Hudinilson Jr.’s Very Public Private Life

Pinacoteca de São Paulo presents a number of public-facing projects that correct the record about the famously reclusive artist 

The Brazilian artist Hudinilson Jr., who died in 2013 at the age of 57, is widely remembered as reclusive. Yet, while many of his works feature intimate or domestic elements – notebooks collaged with magazine clippings scavenged from his apartment building, fragmented photocopies of his own body reassembled into large portraits – ‘Explícito’ (Explicit), the retrospective curated by Ana Maria Maia at the Pinacoteca de Sao Paulo’s Estação space, argues that the artist’s career was equally defined by his engagement with arts institutions and the public. Structured around a group of works gifted to the Pinacoteca by the artist’s family in 2019, the exhibition explores Hudinilson’s association with the institution, which stretched back to 1975, when he launched an experimental Xerox workshop at the museum that he led for six years.

Hudinilson Jr., Reference Booklet No. 94, 2000, 56 × 27 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo; photograph: Isabella Matheus

Outside the Pinacoteca Estação, the billboard-scale Posição Amorosa Outdoor/Art-Door (Amorous Position Outdoor/Art-Door), featuring two mannequins affixed to a large panel, has been re-created for the first time since its conception in 1981. Unlike Isa Genzken, whose mannequins are eclectically dressed avatars of consumer society (Schauspieler, 2013), Hudinilson presented his nude male figures, posed recto and verso in classical contrapposto, as emblems of sexual identity.

The public nature of this piece recalls the artist’s involvement with 3Nós3, a collective he co-founded in 1979 with fellow artists Mario Ramiro and Rafael França. Working almost exclusively in municipal spaces throughout São Paulo, 3Nós3’s most famous intervention was Ensacamento (Covering, 1979), in which they put plastic bags over the heads of civic monuments. While Ensacamento obfuscated symbols of national pride, Posição Amorosa Outdoor/Art-Door responded to a different kind of repression, promoting the acceptance of universal sexuality that Hudinilson valued above all else.

If this public-facing Hudinilson appears to be a far cry from the artist with whom gallery-goers may be more familiar – a creator of mail-art networks and private notebooks – this exhibition doesn’t so much seek to reconcile those distinctions as to eliminate them entirely. A group of graffiti works from the early 2000s, for instance, reveals Hudinilson’s elegant, even delicate, stencilling of flowers, classical sculptures and columns. Such details indicate that the alternating tension of private and public within the artist’s practice is underpinned by stylistic commonalities.

Hudinilson Jr., Exercício de me ver I (Exercise of seeing me I), 1980, envelope on glue and paper and nine photocopies on paper, 61 × 92 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo; photograph: Isabella Matheus

Writing in the show’s accompanying catalogue about ‘Self-Seeing Exercise’ (1980–84), Hudinilson’s celebrated series of naked body scans, the artist’s former partner, art critic Jean-Claude Bernardet, observes: ‘The closer we get to the body displayed as a spectacle, the more it moves away from us. Though implicitly revealing, Bernardet suggests, these works are nonetheless a means of obfuscation, hovering between legibility and abstraction, in which it is easy to mistake a clump of chest hair for a swath of topographic lines.

The inverse is also true: the more intimate aspects of Hudinilson’s practice still engage with the public sphere. His masterful notebook collages, for instance, are highly personal objects formed from accumulations of images taken from the public domain, while the artist’s apartment was a space for creativity as much as the street or museum. As the present shape of contemporary life is being altered radically by a killer pandemic, Hudinilson’s work feels especially prescient – not because it offers us a model of homebound productivity, but because it imagines a version of public life that carries on even in isolation.

Main Image: Hudinilson Jr., Posição Amorosa Outdoor/Art-Door (Amorous Position Outdoor/Art-Door), 1981-2020, exhibition view, Pinacoteca de São Paulo. Courtesy: the artist and Pinacoteca de São Paulo; photograph: Levi Fanan

Giampaolo Bianconi is a writer and curator living in New York.

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