What do you see? – 2015

by Fernanda Lopes for the exhibition Su Casa
New York, October, 2015

In 1964, Frank Stella said of his paintings: “What you see is what you see.” The phrase exemplifies what is considered one of the principles of the minimalist movement. In Su Casa, Raul Mourão seems to revisit this statement, although not taking it as an affirmation but as a question: Is What you see what you see?

Over more than two decades of production, the work of Mourão has always been marked by a strong interest in the urban space, the public debate, the life that happens on the street, by chance, in any corner, at any time. In Su Casa that logic seems reversed, or reconfigured, taking into account other dimension of the space and, consequently, of perception. The exhibition bears some domestic scale, human. The space of the street shop transformed into an exhibition space is much closer to the living room of an ordinary house than the white cube of the art galleries and museums.

The show’s title also refers to the more intimate space of an artist: thestudio. The studio as an empty space, as a place of experience. Both Animal (2015) and Fenestra (2015) leave the process of its realization on display. Here the process is the artwork. The kinetic sculpture that occupies the center of the gallery is made of parts, modules. It is a piece that parts of a simple unitthat multiplied, combined and recombined by the artist reveals its complexity in different possible final structures.

Also in the paintings live seemingly conflicting principles. It was looking at a drawing, graphic, made in his studio – comprising repeated rectangles and lines formed by the spaces between them – that the artist recognized the image of a window on it. And from there he began to pay more attention to the windows of the world. This inverts the operation of almost all of Mourão’s production: It does not usually occur from the inside (the studio) to the outside (the world), but as something of the world, which is taken into the studio – as with theGrids series, which started with the artist’s perception of the security grills that began to occupy Rio de Janeiro in the 1980s. One of the symbols of the public safety policy failure in the city began to be used by the artist as work material. Here, in the windows of Raul Mourão, the minimalist grid composed of vertical and horizontal straight lines intersecting at orthogonal angles, which is the starting point of the work, loses its impartiality and accuracy to be built by hand. The same applies to the rectangles, the basic unit of these paintings: these geometric shapes, identical, repeated indefinitely, start to gain individuality due to worn ink, alignment errors, and other “accidents” that occur in the middle of the process. These changes produce a visual disturbance, a tension between what should be abstract and what implies a figure.

Su Casa is an exhibition about the doubt, about the endless possibilities of seeing (the world, the work); about the exercise of putting yourself or something in doubt, about opening up, at least in thoughts, to other possibilities. It is as if we walked by it wondering: “What if?”, “Are you sure?”. And that is the truly political nature of art: getting us out of our comfort zone, of our passivity and everyday certainty, and open up the possibility of seeing the world in a different way.


Fernanda Lopes is an art critic and curator, doctoral student in Art History and Critique at EBA|UFRJ. Author of the books Área Experimental – área experimental lugar espaço dimensão (Minc/Funarte’s grant for Estímulo à Produção Crítica, 2012) and A Experiência Rex: Éramos o time do Rei (Awarded with the Prêmio de Artes Plásticas Marcantonio Vilaça – FUNARTE, 2009). Lives and works in New York.