Although many installation artists today produce work that reaches far outside the established bounds of both painting and sculpture, the work of young Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira seems to be almost without peer. When I first came across his work in the 2006 Paralela exhibition in Sao Paulo, it seemed Oliveira was mostly referencing the tradition of full-surround post-painterly environments in the manner of Judy Pfaff, Katharina Grosse, and Fabian Marcaccio, or the more recent Pop-inflected variants found in the work of his fellow Brazilian, Assume Vivid Astro Focus.
Despite such comparisons, no other artist working today seems in possession of quite the same ease and fluidity at transforming the boundaries of the one medium into the other, not least of all as this ease is manifested in the new untitled `brushstroke` piece he has produced for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. To a degree, this work crystallizes a long-term struggle within Oliveira`s art to transform three-dimensional museum space into a dynamically charged zone of free-flowing energy that the viewer experiences as bearing no edges, no beginning or end, and no measurable shape or contours. Instead, his immersive environments became a visual bombardment of color and velocity that were the more effective as they completely enveloped one`s peripheral vision.
In early 2008, for a group exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in New Orleans, in which the theme, Something from Nothing, reflected a curatorial investigation into the possibility of developing art without money changing hands, Oliveira hit on a unique solution. Scavenging second-hand stores and salvage operations for spare mattresses, he also reached out to the CAC`s built-in community to organize donations of pillows and stuffed animals. Lashing them together to create a large `cloud,` Oliveira then suspended the entire mass over the building`s atrium, producing a floating effect that enabled him to move off the wall, while also slightly outside the range of his visitor`s capacity to provide close inspection.
In the present example, Oliveira apparently blows up a free-floating loaded brushstroke so that it achieves architectural scale. Since nothing quite like this is in fact possible, our experience of the work on site comes with a built-in double-take, as our sustained examination begins to reveal the extent to which such an elaborate construction possesses a remarkable level of design and buttressing in order to exist so effortlessly. All this infrastructure, invisible as it is to the naked eye, is what allows the work, which is made up predominantly of bending board and salvaged plywood, to float before our eyes as a monumental gesture, suspending in separate skeins and rivulets what seems about to be blended into one giant smear.
Oliveira`s stretched paintings aspire to the same state of infinite expansiveness that his installations achieve, and to a degree they succeed in doing so. However, as finite rectangles, their achievement is inescapably limited to tearing away metaphorically at their own boundaries, while leaving the physical evidence intact. While the installations bounce off into three-dimensional space, the paintings seem to gaze on enviously, unconvinced that they warrant being shackled by the earthly bonds of gravity.
CAMERON, Dan: “No-Fly Zone”.
Henrique Oliveira: Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Boulder CO USA, Exhibition Catalog, 2011.