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Tunga sculpture metal and ceramics
Tunga sculpture metal and ceramics

“Element S,” a piece in “From ‘La Voie Humide,’” an exhibition by the Brazilian artist Tunga at Luhring Augustine.

Credit...Tunga and Farzad Owrang/Luhring Augustine, New York

Luhring Augustine   531 West 24th Street, Chelsea

Art is full of surprises, and so are artists. I have never been a big fan of the Brazilian artist Tunga, a sculptor, performance artist and filmmaker now in his early 60s who is best known for extravagant installations that intimate alchemy and use exotic materials like orbs of colored glass.

In fact I confess to not keeping up with his New York shows. So his latest exhibition is a pleasant shock and by far the most convincing display of his work I’ve yet seen.

The pieces are pared down, concentrated and clearer — less gimmicky and altogether lighter in color and mood. They don’t seek to overwhelm. They suggest an artist who has turned back to art history not just to grab motifs but to transform them in fruitful ways. They maintain certain signature Tunga forms, including the steel tripods and allusions to caldrons and alchemy. (The series’ title, “La Voie Humide” or “The Humid Way,” pertains to the more romantic, less scientific side of alchemy.) But mainly these pieces build on the vocabularies of body-oriented Surrealist types — young Dali, Yves Tanguy, Hans Bellmer and Balthus — abstracting them into suggestive three-dimensional shapes that seem both benign and perverse. Pinkish flesh tones prevail in unglazed terra cotta bowls and pieces of rubber. These contrast strikingly with the dark metal structures supporting them, which form a kind of drawing in space: the greenish bronze implements and raw materials like quartz crystal and gum Arabic.

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