Erika Verzutti’s Melancholy New Work Seduces and Repels in Equal Measure

The artist’s feast is plentiful and sumptuous, but leaves us with a hefty bill and a heavy stomach

Erika Verzutti, Carne Sintética (Cultured Meat), 2019, bronze and oil, 36 × 42 × 10 cm. Courtesy: Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro; photograph: Eduardo Ortega. © Erika Verzutti

Erika Verzutti, Carne Sintética (Cultured Meat), 2019, bronze and oil, 36 × 42 × 10 cm. Courtesy: Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro; photograph: Eduardo Ortega. © Erika Verzutti

‘Carne Sintética’ (Cultured Meat), Erika Verzutti’s latest exhibition at Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, features a new series comprising 15 bronze, papier-mâché and clay reliefs that conjure an array of chunky, crunchy and creamy-looking foodstuffs, showcasing the artist’s technical skill across a range of media. Most recently included in solo shows such as ‘Ex Gurus’ at Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York last year, as well as her retrospective at Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou earlier this year, Verzutti’s wall works, which she has been developing for almost a decade, investigate the liminal space between painting and sculpture. While the artist usually freely combines a broad range of techniques and references in her practice, ‘Carne Sintética’ seeks to explore a specific conceit: the relentless circulation of images in contemporary society against the backdrop of an increasingly turbulent historical moment – politically, socially and environmentally.

Erika Verzutti, Marshmallow Amazonino, 2019, bronze, electrostatic painting and oil, 57 × 57 × 8 cm. Courtesy Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro; photograph: Eduardo Ortega. © Erika Verzutti

In a playful yet unsettling gesture, Verzutti re-envisions fellow Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s celebrated series of wall-mounted sculptures, ‘Amazoninos’ (1989–92), as lurid soft forms that glow against the dark-bronze patina of their sculptural base (Marshmallow Amazonino, 2019). Pape’s neoconcrete masterpieces – which explore volume, colour and form in a manner that aligns closely with Verzutti’s own concerns regarding sensorial experience and composition – derive their title from an aerial view Pape saw of the Amazon. The tragic, present-day decimation of the rainforest adds a further layer of melancholy to this piece, with Brazil’s current autocratic clown of a president, Jair Bolsonaro, treating the burning of trees with the same flippancy as the toasting of marshmallows.

Erika Verzutti, Picasso com Morangos (Picasso with Strawberries), 2019, bronze and oil, 36 × 41 × 9 cm. Courtesy Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro; photograph: Eduardo Ortega. © Erika Verzutti

The wall works continue Verzutti’s ongoing transmutation of some of art history’s most prominent figures into food tableaux. The nauseating sugar rush evoked by the chocolate cake bronze of Picasso with Strawberries (2019), for instance, seems to query whether we might ever get sick of the ubiquitous cubist master, Pablo Picasso. How long can he survive in the infinite loop of curatorial pirouettes, gift-shop souvenirs and social-media regrams? Alongside it, the eerie Yayoi with Pills (2019) poses the same question about Yayoi Kusama: two oily slabs of fish, with polka-dot scales reminiscent of the Japanese artist’s trademark aesthetic, lie next to a silver packet of tablets. In these challenging times, Verzutti seems to imply, we need to move away from the processed and repackaged – whether in food or in art – and return to the source, breaking the cycle of rampant consumerism that drives all of our choices.

Erika Verzutti, Yayoi com Pílulas (Yayoi with Pills), 2019, bronze, enamel, oil and acrylic, 44 × 43 × 12 cm. Courtesy: Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro; photograph: Eduardo Ortega. © Erika Verzutti

Fascinated by the surge in popularity over the past decade of ASMR (videos featuring a whispering voiceover designed to soothe listeners) and ‘slime’ culture (online footage of people making and/or playing with oozing substances), which have hooked internet-native youngsters on a new kind of ‘visual tactility’, Verzutti’s latest work seeks likewise to seduce and repel in equal measure. Cultured Meat (2019), the piece that lends its name to the show, comprises a clay mass indented by the artist’s seemingly frenziedly-moving fingerprints mounted on a thick, cast-bronze tablet covered with a layer of pale-pink paint. With a visual nod to the paintings of Philip Guston, Cultured Meat mocks Silicon Valley’s ostensibly ethical quest to create lab-grown veggie burgers that are as juicy as their meat counterparts, while failing to pay their workers a living wage.

Erika Verzutti, Homeopatia Primitiva (Primitive Homeopathy), 2019, papier-mâché, polystyrene and acrylic, 100 × 69 × 7 cm. Courtesy: Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro; photograph: Eduardo Ortega. © Erika Verzutti.

Visually fun and engaging, Verzutti’s multilayered new works are, nonetheless, implacably sad. The feast she has prepared for us in ‘Cultured Meat’ is plentiful and sumptuous, revealing her broad epicurean tastes; unfailingly, however, we leave with a hefty bill and a heavy stomach.

‘Carne Sintética’ continues at Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo, Brazil, until 20 December 2019.

Fernanda Brenner is the founder and Artistic Director of Pivô, an independent non-profit art space in São Paulo, and a contributing editor of frieze

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