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You Need to See This Brazilian Exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum

Cássio Vasconcellos, Uma vista (A View), 2002. Lambda print. Variable dimensions. Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo Collection, Gift of Ursula Erika Marianna Baumgart.EXPAND
Cássio Vasconcellos, Uma vista (A View), 2002. Lambda print. Variable dimensions. Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo Collection, Gift of Ursula Erika Marianna Baumgart.
Cassio Vasconcellos
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Sixty-seven individual photographs coalesce into a single cityscape at Phoenix Art Museum — but only when viewed from one very specific spot.

They're part of Cassio Vasconcello's Uma Vista (A Perspective) installation, which makes a fitting metaphor for "Past/Future/Present," the show it helps to anchor.

The exhibition includes 70 works by artists from Brazil whose work is part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo. "Past/Future/Present" opened on September 1 and continues through December 31.

The Brazilian art landscape is vast, but this show focuses primarily on works from the 1990s through the 2010s.

Collectively, they signal the power of contemporary Brazilian art to shift viewer perspectives, through choice of materials and subject matter.

“Past/Future/Present” delivers an unrelenting onslaught of visual oddities: from a shimmering bead and crystal dress laced with hundreds of razor blades to a row of ten tiny wooden feet protruding from a gallery wall.

Look straight ahead as you enter the exhibition, and you'll see 10,000 pencils protruding from a panel to form the image of a man gazing towards a blank frame. Look up, and you'll spot a life-size articulated puppet with feet affixed to the ceiling.

Some featured works date back to the 1970s, so the show tackles a five-decade span. Its themes include shifting identities, the body/social body, reimagined landscape, impossible objects, and reinventing the monochrome.

The exhibition is curated by Vanessa Davidson, curator of Latin American art for Phoenix Art Museum, and Cauê Alves, chief curator for Museo Brasileiro de Escultura e Ecologia in São Paulo.

The title references ways Brazilian artists mine their own cultural traditions while embracing a future infused with global perspectives.

There’s no monolithic block of Brazilian art or a set of characteristics all its artists have in common, the curators explain in the exhibition catalog.

Artist Rodrigo Matheus tackles stereotypes about Brazil head on, by placing iconic images of pristine beaches and swaying palm trees atop easels set under a large electric fan mounted to a nearby wall.

Like other works in this show, it reminds viewers that not everything is what it seems.

One artist used the equivalent of elongated toilet plungers and tautly-stretched pantyhose to create a a compelling sculpture that feels at once wholly familiar and infinitely mysterious. Another created giant wing-like waves of copper and brass threads that look like sun-drenched auburn hair.

Several artists tackle social justice issues related to race, class, and sexual identity.

One set a large table atop several smaller one, adding a staircase of chairs that get larger as they go higher, highlighting ways the efforts of the many support the wealth and power of just a few.

Another artist created instructions for making a tile roof assembled on-site using local labor and materials, prompting reflection on local and global markets. That piece sits in the museum’s sculpture garden.

At times, these artists reference art history, either paying homage to artists who’ve come before them, or finding ways to creatively subvert them. Sometimes those references are subtle, but other times they’re glaring.

One artist created a portrait of Madonna and child, after a famous painting by Caravaggio, using chocolate. His photograph of the piece is part of this show.

So, too, is a work comprising a row of Duchamp-inspired toilet images with plastic tubes that trail onto the museum floor.

And there’s another reason to see this exhibition.

“Past/Future/Present” also includes Laura Lima’s Palhaco com buzina reta – monte de irônicos (Clown with Straight Horn – Mountain of Ironies), which is only on view during select dates and times.

It’s the first performance piece included in a Phoenix Art Museum exhibition, which adds a whole other dimension to an exhibition that’s already got the power to turn heads.

“Past/Future/Present” continues through Sunday, December 31. Exhibition tickets are $5 in addition to museum admission, which is $18 for adults. Related programming includes artist lectures and a film series. Get details on the Phoenix Art Museum website.

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