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Tunga ink drawing
Tunga ink drawing

Tunga, Untitled, 2011, ink on paper. From the series “La voie humide,” 2011–16.

There is a stark contrast between this exhibition, “O rigor da distração” (The Rigor of Distraction), and the first retrospective after Tunga’s death in 2016, “O corpo em obras” (The Body in Works) , held earlier this year at the São Paulo Museum of Art. While the earlier show presented a conventional display organized around discrete sculptural works, the show in Rio de Janeiro, curated by Luisa Duarte and Evandro Salles, focuses on drawing and presents it as a generative force rather than a stable medium. Given the protean nature of Tunga’s oeuvre, with its plethora of materials, multiple media, and elliptical narratives forming an elusive but palpable cohesiveness, this is a productive emphasis that clarifies his work’s trajectory.

One way of making sense of the show, and of Tunga’s investment in drawing, is to track linearity itself as it becomes polymorphous. O perverso, 1974, for example, can be read as a series of meditations on drawn lines that are driven by energy rather than purpose: Instead of connecting two points or fulfilling a projective function, the lines seem always on the verge of either exhausting themselves or culminating in a cloudy diffusion of black ink. As for the drawings of the series Vê-Nus, 1976–77—whose title literally translates as See-Nudes and alludes to the Roman goddess of love—their saturated black oblong shapes hovering on the charcoal-stained paper might seem to have little to do with line, were it not for small sections of their contours traced in minute and regular zigzags. It is as if that wavy, linear regularity corresponds to a well-nigh erotic striation at the edge of an otherwise indistinct and deep black pool, so that our sudden awareness of it draws our attention away from the color field over which it might otherwise roam diffusely.

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