Part of the generation of Brazilian artists that includes Ernesto Neto, Vik Muniz and Adriana Varejão, São Paulo-based Nuno Ramos shares with his compatriots a preoccupation with unorthodox materials and techniques, plus a penchant for the theatrical. In this recent show, "ai, pareciam eternas! (3 lamas)" [alas, they seemed eternal! (3 muds)], Ramos offered an impressive spectacle featuring three massive architectural structures that filled the first-floor space. He also showed four large (approximately 7-by-5-foot) abstract works on paper and one glass sculpture in a second-floor gallery.

In the main room, surrounded by pools of mud or clay, the monochromatic structures—in black, white or beige—each represent a section of a house: the corner of the rooftop along with part of the upper floor. The buildings appear submerged at an angle, as if left in the wake of a devastating hurricane. This initial apocalyptic impression, however, soon gives way to a rather hopeful feeling. The installation's grandiose design, refined materials and meticulous construction ultimately contribute to a rarefied allegory about the mutability of life.

According to the artist's press statement, each section was built to scale, modeled after one of the three São Paulo homes he has lived in for most of his life. For each piece, Ramos carved out of the gallery's concrete floor a pool in the shape of a cross section of the original house.

At the rear of the gallery, a dense black edifice made of granite, black sand and resin, recalls a tomb. The design mimics the tiled roof and thick walls of Ramos's grandmother's house where he was raised. The original house was knocked down, so this re-creation, sitting in shimmering tarlike mud, serves as an elegiac tribute to the artist's past. At the center of the gallery, and attached to one of its pillars, stands a far more airy and serene structure made of white marble, sand and resin. Styled after the first home and studio Ramos occupied as an adult, and surrounded by a pool of something resembling liquid porcelain, the work conveys a sense of calm, like a meditation on classical ideals. The third structure echoes a portion of the house Ramos currently occupies with his wife and children. In tones of ocher and gold, the stone and mud structure rests in a pool of clay-based liquid usually used for oil drilling. Below the surface, tubes pumping air and water into the pool activate the surface and prevent the clay from hardening. Closest to the street and large picture windows, this was the most active work and lent the show a sense of urgency.


Photo: View of Nuno Ramos’s exhibition “alas, they seemed eternal! (3 muds),” 2012; at Celma Albuquerque Galeria de Arte.