Each year, at least one of the Chelsea galleries hosts an exhibit so impressive and over-the-top in size and scope that we like to refer to it as Art Disneyland for the duration of its run. One year, it was Yayoi Kusama’s I Who Have Arrived in Heaven, with its multiple, mirrored infinity room installations. Another, it was Takashi Murakami’s In the Land of The Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow: a sort of Greatest Hits of the Japanese Superflat artist. And last year, we would nominate Mike Kelley’s mind-blowing Superman Origin Story that filled the cavernous spaces of Hauser & Wirth with otherworldly delights. Those were all fantastic exhibits worthy of multiple visits, no doubt about it.
This year’s Art Disneyland is over at is Lehmann Maupin on 22nd Street, and you have just under 2 weeks to check it out before you miss out. Silence of the Music, starring the whimsical, elevated street art of Brazilian artist duo Os Gemeos was virtually impossible to gain entry to during its opening reception on September 8th, and four weeks later it’s still drawing huge crowds and endless tour groups. It’s easy to see why as soon as you enter the gallery.
At their first New York solo show with Lehmann Maupin, twin brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo have transformed multiple rooms into an immersive installation that combines drawing, painting, collage, mixed media sculpture, and kinetic and audio elements. These newest works represent an evolution of the style Os Gemeos has honed over decades, while also returning to their early experimentation with diverse mediums, including new oil paintings. This exhibition offers a heightened multi-sensory experience that embraces the power of human imagination and the vast possibilities in visually interpreting the subconscious.
Os Gemeos broke onto the art scene in the late 1980s as graffiti writers in their São Paulo neighborhood of Cambuci, and are now internationally recognized for a figurative style that typically features their signature yellow characters, thin dark red outlining, and intricately patterned designs. Initially influenced by the graffiti movement coming out of New York, they were ultimately inspired by the ingenuity and resourcefulness evident in their working class neighborhood. They made their art accessible to the community as a way to contribute a sense of optimism in the midst of the economic disparity, violence, and drug use that proliferated.
They believed that the popular Brazilian art movements of the time, which favored conceptual, minimalist, and concrete art, were limiting to a wider audience. Instead, they embraced work by self-taught artists like Arthur Bispo do Rosario, who created all of his work from a Rio de Janeiro mental institution during the 1930s. Following a 1993 visit with the prominent San Francisco-based artist Barry McGee, the twins developed a rigorous studio practice while continuing to make murals. This allowed them to extend their unique artistic vision beyond the streets to an international audience that includes galleries, museums, and private collections. Os Gemeos’ practice continues to be marked by a commitment to the accessibility of art and to exposing the realities of the working class while also celebrating its resilience.
Silence of the Music extends Os Gemeos’ approach to an exhibition as a total work of art, a concept exemplified in their Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston solo exhibition in 2012. Conceived as a site-specific installation, each room contains a unique grouping of paintings and objects that cover the wall, floor to ceiling.
The exhibition pays tribute to music in particular. Included in their B-Boy room are boom box paintings — canvases with embedded speakers that play tracks linked to the imagery on the canvas — and interactive sculptures that play LP records.
For Os Gemeos, the era during the 1970s and 1980s was an influential time of discovery and sharing; the improvisational structure, descriptions of everyday life on the streets, and bravado in sharing these stories that this golden age of hip hop fostered is intrinsically linked to their practice.
Here’s a little video I took of the kinetic sculpture pictured above, which is called O Iluminado (The Illuminated)!
Similar to the surrealist artists of the early 20th century, Os Gemeos seek to defy conventions and push boundaries in art and society through the unbridled exploration of the subconscious and imagination. In direct contrast to the surrealist notion of a solitary dream space, however, the twins have described a shared intuition and subconscious experience that is translated visually through their collaborative process. They often allude to this notion of duality with their incorporation of the sun and moon, which is representative of masculine and feminine forces.
The room Kiss is painted in bright hues that exude a sunny splendor and is anchored by a mechanical sculpture, representative of the masculine, which plays compositions arranged by Os Gemeos together with their brother.
A sculpture affixed to the ceiling directly above it, depicting a female, moon-shaped face, seemingly kisses the floor sculpture to trigger the music played. This imagery and their installations are meant to conjure a lucid dream state and empower the audience to consider their own subconscious.
Os Gemeos’ symbolism extends to their characters as well, whose indiscriminate yellow tone is meant to defy racial associations, an artistic decision meant to emphasize unity and the establishing role that diversity plays in their native Brazil and abroad. The twins often incorporate masks, instruments, and musicians in their work as a way to visualize the folk customs, festivals, and crafts that represent the myriad of cultural influences that make up the social and cultural landscape. Silence of the Music combines folk art, pop culture, and urban detritus in order to offer an expansive impression of the artists’ unique artistic perspective and creative process.
Os Gemeos Silence of the Music will be on Exhibit Through October 22nd, 2016 at Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Located at 536 West 22nd Street in the Chelsea Gallery District.