Antônio Sérgio Bessa - Text for the exhibition Variations no Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro - 2019
This exhibition was conceived as a challenge in which the artist agreed to pare down her vocabulary to a minimum – whether in shape, color or materials – articulating it through variations. By doing so, the curator hoped that the work’s grammar would become apparent.
Incidentally, it is important to acknowledge the fact that over the last three decades Elizabeth Jobim’s work has gradually developed from expressive abstraction into a constructive practice whose restrained lexicon shares a thing or two with conceptualism. Indeed, references to early concretism and neo-concretism in her work have often been acknowledged, whereas the artist’s subtle manipulation of that tradition has remained unacknowledged. Indeed, Jobim’s work of the last decade has consistently challenged our perception of how painting should behave in space, and her most recent practice has led to the creation of a series of objects that defy easy classification, blurring the divide between painting and sculpture. The spatial implications of this new approach have been radical, as works gradually dropped off the walls to scatter around the floor in arrangements reminiscent of installations by Barry Le Va.
In 2013, Camillo Osorio had already detected a new departure in Jobim’s practice, as painting was displaced off the wall to interact directly in the gallery space. As Osorio keenly observed, “apprehension of the whole” happened in a fragmented way, step by step, as the viewer experienced the space. In a 2018 essay for the exhibition In This Place at Henrique Faria Gallery, New York, Venezuelan art historian Juan Ledezma pointed to “a visual concept of disjunction” in Jobim’s work made apparent by acts of cutting, cropping, and dismembering, rather than through “technical expedients.” More recently, Marta Mestre also addressed the “environmental character” of Jobim’s work, which acquires “greater relevance in its sensorial relationship with the viewer’s body.” More to the point, Mestre found in Jobim’s incorporation of stones a reference to ruins, “vestiges of what once were architectural elements.”
While anchoring Jobim’s process in the context of pioneer artists of concrete and neo-concrete affiliation strikes as a coherent argument, it is equally important to have in mind that for her generation the modernist legacy has been further mined by artists like Franz Erhard Walther, Franz West and Daniel Buren, whose work traffic dangerously between art and artifact. Their exploration of form, color and space seem to converge with Jean Luc Godard’s aesthetic of the everyday, exemplified in his astonishing use of color in One Plus One, where The Rolling Stones rehearse Sympathy for the Devil amid a casual installation of monochromatic planes.
A seminal work from 1991 by the conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner carries a title that also doubles as the description of the work: Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole. Painted on a red brick wall (the façade of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis), Weiner’s text seems to be hinting at some deeper philosophical conundrum, or perhaps just stating the obvious about how walls are constructed: bits and pieces put together, etc. Weiner’s sleight of hand in using language that stands in for objects has been a constant throughout his career, as denoted by an earlier work titled Many Colored Objects Placed Side by Side to Form a Row of Many Colored Objects.
These reflections on Lawrence Weiner came to mind a few months ago as I embarked on an exchange with Elizabeth Jobim about her new series of sculptures. While Jobim’s work cannot, in the strict sense, be deemed conceptual the same way we consider Weiner’s, I find a kinship between both artists’ processes, which is not predicated in matters of style, but rather in something deeply embedded in language. In their own different ways, both artists ask us to consider how art is constructed, and more importantly how we, the viewer, construe meaning out of specific arrangements and compositions. Our sense of amusement as we approach works of this nature brings to mind Antonio Salieri’s fictitious reaction in the film Amadeus (1979) upon listening to Mozart’s Gran Partita. Indeed, the feat of lifting an artwork off the page, from its conceptual phase, to make it resonate in real space, always struck us as an act of magic. The power of art to enchant us seems to rest in the seemingly endless capacity of language to recombine its small repertoire of notes, words, and forms in new variations.