taking as a point of departure the fact that art is a system (a linguistic-semantic system, but also a system of circulation and exchange) Dias conceived the emblematic shape of a rectangle with a missing angle as a leitmotiv for this series. This shape, which he revisited ceaselessly until the end of his career, could exist as a flag, as a painting, as an inscription on the ground, as a drawing, etc. It intends to convey the idea that art is a field, a conceptual field, which status is never fully accomplished, always short of completeness, time and again fragmented, imminent.
The Illustration of Art is one of the most significant achievements within the history of conceptual painting. The missing, L shaped form in these works, while stressing painting as idea, also implies that art's true realization only happens via-à-vis the becoming of a missing beholder, implying the imminent, always about-to-come, presence of the other.
Antonio Dias was particularly attentive to the political dimension of art. As a Brazilian exiled in 1966 because of the dictatorship ruling his country, he was then sent away from France because of his participation in the events of May 1968, and resided between Milan and Rio de Janeiro until his passing in 2018. Most of the works he produced in the early 1970s for The Illustration of Art series were therefore informed by politics and its reception and resonance in Europe and Brazil. Notably, the Vietnam War and the reelection and consequent resignation of Richard Nixon in 1973, were of special significance for Dias.
In Dias’ works, the system of art lives through a dialectics of veiling and unveiling: forms, surfaces, figures, faces, bodies, facts. By covering newspapers and magazines with paint and natural pigments, Dias was able to refer to the urgency of time, to the emergence and exhaustion of history. But it is the modular quality of his works that are able to expand and to concentrate, systolic and diastolic in their eventual configurations that bridged ideas and bodies, painting and history, art and life.
—Luis Pérez-Oramas, 2020.
“For me, the things I experienced in the sixties were very important. I came to Europe and, for the next five years, I had no contacts with Brazil. I was moving in a completely different cultural and social environment. Two years in France, then Italy. There was no longer the revolutionary, chaotic situation that prevailed in Brazil, where the struggle against the military dictatorship dominated everything. In Italy, I discovered a much more complex attitude to art. I discovered a rivalry between different styles, political systems, philosophies. We often had endless discussions - we wanted to change the world, and spread our ideas. That was just the way people thought in those days”.
TILINSKY, Nadja von. "Antonio Dias in conversation". In: INSTITUT Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt / Paço das Artes São Paulo.
b. 1944 in Campina Grande, PB, Brazil
lived and worked between Milan, Italy, and Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
d. 2018 in Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
Antonio Dias began his career in the 1960s, producing works marked by political criticism in the form of paintings, assemblages, installations, and videos. Even though the artist refused to be attached to any artistic movement of his time, his work is often considered a benchmark in Brazilian Pop Art and Neo Figurativism. His practice is interwoven by the legacy of the Neo-concrete movement and an early awareness of the revolutionary impetus of Tropicalia. In 1966, during his self-exile in Paris after subtle criticism from the Brazilian military dictators, the artist came into contact with artists of the Italian avant-garde movement Arte Povera, namely Luciano Fabro and Giulio Paolini. In the European context, he increasingly turns to abstraction, transforming his style.
In Italy, he adopted a conceptual approach to painting, filmmaking, audio-recordings and artist books to question the meaning of art. His playful and subversive approach towards eroticism, sex, and political oppression constructed a unique artistic production, filled with formal elegance transversed by political issues and a poignant critique towards the system of art. In the late 1970s, Dias went to Nepal to learn how to produce a special type of artisanal paper that he would use until later in his career. In the 1980s, his production once again focused on painting, experimenting with metallic and mineral pigments, such as gold, copper, iron oxide and graphite, mixing these with a variety of binding agents. Most works produced during this time have a metallic sheen and feature a vast array of symbols—bones, crosses, rectangles, phalluses—, an underlying correlation with the artist’s earlier production.
selection of solo exhibitions
Antonio Dias: Derrotas e vitórias, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (MAM-SP), São Paulo, SP, Brazil (2020)
Antonio Dias: o ilusionista, Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM-Rio), Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil (2018)
Una collezione, Fondazione Marconi, Milan, Italy (2017)
Antonio Dias—Potência da pintura, Fundação Iberê Camargo (FIC), Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil (2014)
Antonio Dias. Anywhere is my Land, Daros Museum, Zurich, Switzerland (2009); Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (2010)
selection of group exhibitions
Dahka Art Summit, Samdani Art Foundation, Dhaka, Bangladesh (2020)
Pop América, 1965–1975, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX, USA (2018); Mary & Leigh Block Museum at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA (2019); Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA (2019)
33aBienal de São Paulo, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo (2018), São Paulo, SP, Brazil
Mario Pedrosa—On the Affective Nature of Form, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS) (2017), Madrid, Spain
The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop, Tate Modern, London, UK (2015)
selection of institutional collections
Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zurich, Switzerland
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, NY, USA
Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (MAM-SP), São Paulo, SP, Brazil