The Weight of a Gesture. Julião Sarmento loks at the Gulbenkian, MACBA and La Caixa collections

Art, Contemporary art
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The Weight of a Gesture. Julião Sarmento loks at the Gulbenkian, MACBA and La Caixa collections
Juan Muñoz, Waste Land, 1986

‘I’m an artist, not a curator, so it’s as if this were one of my own works,’ says Julião Sarmento, the renowned Portuguese artist who, throughout his 50-year career, has used different media to explore varied concepts such as memory, eroticism and representation.

Sarmento has travelled to Barcelona as the creator of an exhibition called The Weight of a Gesture, which draws on the collections of Barcelona institutions La Caixa and the MACBA, as well as the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. The title of the exhibition is also the name of one of Sarmento's own paintings from the 1990s, in which two figures sate their thirst against a grey shape whose edges are the silhouettes of female bodies. The reference is intentional, he admits. ‘I’ve modified and transformed several things, I’m creating a new context for each one of these artworks.’ He found himself dealing with three collections that are different in terms of their ‘consistency, content and interest’, and even though he wasn't given permission to use work by certain artists (the example he gives is Bruce Nauman), the Portuguese artist has put the pieces in order as though they were the ‘sentences of a novel’.

This is not the first time that Sarmento has played with unusual dialogues. In 2014 he imagined the relationship between Degas and Duchamp through paintings and sculptures, some of which were created with 3D printers. Here, the works of Ignasi Aballí confront those of Carl André, and Juan Muñoz speaks to Robert Gober; Brassaï’s photographs connect with Sigmar Polke’s paintings, and Gerhard Richter’s white canvases are juxtaposed with a video piece by Gabriel Abrantes. Other striking works in the show include a Degas as well as pieces by Portuguese artists Joaquim Rodrigo, João Onofre, Ângelo de Sousa and Fernando Calhau – the last of whom Sarmento is a great admirer. But he does not make distinctions or suggest hierarchies between one artist and the next; instead he treats the exhibition as a breathing whole, in which ‘one work can’t live without another’.

What of the voyeuristic gaze, the aura of mystery and the presence of women, recurrent motifs in his own career? Perhaps they appear unconsciously: the model of the Capitolio building in Lisbon reminds us that Sarmento studied architecture to earn his living in Portugal under the Salazar dictatorship. He insists, however, that he would have made a terrible architect.

By: Eugènia Sendra

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