Homo Ludens

Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, Brazil

Dutch historian Johan Huizinga’s 1938 book, Homo Ludens, argues that play both predates and defines culture. In this expansive exhibition of the same name, curator Ricardo Sardenberg has included more than 50 works by nearly 30 artists that deal with the ludic, or child’s play. The works on view suggest that children often first negotiate the world as a series of games; such games, however, do not always have clear rules, opposing players or final scores. In this show, as in the real world, the stakes are not so simple.

Chessboards, dice and treasure maps abound. The show opens with Agnieszka Kurant’s Speculations (1) (2016), a chess match whose pieces, although in play on a board, remain awkwardly packed in tiny, individual crates. Elsewhere, Montez Magno’s sculpture Um lance de dados não abolirá jamais o acaso (A Roll of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance, 1973), a hand holding die, literally figures an eponymous Stéphane Mallarmé poem. To increase the available display area, the main gallery space has been partitioned with a series of unprimed plasterboard walls. At times, these can be distracting, as when they offset understated works like Beto Shwafaty’s PlayTime (2016), a list of synonyms for ‘play’ (‘produce’, ‘protect’, ‘consume’, ‘politicize’, ‘capitalize’). However, the partitions serve as a fitting backdrop to Jorge Macchi’s Periplo egeo (Aegean Voyage, 2012) – emergency tape declaring ‘PELIGRO’ (danger), and various anagrams of the word – which wraps around a wall hollowed-out to reveal a metal support beam. On it rest two tiny bronze sculptures: Ana Mazzei’s Guardiã (Guardian, 2013) and an untitled 2001 abstraction by Saint Clair Cemin. Here, the unfinished walls are an apt evocation of the improvisatory nature of childhood games.

all_images_homo_ludens_2016_exhibition_view_luisa_strina_sao_paulo._courtesy_luisa_strina_sao_paulo

All images: 'Homo Ludens', 2016, exhibition view, Luisa Strina, São Paulo. Courtesy: Luisa Strina, São Paulo

All images: 'Homo Ludens', 2016, exhibition view, Luisa Strina, São Paulo. Courtesy: Luisa Strina, São Paulo

Several works by the artist Marepe deal with issues of class, such as a video featuring the warm-up routines of a Bahian football team: an institution that gives the region’s poor a sense of belonging and local pride. Museu (Museum, 2014) – an installation of traditional handicrafts made of wood, sticks and tin cans found at markets and stores in the region, along with ceramics, dishware and signage for a Bahian superstore – presents a collection of apparent ‘junk’ as a museum-quality display in a commentary on the classism of
art institutions.

The exhibition also plays out in the gallery’s office spaces. Nelson Leirner’s Paleto (Coat, 1967) hangs flat against the wall beside the archives, providing a stark visual contrast to Renata Lucas’s nearby installation, Geometria Evasiva (Evasive Geometry, 2016), a display of floor tiles into which a newspaper has been inserted. The clash of signifiers for work and play, and the crowded installation throughout, presents a challenging environment for the visitor; though it’s conceivable that Sardenberg felt a more restrained hang would be ill-matched for his subject of unbridled play. Down the street, the show continues in Luisa Strina’s second, original gallery space. In stark contrast, this iteration includes far fewer works to a more considered effect. Here, Cildo Meireles’s Glovetrotter (1991), a dimly lit installation of sports balls covered in metal mesh, joins Rivane Neuenschwander’s Cabra-cega/Blind Monsters (2016), a series of illustrations inspired by sketches in a child’s notebook and drawn blind, which is projected across the walls.

In Brazil’s current political climate, a show on the subject of play is a loaded proposition. The exhibition opened the same day that former President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office by the Brazilian Senate, and barely a week after the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro had ended. Sardenberg may not have set out to curate a political show but, given this context, it is tempting to regard these works as allegories for the many contentious and complex contests of life. 

Issue 184

First published in Issue 184

Jan - Feb 2017

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018