LEGEND HAS IT that the Brazilian modernist master Alberto da Veiga Guignard was a guest in the house of an eminent Rio de Janeiro politician when he produced one of his best-known works, a large portrait of his host’s twin daughters, As gêmeas (The Twins), 1940. The painting is an enigmatic study in likeness and difference: The sisters wear identical dresses and similar hairdos, yet their faces remain distinct. They are linked most of all by the ornate colonial settee on which they are perched, its carved wooden swirls merging with their curls. It is an uncanny image, all the more so with the retrospective knowledge that one of the sitters was the future mother of the groundbreaking artist Tunga (full name: Antonio José de Barros Carvalho e Mello Mourão), whose recurrent motif of prepubescent twins connected by their hair—most famously explored in the performance Xifópagas capilares (Capillary Siamese Twins), 1984—catalyzes a series of visual, material, and fictional slippages that run through his multifaceted oeuvre. Tunga was reportedly wary of the anecdote, fearing that it might provide an all-too-easy interpretive crutch for his seductively hermetic work. Yet what if we conceive of Guignard’s painting not as a point of origin or primal scene, but as a screen or a diversion against originality per se, in which the search for meaning might be detourned rather than satisfied?
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