Beatriz Milhazes: Mistura Sagrada
On ViewPace Gallery
September 16–October 29, 2022
In his 1988 book, The Power of the Center, theorist Rudolf Arnheim discusses the dynamic tension in painting that can be caused by making shapes play around the center, comparable to the way a composer weaves musical variations back and forth around a theme. It is this kind of interplay that Beatriz Milhazes imparts in each of the refined, centrifugal compositions in Mistura Sagrada, an exhibition of her recent works. In this, her first show at Pace, the Rio de Janeiro-based, Brazilian artist presented ten large-scale, colorful abstract paintings (up to approximately 8 by 10 feet), on the gallery’s second floor, plus an immense chandelier-like hanging sculpture displayed separately in the light-filled space on the seventh floor.
A number of works feature a wheel motif, as in the three imposing paintings from the series “Roda Coração” (Heart Wheel). In Roda Coração I (2021), for example, bifurcated spherical shapes in green, blue, gold and yellow, radiate from the left-center toward the outer edges of the canvas. Clusters of small gold and purple disks on the far-left play counterpoint to a smallish glowing circular shape in bands of pink and orange, hovering on the upper right, suggesting a rising or setting sun. Tenderly gauged and orchestrated, all of the compositional elements pulsate in intricate, rhythmic patterns like the beats of a lively samba.
The show’s title indicates a holy or sacred mixture, and in Milhazes’s by-now rarified abstract language, it likely refers to the mélange of hard-edge geometric—predominately circular or oval shapes—and sensuous organic forms, including patterns of highly stylized flowers and leaves. Milhazes’s studio is located near Rio’s Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden), the source of inspiration for much of the vegetal imagery that appears in the work. She created most of these pieces during the pandemic while isolated in her studio. The lamentable period nevertheless afforded some contemplative time, which she indicated in an artist’s statement lent a spiritual dimension to her artistic endeavors.
This time of introspection also led her to a reexamination of earlier works from her formidable career, now spanning over forty years. In her paintings of the previous decade, with the crisp form and color of late Matisse collages, and myriad hardedge geometric forms, she referenced twentieth-century European art, including the Bauhaus, Constructivism, Neoplasticism, and De Stijl, as well as Brazil’s Neo-Concrete movement. A number of the recent works here, such as Festa Na Floresta (Fiesta in the Forest, 2021), pay homage in some way to Tropicália, the grassroots revolutionary movement of the 1960s in Brazil. They also hark back to some of her own major earlier canvases, such as Paz e Amor (Peace and Love, 1995–96), with its mandala-like centralized shape encircled by a chain of red and white roses. Within Milhazes’s iconography, the floral elements address feminist issues today as they allude to ornaments on women’s clothing from Brazil’s colonial past, which Milhazes has studied in various museums and archives throughout the country.
Ornamental floral shapes predominate in the glittery sculptural installation, Gamboa III (2020). Here, five circular iron rods attached to the ceiling hold long strands of mostly pink and yellow plastic flowers, punctuated with countless silvery bulbs, beads and bangles, hanging several feet above the floor. Milhazes, whose foray into sculpture began some years ago with set designs for her sister Márcia Milhazes’s avant-garde dance company, borrowed these shining baubles from old Carnival floats in Rio. Like many of the two-dimensional works in this show, Gamboa III suggests some rousing music and sprightly, circular rhythmic motions.