For centuries, Italian sculptors have practised the art of rendering the gentle folds and sensual drapery of cloth into hard marble. To conjure an impression of both a vital presence and the softness of the fabric covering it, using only one material, requires enormous skill. In Naples, a famed example of such mastery can be found within the Cappella Sansevero. Carved from a single block of marble, Giuseppe Sanmartinos Veiled Christ depicts the dead body of Jesus shrouded in a twisting flow of cloth; its contradictions of stillness and movement, lightness and weight, imbues the sculpture with humanity and a sense of compassion.
The sculptural properties of Alexandre da Cunhas work, Marble (2020), are difficult to determinecertainly on first sight. What appears to be a solid and weighty, fleshy-pink form is in fact an inflatable rubber ring covered by a large cotton sheet. The air-filled object offers a determined resistance to the soft fluidity of the fabric, causing it to drape onto the floor in a manner that suggests gravity and stability. Being an improbable assemblage of mundane things, Marble is in almost every way a contradiction of Sanmartinos sculpture. However, on its own terms, it maintains a strong bodily presence that equally possesses humour and pathos.
Always observant of the materiality of objects and how they sit in the world, da Cunha carefully gathers and realigns them to form unexpected allegiances that, as with Marble, challenge perceptions of value and authority. When transported to an unfamiliar place, domestic, workaday objects and materials become themselves unfamiliarmaybe alien, maybe exoticthey also acquire an aesthetic beauty and new status. The original use and sociological meaning of these utilitarian items are never demeaned by their transformations, rather the changes reinstate the importance of society and the value of labour.
Made from an assortment of thingsincluding paving slabs, bathroom floor tiles, discarded wheelbarrows, dyed cotton mopheads, household fabrics, coconutsda Cunhas sculptures occupy a progression of elegant rooms at Thomas Dane Gallery in Naples. There is incongruity in the very attendance of objects and materials like these in such a publicly inviting space; it is stuff that the rooms themselves might be built from, maintained by, decorated or cleaned with. By establishing sculptures that activate the floors, walls and ceilings of these particular spaces, da Cunha has created an arena that allows for conflict and subversion as well as for spectacle and delight.
Alexandre da Cunha (b.1969) is a Brazilian-born artist who lives and works in São Paulo and London. He has referred to his practice as pointing as opposed to making. By pointing at existing objects in plain sight, da Cunha highlights new and unexpected meanings within the objects he chooses. This approach allows him to disentangle preconceptions and instinctive responses inherent to particular objects, restoring them with alternative modes of viewing and understanding. Given their renewed possibility, da Cunhas sculptures inspire lush potential, illuminating everyday encounters with these ordinary materials. For instance, household cleaning objects suddenly conjure spiritual significance, while seemingly mundane industrial ready-mades echo art historical precedents.
Central to da Cunhas practice is the ready-made. Specifically, how the ready-made is affected by narrative, history, and the results of labour. In da Cunhas work, an objects original design and function endures within the sculpture: a mop can be transformed into a tapestry but the narrative of the object lives on in the work. In this way, da Cunhas sculptures constitute a microcosm which preserves the historic and economic reality of the original object. In his Mix (2012-2017) and Full Catastrophe series (2012-2013), da Cunha presents concrete mixers only lightly touched by the artist but heavily manipulated by their previous owners, confusing the role of creator while aligning the activity of labour with that of the artist. In contrast, da Cunhas Ikebana series (2018) assembles sensitive pairings of objects. A walking stick is accented by a fragment of food packaging; a hammer is domesticated by its foundation of a wooden block; while a cake tin, golf ball, or glass bottle respectively sink into a cast of concrete.