By DAVID MOSCOVICH, August, 2018
Opening on Friday, the 10th of August through the 23rd of September 2018 and offering a series of lectures, performances, films, concerts and workshops, this year’s Cerveira Biennial presented a tribute to renowned Portuguese Surrealist and poet Cruzeiro Seixas.
The Cerveira International Biennial of Art marks its 40th anniversary this year, officially dubbed the XX Bienal Internacional de Arte de Cerveira, and included artists from more than thirty countries. Vila Nova de Cerveira is located in northern Portugal and is divided from Spain by the Minho River that runs directly behind the grounds of the Biennial.
In the words of the President of the Fundação Bienal de Arte de Cerveira, Fernando Nogueira, “Vila Nova de Cerveira was a village practically unknown when the Biennial was founded in 1978, and which was made possible in part owing to the Revolution of April 25th, 1974.”
Nogueira was referring to the military-led coup against the Salazar regime known as the Carnation Revolution which occurred that April is celebrated nationwide as the end of the Estado Novo regime.
Seixas was greeted with a standing ovation as he emerged onto the stage around five p.m. in the afternoon in the crowded auditorium of the Biennial’s forum.
“I just as am poor now as I was when I began painting,” said the 97 year-old artist, “because I have always painted what I wanted.”
Seixas was instrumental in Portugal’s first Surrealist exhibition in 1949, titled Os Surrealistas (The Surrealists), which was part of what might be termed Surrealism’s second wave. Art historian and critic Bernardo Pinto de Almeida refers to Portugal’s late arrival Surrealism as an “anti-modernistic” movement.
Cruzeiro Seixas has disavowed any status as an intellectual, famously resisting being labeled a painter, despite being an active practicioner of drawing and painting for more than fifty years. This freedom from ontological limitation, as he noted in the biennial’s catalogue, is personally liberating.
Cruzeiro Seixas’s work radiates with presence upon entering the main gallery of the exhibition, which was led – as tradition would have it – by the Mayor of Cerveira (a position also held by Nogeira) and the artistic coordinator of the biennial, Cabral Pinto.
The first work I noticed by Cruzeiro Seixas at the biennial was a book with its pages folded such that half of the paragraphs bleed into half of the adjacent, adorned by a fork with a bent and ancient prong. The title of the piece is inscribed along the handle of the utensil – Ce n’est rien d’aimer: il faut aussi etre aime, which contains perhaps a refraction of Magritte. To love is nothing: one must be loved.
Apart from the Surrealism in the homage to Seixas, the biennial put forth works of many other styles and mediums – almost – but not quite ringing true to this year’s theme of intermixing the traditional and digital in a “discourse of disorder.” Not that I was disappointed, but the digital was heavily outnumbered.
Agostinho Santos exhibited color graphite work on cork panelling, a refreshing breath of art brut, a display of innocence which recalls the playfulness of Basquiat.
Henrique Silva, who will lead a public talk entitled “Speaking about the past to project the future” at Cerveira on the 15th of August, installed a set of canvas screens.
Sculptor Zumiro De Carvalho’s t-shaped cylindrical steel work presides at the entrance, originally the sculptural grand prize winner of the III Biennial at Cerveira.
Isaque Pinhero, also traditionally a sculptor, produced a video piece called Desktop as a satirical take on the rapid acceleration and near ubiquity of digital technology, mutating the semiotics of computing linguistics by using magazines and other pre-digital techniques and media to disorient the title from its 21st century implication.
Beatriz Albuquerque’s pop art installation Food Porn XX lives in a large glass vitrine and consists of hundreds of culinary pieces crafted in ceramics and on 3-D printer – the micro and palm-sized burgers, popsicles and cakes reminiscent of Claes Oldenburg.
It is difficult to ignore that the Biennial at Cerveira was visited by celebrated performance artist Marina Abramovic as well, who presented a version of a performance,“The Onion,” in 2013.
The XX Biennial also features the works of Portuguese artists Henrique Silva, João Castro Silva, Alberto Vieira, Ana Vicinal, Ção Pestana, Acácio De Carvalho, Graça Morais, Vasco Sá Coutinho.
Over the decades the Vila Nova de Cerveira Biennial has included artists, curators, scholars and organizers such as Maria de Fátima Lambert, António Olaio, Sobral Centeno, and Albuquerque Mendes, among others.
The Biennial and related events continue through the 23rd of September. WM
David Moscovich is the Romanian-American author of You Are Make Very Important Bathtime (JEF Books, 2013) and LIFE+70[Redacted], a print version of the single most expensive literary e-book ever to be hacked (Lit Fest Press, 2016.) His novels Blink If You Love Me (2019) and his newest, Manhattan Other (2023), are available from Adelaide Books.view all articles from this author