Laerte Ramos: Arma Branca
Curated by Ted G. Decker
March 18 – April 10, 2011
Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art (phICA) INAUGURAL EXHIBITION
In a community collaboration with Modified Arts, Phoenix, Arizona USA
As its inaugural project, phICA is pleased to present Arma Branca, an installation of ceramic objects by visual artist Laerte Ramos in his first solo exhibition in the United States. The objects first appear to the viewer as an assemblage of a collector’s rare specimens installed on a large wall. Upon closer examination, the sculptures are in the form of guns cast from molds that correspond precisely to toymaker specifications for manufacturing products for children. Ramos presents ambiguity between the way the objects appear and their essence, between words and things, and in name and form. The viewer is also confronted with the ironic use of ceramics, which can easily crumble, to represent objects that are normally associated with durability and force. While found in the production of beautiful and accomplished artesanato (folk art) work in Brazil, the use of ceramics is uncommon in artes plasticas (visual arts) practice there. There is neither a black or white interpretation of these objects which leaves room for personal responses from viewers based on their own beliefs, opinions, and cultural influences. Laerte Ramos lives and works in São Paulo, Brazil. He graduated in 2002 from the Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado (FAAP), São Paulo. While the phICA exhibition is his first solo exhibit in the United States, his work has been shown extensively in museums and galleries throughout Brazil and in Europe. He has participated in numerous artist residencies in Brazil, as well as at Fundación Norte in Zaragoza, Spain; European Ceramic Work Center, Hertoenbosch, The Netherlands; Beyler Foundation, Basel, Switzerland; and Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris.
In addition, Ramos has been awarded numerous prizes (prêmios) in Brazil including the prestigious Prêmio Bolsa Pampulha for a project at Museu de Arte da Pampulha in Belo Horizonte; the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo’s Prêmio Mostras de Artistas no Exterior (for artists to show outside of Brazil), and in February 2011 was shortlisted for Brazil’s most prestigious contemporary art prize, Prêmio Marcantonio Vilaça for the Visual Arts.
The complete Arma Branca installation of 100 clustered objects was first shown in early 2010 at Galpão Baró EmmaThomas, São Paulo, with a portion of the series later shown in October 2010 at Amarelonegro Arte Contemporânea, Rio de Janeiro. In Phoenix, the exhibition was organized by Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art (phICA) in collaboration with Modified Arts, and was curated by Ted G. Decker. Funding for this exhibition was made possible by a monetary prize awarded to the artist by the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, with additional support provided by Daniela Name and Cláudio Rosado Torres and Diego Azevedo de Otero/Amarelonegro Arte Contemporânea, Rio de Janeiro; and in Phoenix by phICA, Kim Larkin and Adam Murray/Modified Arts, Cindy Dach and Greg Esser, Ellyce and Eddie Shea, and Ted Decker. Exhibition marketing was made possible in part by a mini-grant from Ted Decker Catalyst Fund. Additional collaboration and in-kind support provided by Shemer Art Center and Museum, St. Francis Restaurant, and Rikki Hale/Rikki Cupcake.
-Exhibition essay by Daniela Name
With his painting of the image of a pipe with these words “ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“this is not a pipe”), Magritte signaled the moment that art was taking its first steps towards the end of representation. “This is not a pair of shoes,” could have been said by Laerte Ramos also. But he chose silence. In his most recent work, the shoe models are identified at once as well-known brands such as Converse All Stars and Nike, and create the illusion that the artist has taken the goods of a store to make them stand in this other window that is the art gallery. On the other hand, Laerte goes completely against the ready-made. What he does is really made: with sweat and hard handwork, he provides another body for the image and soul that resides in all things.
Made of ceramic and hand painted in leopard print or military patterns, the sneakers bring the real and symbolic meanings of a process of camouflage (Anti-derrapante from the Camuflados series). They are not what they seem and at the same time distance themselves from the actual shoes because they are almost identical to them.
Apart from sneakers, Arma Branca* presents a series of sculptures that were cast in toy gun molds. Painted in black, they appear to the visitor’s eye as rare collectors’ items. In the shoes and also in the guns he uses the same game of ambiguity between appearance and essence – or between words and things, name and body. The guns in Arma Branca are black, and not really “white weapons” (knives or daggers). Although presented as a collection of rare specimens, they were created from models of seemingly harmless toys, marketed for children.
Since his first steps as an artist, while he was still working with prints, Laerte has been haunted by themes of warfare. Tanks, cars and landscapes of war often appeared in his woodblocks, but since that time they have not carried the burden of bloody battles and tragic death camps. They brought to memory icons, logos, something that was closer to the appearance of toys jealously guarded by a big boy or a stamp saved from his childhood. At that time, the artist shared with us his toys, but they brought with them the memory of a real battle, one fought in the artist’s studio.
It is still noticeable in his sculptures which are also populated by images of a war that seems to be led by generals and soldiers. It is also true in works as Patrulha de resgate and Montanhas Topecreme. The artist, while dealing with pottery, somewhat uncommon in Brazilian art, and treating it as a means to work and not simply as a raw material, Ramos flirts with something that cannot be measured. From plaster cast to the final form that leaves the kiln, the artist manages time and frailty, and deals with eventual casualties in the trenches – pieces that expand too much or not enough, break, fall apart. Two works played with such accidents, to show them: Esquadrilha in which ceramic in the shape of paper airplanes with the tips crumpled as if they crashed in flight and were taken out of combat; and the performance re.van.che in which clay objects made by the artist are broken by a martial arts fighter. Now he searches out new games, playing with meanings as in the game of hide and seek. This is Laerte’s battle: design and cosa mentale, his work is also flow, accident, and hands-on, what a delight – fun.
*Arma Branca: White weapon. In Portuguese white weapons are all weapons that are not fired guns.
Daniela Name is an independent curator and art writer based in Rio de Janeiro. (http://daniname.wordpress.com ) Essay translated from the Portuguese by Diego Azevedo de Otero. Images of the art courtesy of the artist (http://laerteramos.com.br ) andAmarelonegro Arte Contemporânea, Rio de Janeiro (http://amarelonegro.com) Exhibition images courtesy of Robert Brandan Martinez (www.robertbrandanmartinez.com )
[pronounced fī’ca, as in FINALLY! phICA!]
Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art (phICA) is a not-for-profit organization which compliments other regional cultural institutions while differentiating itself through collaboration and community partnerships and by offering new portals of entry for enjoying, understanding, and interpreting contemporary art. phICA was envisioned and is structured to be organic and efficient and is a non-collecting institution with a primary focus on exhibition projects, artist residencies, and arts incubation activities. The founding Board of Directors first met to discuss their mutual vision in October 2007, officially organized the organization in 2009 with the first exhibition project launched in March 2011.