Bruno Miguel: Seduction and Reason

Bruno Miguel (1981) trained as a painter in his native Brazil – however, that might not be your first thought walking through his show at Sapar Contemporary.  Not content with the two-dimensional plane, Miguel uses everything except canvas as a platform for his colors.  Rather than painting horizontally, he unpacks the elements of a painting, then stacks them vertically – almost as if he were painting in three dimensions.  Through his mixing of traditional, luxury, quotidian, festive and personal elements, the artist creates an opportunity for new narratives.

Fé (Faith) from series Sala de Jantar (Dining Room), Bruno Miguel, 2014, Oil and colorjet paint on set of 54 porcelain and earthenware plates purchased in antique and solid round plates of enamel paint

As you enter the gallery, your eye will be caught by Fé (Faith) from the series Sala de Jantar (Dining Room) (2013), which takes up the better part of the wall.  As you approach this cross-shaped sculpture, you’ll see that it is made from antique porcelain and earthenware plates.  Look closer, and you’ll see that they’ve all been manipulated by the artist in some way –

detail, Fé (Faith) from series Sala de Jantar (Dining Room), Bruno Miguel, 2014, Oil and colorjet paint on set of 54 porcelain and earthenware plates purchased in antique and solid round plates of enamel paint

sometimes he painted over them, or he painted designs on them, or he put down several layers of paint, covered them with masking tape, and then cut into the tape or reshaped it.

detail, Cafezinho? (Coffee?) (mother), Bruno Miguel, 2014, Polyester resin and pigment on 31 plastic cups that belonged to the artist’s mother

If you look to the left, however, you’ll find two works that take you into the artists’ personal life while simultaneously reflecting on the history of immigration in Brazil.  In the front window is  Cafezinho? (Coffee?) (2014), a collection of 31 small coffee mugs, used by his mother to serve coffee to her guests, especially when she had Tupperware parties.  By filling these cups with brightly colored – indeed Carnival colored – resins, the artist seems to be linking his mother’s identity as an immigrant with his identity as a first-generation Brazilian (his mother was from Mozambique and father from Portugal). 

Todas as cores (All the colors) (father), Bruno Miguel, 2014, Polyester resin and pigment on 3 shot glasses that belonged to the artist’s father

Nearby you’ll find Todas as cores (All Colors) (2014), three  shot glasses which belonged to his father, who was an alcoholic.  By filling them with bright resins, the artist is rewriting his history, without judgement, and linking it to his artistic practice.

49 from the series Essas Pessoas na Sala de Jantar (These People in the Dining Room), Bruno Miguel, 2012-2014, Spray paint, cold porcelain, polyurethane foam, wire, acrylic resin and paper-mâché on porcelain bought at an antique auction

In the rear of the gallery, on the floor, you’ll find Essas Pessoas na Sala de Jantar (Those People In the Dining Room) (2012–2015), a riot of whimsical sculptures of tropical trees and fantastical islands/creatures that might bring to mind  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince; when you look closer, you’ll notice that these islands/creatures seem to be simultaneously swallowing and spouting antique porcelain cups and saucers.   For the artist, porcelain reminds him of dinner conversations, and he uses it as a way of inviting dialogue with the viewer.  With these works, Miguel plays these traditional, serious tea sets (which he purchased at auction) against the bright, playful Carnival materials that engulf them, inviting the viewer to consider how history is absorbed and presented.

New Neoconcrete, #8 from the series Totems, Bruno Miguel, 2015, Oil paint and spray on sign with wood

On the lower level you’ll find work in a completely different style: four neo-concrete totems, that were made from actual New York City parking signs (who hasn’t wanted to paint over them?)  This one, New Neoconcrete #8 is dedicated to the Brazilian Neo-Concrete artist Hélio Oiticica.

This is only a small selection of the work you’ll find in Bruno Miguel: Seduction and Reason, which is on only until November 5th.  So get over to  Sapar Contemporary Gallery, 9 North Moore Street in Tribeca soon!

Philip Johnson’s Glass House

If you’re interested in architecture and landscaping, I recommend a trip to New Canaan to see Philip Johnson’s Glass House.  I took a fabulous tour about two weeks ago with my alumni association and learned a lot!  I was familiar with his architectural works such as the Sony Plaza on Madison Avenue, the Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center, and his contributions to the Seagrams Building (which he worked on with Mies van der Rohe), but knew nothing about his life in New Canaan.

Surprisingly, Johnson did not begin his architectural career as an architect, but rather as  the first Director of the Department of Architecture at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), a post he held from 1930 to 1936. Throughout his life he maintained a relationship with the museum, to which he donated over 2,000 works of art, including ones by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg.

