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Ernesto Neto Allow Dancing At the CAC

By Steven Rosen · June 2nd, 2010 · The Big Picture
The Contemporary Arts Center had to delay its Ernesto Neto: Dancing Allowed show — originally scheduled for last March — as part of its various budgetary restraints. It opened May 22, along with Pat Steir’s painting installation Water & Stone, and we can be glad the CAC didn’t have to cancel it.

It once again shows, as have many of the better exhibitions launched during cac Director/chief curator Raphaela Platow’s reign (Anri Sala, Tara Donovan, Carlos Amorales) that the Zaha Hadid-designed building’s odd angles and open areas can inspire artists who are good at installations.

The building can’t work miracles. The smaller, cloistered second floor lower space can make some installation-oriented shows seem puny and minor. (we’ll see what Matt Morris thinks of Steir’s Water & Stone, which is located there, when he reviews it in an issue later this month.) But Neto, a Brazilian artist, benefits from second loor’s upper space, a great showcase area that has the ability to dramatically announce its art to everyone climbing up to long stairways to get to it.

Speciically for the CAC, he has created an environment — a forest, really — of long, predominately vertical, balloon-ish, vinyl-like bags. They are biomorphic and surreal, which seems to be a constant in his work.

But they’re also easily accessible and fun. They are bright, cheerful colors and see-through, so that no single one blocks your view of the whole. You can also look into each one, noting the corn kernels that hold them, somewhat waveringly, to the ground.

The show’s title refers to the permissive attitude Neto takes to viewer interaction with this work. You are encouraged to lightly push and touch, letting them sway. (I emphasize lightly — they can deflate or be otherwise damaged by too much handling.)

There is obviously a goofy prophylactic quality to the show — it’s sort of like a comedian’s riff on what a giant condom showroom might look like. But Lil’ Abner fans (are there still any out there, or did Al Capp’s politics scare everyone away?) might see Neto’s installation creations as somewhat slimmed-down relatives of the lovable “shmoo” cartoon characters.

They’re also reminiscent of grounded punching bags in a gymnasium, their invitation to aggressiveness subverted by their happy colors. another Neto installation that I’ve seen — Mother Body Emotional Destinies/For Alive Temple Time Body Son at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Downtown — also reminded me of male-oriented sports. with a twist.

That installation, much bigger but not better than CAC’s, featured abstracted but sac-shaped, soft-material forms stretched out and hanging down, also somewhat punching-bag-like, from the ceiling of a large room. each was aromatic from the spices packed inside.

They were a little like the rosin bags that pitchers use to keep their hands dry. Only here, they were meant to smell pleasing, rather that to allow someone to throw a ball at 90 mph. (That’s another way that Neto seems to summon up and then undercut our associations with the inherent aggression of competitive sports.)

Also, the room holding Neto’s installation formerly was part of San Diego’s adjacent train station, so the metaphor about “the baggage we carry” was pretty strong.

Neto’s show, like Steir’s, opened amid all the hoopla over Shepard Fairey’s return to the CAC (where his Supply and Demand is up through Aug. 22) for a fundraising party. One hopes they are not overlooked.

Neto, by the way, might just be Brazil’s best-known contemporary artist at this point. A regular participant on the international biennial circuit, he has also done notable work for London’s Hayward Gallery, Paris’ Pantheon and New York’s Park Avenue Gallery. It’s good to see CAC added to that list.



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