Alexandre da Cunha

London

at Camden Arts Centre

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“It’s about improvisation and make-believe,” says Brazilian-born, London-based Alexandre da Cunha of his multifarious sculptural practice. His work generates sparks of beauty with the least-expected materials: toilet plungers, salad bowls, truck tires. In the series “Bust I-V”(2008), mop heads are extended with beige wool, forming assemblages as coarse and fragile as Giacometti’s grouped standing figures. Da Cunha’s preoccupations include a given genre’s cultural significance. The category “portrait bust” immediately brings to mind royal statuary; created with a cleaning implement, da Cunha’s “Bust” series is a biting critique of Brazil’s rampant social disparities.

Until now, da Cunha’s work has been relatively modest in scale, but his solo show at Camden Arts Centre proved that the artist is as adept at tackling the monumental. Palazzo (2009), a large macramé-like hanging made of mop heads hand-knotted together, majestically occupied the center of the space. It echoes the Brazilian cobogó, a decoratively cutout cement block used for screenlike walls, but reaches further than this simple association. Palazzo suggested a fragment of an imaginary building that would extend beyond the room: a utopian construction unspooling ad infinitum. Alluding to high modernist geometric abstraction while undermining its severity, da Cunha embraces the tactile with a lightness of touch reminiscent, as is often noted, of such Neo-Concretists as Hélio Oiticica.

Da Cunha’s subversion of the modernist tradition is engagingly played out by the three statues Blue Fountain, Red Fountain and Green Fountain (all 2009). In each, plaster pots are piled up in a Brancusian column and crowned by a cast of a split-open coconut, complete with a plastic straw. They mix art history with kitsch exotica, perhaps to denounce art-as-entertainment, perhaps also to force humor into a kind of sculpture often caught up in solipsism. In Laissez-faire (Parrots 2), 2009, a beach towel adorned with the birds’ garish picture is stretched like a canvas and smeared with thick, bright red paint. Like the Fountain trio, Laissez-faire wittily associates artistic references with clichés used to evoke the “tropical”—which, da Cunha’s work suggests, is just a less threatening version of the “other.”

Photo: Alexandre da Cunha: Public Sculpture—Pouff 2, 2008, concrete and foam, 59 by 59 by 15 inches; at the Camden Arts Centre.