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HIC SVNT DRACONES is pleased to present Sonia Gomes and A.R. Penck, an exhibition of sculptures by two iconic artists exploring mixed media with an emphasis on fabric-based works, aluminum foil and wood.

While Penck explores new systems of spatial relationships in his color-coded constellations of felt, constructing new biomorphic bodies, Gomes’ approach is more poetic. Her sculptures reveal a new-found intimacy and sensuality through her artistic interventions with found and gifted objects. Both ideological outsiders – Penck between East and West Germany; Gomes between the cultural and racial North and South Americas – describe their practices as set in search of a universal syntax.

A.R. Penck (a pseudonym adopted by Ralf Winkler) was born in 1939 as the Second World War broke out. When he decided to become an artist, his applications to art schools were uniformly refused. While working in East Germany in the early 1960s, Penck developed Standart, a simplified pictorial vocabulary deriving from language, mathematics, cybernetics, information systems and behavioral theories. This language, writes Annabelle Ténèze, goes beyond the simple question of writing in painting. It is an overall strategy, a new language for a new system of thought. His art needed to overcome the barriers between abstraction and figuration and move beyond the distinction between text and image. It was also a matter of breaking from our visual habits in order to see better. In this overall plan, Penck made use of everything which could create meaning. Informed in equal measure by hard science and science fiction, Penck’s language of signs and symbols speaks to our current economic, social and political situations, giving concrete form to the unseen, often abstract systems which have become governing forces in our daily lives. Penck immigrated to West Germany in 1980. 

Beginning his sculptural explorations in felt in the 1970s, Penck completed the majority of these works in the 1990s while working from earlier drawings. As Penck explained in retrospect, Standart is a kind of conceptual art – a term that I was not aware of at that time. Standart = concept, plan, strategy. This complex dialectic is nowhere more evident than in Penck’s felt works, which occupy a curious place in the artist’s already expansive oeuvre. Here, the seemingly primitive signs and symbols characteristic of Penck’s paintings are transformed into something gentler; unmodulated primary colors, clarity of form and a material softness bring them alive. 

Sonia Gomes, born in 1948 and raised in Caetanópolis, the heartland of the Brazilian textile industry, assumed her art practice full-time at the age of 45. As an artist, she defies easy classification – her lines and forms are not orientated toward self-narration but toward symbolic freedom, life and exhilaration. Using found or donated materials that have fallen into disuse, Gomes creates eclectic, multi-colored fabric works that simultaneously evoke the idea of the visceral and the sacred. 

With the sculptures on view, Gomes explores memory and life through her re-appropriation of the dead, discarded or forgotten objects that she encounters. From dresses to nightgowns, wedding invitations, or decades-old books, Gomes’ inspiration comes from her desire to transform and transgress the materials that come to her begging for life. Occasionally donated by owners who possess intimate emotional connections to the materials, these objects continue to be imbued with highly personal memories and secret histories. Gomes eloquently navigates these fault lines of affect and memory, intuitively making and revealing their arrangements.

Throughout the exhibition, the compulsion to match thought to form is acutely present, and, akin to ancient art, the works on view create models to represent the world. Sonia Gomes and A.R. Penck offers visitors multiple perspectives with which to examine a significant body of work by both artists.

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