Alexandre da Cunha (Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America)

Alexandre da Cunha is not the typical maker, despite the fact he operates within a sculptural field of overtly modernist tendencies. The artist intervenes into the everyday, displacing specific objects and entering them into an exhibitory realm, reorienting them as artworks. The nature of this appropriative act creates a space in which objects oscillate between strange tensions, bringing the paradoxes of contemporary art into plain sight. In da Cunha’s exploratory practice, a traditional method of figurative sculpture making is confused with found objects. His inventions emerge from a cross reading of Brazil’s neo-concrete movement and the contradictions of modernist architectural cities like Rio de Janeiro. The precariousness of urban design, which is rooted in the necessity of re-purposing found materials, is met by the minimal aesthetics of ubiquitous mass-produced objects.

Da Cunha’s introverted form of artistic practice is centred on a negotiation with techniques of materiality. It often involves a close observation of the object, as it reoccurs within the conceptual canon, but with a direct intention of transgressing and indeed challenging this inevitable historical quotation. The treatments which Cunha’s objects forgo are related to the spatial architectures of the Brazilian modernist environments he grew up in, where form is manipulated to envelope and isolate the human body. By this logic, da Cunha relates studio practice to home cleaning, both as environments in which the body becomes an agent for the clearing of space, making way for a blank slate. Domestic symbols and the products of manufacturing and leisure industries are rid of their hierarchical functions acting simultaneously as objects, artworks and artefacts.

Humour, the final and perhaps most important component of da Cunha’s practice, is rooted in certain ambivalence towards the conditions of the modern object. Even when the artist is working on canvas (Nude, 2012), a series of large brown circles emerging across the surface give way to a certain three- dimensional quality. viewed from an angle, the protruding peeks of the rounded sunhats begin to suggest the physicality of human nipples, exposing the surreal dimension of da Cunha’s metaphoric language. A worn out car tire repurposed as a flower pot, framed depictions of popular icons from Brazilian culture, and a seemingly abstract painting made from deck chairs and rugs, form the corpus of Cunha’s incessant dichotomising of singular objects. The subtle monumentality of the work may be imbedded in minimal strategies of mid-century modernism; but there is always more than meets the eye alone. As ready-mades cast in a tropical irony, such acts are demonstrative of how any use of an object is an appropriative act. 

Alexandre da Cunha, Nude VI (2012). Hats, canvas, thread, 220 x 300 x 17.5 cm.

Alexandre da Cunha, Nude VI (2012). Hats, canvas, thread, 220 x 300 x 17.5 cm.