Tunga, one of the most important creators of Brazilian contemporary art, died prematurely last June at the age of 64, leaving ready what would have been his next exhibition. Galeria Millan is taking the artist’s plans forward and launch the show Pálpebras at both its premises in Vila Madalena, bringing together a group of never before or rarely seen works in Brazil.
Millan’s original premises will display the Phanógrafos, works derived from the series Cooking Crystals (2010). These rarely exhibited pieces are boxes that act as a recipient or support for assemblages of different objects and materials, such as bottles, wine glasses, amber, stones or scatological items. Things that, as Tunga wrote, have a “talisman quality”, and “change shape like a lantern”.
Anexo Millan, the new space inaugurated last year, will house the Morfológicas series, organic sculptures that refer to the body; they are sensual, sometimes surreal, often erotic – reminiscent of vulvas, glans, mouths and breasts – and have originated from other works (as in the series From la Voie Humide, in 2014), but have never been exhibited on their own in Brazil, even respecting their somewhat undefined stance between form study (as the title itself suggests) and finished work.
Initially they were merely small, hand-molded shapes in wax, with slightly larger versions (between 30 and 60 cm) emerging over time in bronze or barbotine (a type of liquid ceramic). A large-size version of one these works was originally created for the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC), in Paris. This piece, A Seus Pés (At Your Feet) is seven meters – which is normal in his work – and consists of various parts. The central element is a long, rounded shape, with claws at each end, resembling fingers pointing in different directions. One of them is “pregnant”, as if propagating the pods that hang from it.
If the process of assembling the last exhibition conceived by Tunga is rich and intense, it is also very painful, says Fernando Sant’Anna, his assistant, friend and production manager for 15 long years. He remembers that what the artist most enjoyed was this final stage of assembling an exhibition. “I’m doing it for him. It would be very unfair if the public couldn’t see it”, he says, remembering that the show should have been seen last year but the progress of the artist’s illness made the project unfeasible.
This is absolutely in no way an attempt at a summary or a retrospective view, not least because in Tunga’s case the idea of a retrospective doesn’t seem to make sense. After all, his work seems to be defined by a cyclical return to a wellspring of elements, both physical and psychic that reemerge from time to time, transformed into various interpretations.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the artist’s production is the feeling of incompleteness that it awakens in the spectator. Looking at his work, we get the impression that we are facing the vestiges of something that has already happened. “Most of the works beg the question ‘What does this mean?’ His work makes us ask: ‘How did this end up here?’” says Sant’Anna. It is as though we are witnesses, interacting with fragments of a past story or action, either because of the unstable nature of his arrangements, which allow infinite possibilities for rearrangement, or because of the various overlapping layers of interpretation that create a hypnotic enigma.
These same transient echoes can be felt in the more recent works. Even though they often take on a more sculptural character, the central aspects of his more than 40 years of production – during which time Tunga flirted with surrealism, sidled up to conceptual art and often seemed to behave more like a shaman or a scientist – are again in evidence.