In late 1945, Johnson purchased the initial five-acre parcel in New Canaan, which was his weekend retreat.  He cleared the trees, and over the next 50 years continued acquiring land, modifying the grounds, and erecting over a dozen follies, pavilions, and other structures.   Currently the estate is 49 acres.  Johnson felt that architects should also be landscape architects, and you can see how he shaped the property to keep the eye moving but also to surreptitiously reveal what he termed “events on the landscape.”

The Gate and entryway to the Glass House

For Johnson, appearance and ritual were extremely important – the buildings and grounds, invoking elements of ancient Greece and Rome, are designed to orient how you approach a building.  You enter the property through a gate of two colossal columns and proceed procession-like down a path bordered by a pine grove and rolling hills. 

1995 Da Monsta, Frank Stella inspired building

On the left you encounter the last building built on the property – Da Monsta, constructed in 1995, was inspired by Frank Stella’s design for a museum in Dresden, Germany.  

Interior of Da Monsta, built 1995

Made of modified gunnite, Da Monsta uses warped, torqued forms in both it’s exterior and interior, giving you a kind of funhouse feel when you’re standing inside it. (It’s used as a gallery).

The Study

A short distance away, surrounded by tall grass and wetlands you’ll see the Studio, a workspace/library built in 1980, where Johnson kept some 1,400 books on architecture! 

View of Brick House and Glass House

Continuing on the walkway, on the right-hand side you’ll come to the Brick House, which  not only stands opposite the Glass House, but is also oppositional to it, in that brick and glass are reversed, with the portal windows mirroring the round shape of the Glass House’s brick bathroom.  These buildings are two volumes on an exterior courtyard; indeed, the Brick House is considered the other half of the Glass House. Unfortunately the Brick House is closed due to a renovation project. 

The Glass House, photo courtesy of Brett Whysel

The Glass House wasn’t Johnson’s idea;  Mies van der Rohe had discussed the idea with him in the 1940’s, and included the design for his glass house, The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, in the 1947 exhibit of his work at MOMA. However, that house wasn’t built until 1951; Johnson’s Glass House was completed in 1949, whereupon he moved into it, and lived there until his death in 2005.  The Glass House is exactly that – 55 feet by 33 feet, of exterior glass walls (and doors) with one interior room, namely the cylindrical bathroom, made of brick, with a fireplace carved in its “back’’! (My thanks to photographer Brett Whysel who kindly let me use this photo – check out his website!)

Living room in the Glass House

Furniture is laid out so as to imply rooms; the living room contains Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona chairs and an area rug; the bedroom is separated from the rest of the house by a row of closets on one side.

View of the Lake Pavilion and the Monument to Lincoln Kirstein

Even though the Glass House is set on a promontory, you can’t see it from the main road. It fits seamlessly into the landscape, offering wonderful views of of the pond and woods beyond, which Johnson remade as an old European wood.  Johnson and his partner David Whitney held weekend dinners/salons here, giving many young architects their start.  From the Glass House you can see the Lakeside Pavilion (very small, not built to scale) and further back the staircase to nowhere, more formally known as Monument to Lincoln Kirstein whom he befriended when they were undergraduates at Harvard.

One Through Zero, Robert Indiana, cortenz steel

On the grounds you’ll find a permanent circular cement sculpture by Donald Judd; this one by Robert Indiana, One Through Zero is on display until November 30th.

Buried Earth Building

The Buried Earth Building (or “the art bunker”) is a red sandstone bermed structure – think tomb of Agamemnon – where he and Whitney kept large-scale works by artists they collected. Whitney, who was a gallery owner, art collector and adviser, had an original eye, and personally knew many of the artists whose work he and Johnson owned, including Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. 

Untitled (Boni Lux), 1993 and La Banana e Buona, 1988, Julian Schnabel

Inside  the very large interior are three rotating “poster-racks” which display two paintings per spindle, allowing you to view six at a time (a total of 42 paintings could be stored this way).  The day I went, Julian Schnabel’s work was on display (and will be until August 14th)   

Light/shadows in the Sculpture Building

We also visited the Sculpture Gallery.  Built in 1970, the glass roof (supported by tubular steel rafters containing cold cathode lighting) creates complex patterns when the sun is at the right angle.  The interior of the 5-level building has a series of bays containing modernist works by George Segal, John Chamberlain, Frank Stella and others.

Johnson died in January, 2005;  Whitney passed away some six months later.  The Glass House is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

I highly recommend a visit.  The Glass House is open for tours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday between May 1 and November 30;  the tour guides are very knowledgeable.  You might also want to make time to explore New Canaan, which has about 80 Modernist Houses.  If you want to get a bite to eat, I can recommend Solé, 15 Em Street in New Canaan, about a 5-minute walk from the Glass House Visitor’s Center.