Best known for his brutalist abstract sculptures made from raw construction materials, the late Brazilian artist Ivens Machado is the subject of a solo presentation at Independent 20th Century by Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, based in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. With five works from various periods of his career, including sculptures and works on paper, the show aims to reveal the cornerstones of Machado’s prolific oeuvre, which was celebrated during his lifetime but remains understudied.
Machado was part of the first generation of artists that succeeded Brazil’s pivotal Concrete and Neo-Concrete movements, no longer immersed in the optimistic atmosphere of 1950s modernism. He was born in Florianópolis in 1942 and relocated to Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s, where he studied engraving at the Escolinha de Arte do Brasil and was taught by the eminent Brazilian artist Anna Bella Geiger. He began creating works on paper towards the end of the 1970s, characterized by striking non-representational sequences on ruled notebook paper. Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel will present a piece from the Correction Fluids Series (1978), a polyptych evoking blood streaming from a wound, and the similarly bodily Bruised and Cured (Inscribed Series) (1980).
Machado’s drawings, a mainstay of his practice, relate to “themes around education, in terms of state control, which are issues that were strong and remain strong now as Brazil continues to be ruled by a fake democracy”, says Alexandre Gabriel, who co-directs Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel with Márcia Fortes and Alessandra d’Aloia. “These pieces may look very minimal but they are charged with the energy of living under oppressive conditions, during a specific historical period.”
Although he is primarily known for his sculptures, which he created from the 1970s onward, Machado also made pioneering contributions to the Brazilian video art movement early in his career. His films deployed the body and sexuality to explore the impact of colonialism and race relations in Brazil, as well as queerness in the context of an intolerant religious society. These themes translated conceptually and visually to Machado’s sculptures, which, like the video works, had a rudimentary aesthetic that seemed to articulate the repression of the country’s military dictatorship.
In the 1970s, Machado started incorporating architectural materials in his work—concrete, steel rebar, wood, azulejos (ceramic tiles), chicken wire, and glass—after a stint in Italy exposed him to the emerging Arte Povera movement. His pieces from this period have irregular, bulbous surfaces, suggesting fragmented representations of the human body or of household objects. Their rough compositions lean between humor and aggression. References to Indigenous culture and architecture, and to the architecture of Brazil’s urban slums, are also visible throughout his sculptural practice.
“The rawness in Machado’s approach to sculpture is the most defining aspect of his work, and the biggest contribution he has brought to Brazilian art,” Gabriel says. The sculptures, which sometimes achieved monumental proportions, have influenced generations of artists. Contemporary Rio de Janeiro-based artist Adriana Varejão showed several pieces that referenced Machado at Gagosian in New York last year, including her Meat Ruins pillars that juxtapose brightly patterned azulejos with sections resembling raw meat—an arresting metaphor for the violence latent in Brazil’s colonial past.
Machado’s work was recognized and exhibited extensively in his lifetime. He participated in four editions of the Bienal de São Paulo, two editions of the Bienal do Mercosul in Porto Alegre, and international group shows at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and PS1 and El Museo del Barrio in New York, among others. Several of his public commissions are prominently installed in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Bahia. So it is perhaps curious that Machado never achieved the same level of market success as peers such as Cildo Meireles.
He was a “brilliant but difficult figure”, Gabriel says, who “was bouncing from one gallery to another for several decades but never created long-lasting relationships”. Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel began collaborating with Machado in his final years after “he came to us and expressed that he was worried about his work,” Gabriel says. “He wanted to leave the archive in good hands, and around that time we also began planning an exhibition that would include new pieces.” Suffering from ill health, Machado passed away in 2015 before the project could be realized.
In 2018, the gallery staged a posthumous solo show, Body and Construction, in its Rio de Janeiro space in partnership with Acervo Ivens Machado, an initiative led by the artist’s former assistant Mônica Grandchamp to preserve his archive and advance scholarship on his legacy.
That legacy has been growing steadily in Brazil in the years since Machado’s death. In 2016, the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro hosted a major survey of his work, followed later that year by an acclaimed retrospective at the Pivô contemporary art space in São Paulo, which focused on the 1970s and 1980s, considered the height of Machado’s career. Grandchamp also organized a 2019 presentation spanning his full 50-year trajectory at the Museu Oscar Niemeyer in Curitiba.
The first solo exhibition devoted to the artist in the United States was held at Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York in 2018, in collaboration with Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel and Acervo Ivens Machado. There, abstract sculptures recalling fractured body parts came together in an evocative dialogue with posthumously printed photographs of a 1973 performance in which the artist enveloped and segmented his body with surgical bandages.
As Grandchamp has observed, Machado’s production was “marked by its strength and rawness” and “can cause discomfort at first, but on second look one finds fantasy, subtlety and delicacy”. The artist “did not join any movement but created his own unique path in the development of Brazilian art”, she said.
Gabriella Angeleti is an arts and culture writer born in Rio de Janeiro and based in Brooklyn. She is the Assistant Museums and Heritage editor of The Art Newspaper in New York.