New Power: Passability, Miss Brasil
occupying palaces, museums, and galleries.
It was in 2019 that Maxwell Alexandre held his first exhibition at a museum – at MAC Lyon, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Lyon. That show, titled Pardo é Papel, was also his first international exhibition.
Maxwell lived right there, inside the museum for a month, in a room on the top floor. During the days he spent there, the artist transformed one of the large exhibition halls into his studio, where he conceived and planned the exhibition design consisting of seventeen monumental panels, most of which were the standard size of banners in that series – 320 x 480 cm. Painted on sheets of brown kraft paper, the works were hung by cables attached to the ceiling.
During his stay there, Maxwell produced three new pieces for the exhibition. One of them, titled New Power, measured 400 x 960 cm – more than twice the size of the series’s standard banner – and became a highlight of the exhibition. Even though they were produced under a different title, the other two were developed based on the same theme. In light of the show’s success, Pardo é Papel became a traveling exhibition, migrating to cities both in Brazil and abroad. The three works made during the artist’s residency became part of the museum’s collection. Due to this acquisition, Maxwell found it necessary to create more pieces for the New Power series, planning to introduce them gradually during the Pardo é Papel tour, relying on the already assured success of the Pardo é Papel exhibition. The official launch of the New Power series, however, did not take place until two years later, in the second semester of 2021, at his solo show at the Palais de Tokyo, another French institution, located in Paris. Besides occupying a large room in the renowned French space, the series was also launched at both branches of the Brazilian gallery A Gentil Carioca, simultaneously, in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. This division of the New Power launch served two strategic goals. Not only did it allow more space for the extensive production on the theme, but it also served to lessen the concentration and international travel of visitors during the unstable period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Spreading the show’s audience across the three spaces was, therefore, more than poetic, it was a way the artist found to keep within the crowd density guidelines imposed by the global health crisis.
Pardo é Papel
The Pardo é Papel series arose as a milestone in Maxwell Alexandre’s career, and continues to be his most renowned series to this day. Prosperity, self-esteem, victory, boldness, and partying are some of the main subjects tackled by the artist, whose painting addresses the most tangible and worldly forms of power and access: designer clothes, cars, jewelry, food, parties. The series emphasizes this materiality and exalts famous personalities, friends, and family, while it also illustrates careers that have been traditional paths for the advancement of black people in Brazil, such as music and football. The culture of ostentation – a powerful symbol in Brazilian funk and rap music, which often sparks people’s imagination in the urban peripheries – is also a central theme in Pardo é Papel.
To approach the diversity of themes depicted in the series, Maxwell has introduced the concept of the Mother Painting: a large-format panel usually dealing with a single theme, portrayed in the same painting in the context of different viewpoints and times, resulting in a dense visual composition that interweaves various narratives to map out a single topic. The artist uses the Mother Paintings as cartographies that present a single whole; later, he delves into each of these annotated arguments individually, meticulously exploring each perspective and venturing deep into their specific worlds.
The New Power series arose as an extension of Pardo é Papel. In this new thrust, the theme of prosperity, previously depicted through mundane objects and situations, is elevated to levels that are more subjective, focused on a particular theme: the contemporary art circuit. In New Power, Maxwell explores the idea of the black community inside the hallowed temples for the contemplation of art: galleries, museums, cultural centers, and foundations. To this end, he emphasizes three basic symbols: the colors black, white, and pardo [brown]. The black color acts as the manifested black body represented by the human figures; the white color points to the so-called white cube, the exhibition space; and the color pardo refers to the artwork itself, also making self-reference to the type of paper they are painted on, the primary support of the series [brown kraft paper is called papel pardo in Portuguese referring to the type of paper used].
The medium, structure, and format therefore remain the same, but the compositions are more frugal, so the Mother Painting concept was seldom used in New Power. The monumental structure of the paper in this series intensifies the presence of the art object, by means of large brown rectangles. These geometries are outlined with white paint, highlighting the paper’s strong yellowish color and its scale compared to the characters in the painting. All this refers back to the large panels of Pardo é Papel, making New Power, on some level, an illustration of the first series. Pardo é Papel is contained within New Power and vice versa, since it was through the initial exhibitions of Pardo é Papel that Maxwell witnessed the white cube being taken over, exceptionally, by the massive presence of black people.
In other words, while Pardo é Papel mapped out art as a viable profession, signaling the future New Power series as a prophecy, this vision was materialized when the people from the favela showed up at its vernissages, admiring monumental paintings in which the black subject was the central element. “For many of the visitors to my exhibitions, that was the first time they had ever experienced an environment of contemporary art, contemplating works that they now felt part of – that is, when they were portrayed in paintings, they felt proud and valorized,” says Maxwell.
At its core, New Power transcends the worldly situations and valuable objects that in the previous series, Pardo é Papel, symbolized privilege and access in a predominantly capitalist world. In the series’s prophecy, the artworks point to contemporary art as the apex of culture, the elevation of the spirit. Although the art circuit operates in favor of the wealthy, a main driver of the series is the understanding that the appreciation and consumption of art are a sort of capital that can overshadow financial power, in terms of its intellectual and symbolic values.
Maxwell Alexandre emphasizes that, in the urban peripheries, art is seen as superfluous. As he sees it, this stems from a deliberate process of social distinction, which is why the values of contemporary art are highly coded and restricted to a cultural elite. “Only those who needn’t worry about hunger and other basic needs can afford to contemplate a monochromatic white painting, that is, an abstract painting,” says Maxwell, who believes that the real quality of life is intrinsically linked to leisure, idleness, contemplation, and the nonpractical value of things. The pursuit of aesthetic pleasure, the transcendental experience of the sublime, and reflection on philosophy are undertaken for the sake of the spirit. In the artist’s view, laying claim to this experience, and achieving it, constitutes true abundance.
Art is the territory where the narratives of humankind are generated. Its institutions consequently serve as mechanisms for legitimizing and preserving these histories. By shedding light on this system, New Power is aimed at drawing attention to those whose life stories and histories often go unheard and unrecorded. In New Power, Maxwell appropriates this structure established by the art circuit, an action he considers a significant part of an effective long-term empowerment strategy.
Beyond the series's cynicism, critiques, and observations, its foretelling is manifested in the present as a self-portrait. It recounts the artist's journey, from his professional ascent to his financial and social successes, all through his activity in contemporary art, conveying the remarkable narrative of a young black male from the favela. “I looked around and found myself in a world dominated almost exclusively by white people. The series is a study and mapping of the contradictions, pitfalls, and opportunities in this field, so that more black people can enter, not only as spectators or the subjects of artworks but as active agents in positions of power: curators, artists, collectors, directors, funders, gallerists, and so on,” the artist states.
New Power: Passability
Like all the work created by Maxwell Alexandre, the New Power series is a living entity, evolving organically. Nevertheless, in New Power: Passability the series’s next moment is established. Here, the artist emphasizes the passage, literally, of black people through the white cube, thus defining the concept of “passability”: walking confidently and calmly in contemporary art exhibition spaces.
Through his beautiful and elegant black characters, Maxwell proposes a firm, confident, and stylish stroll as though strutting along the catwalk at a fashion show. For this proposal, the artist creates an intersection between the fields of art and fashion, defining them as platforms of influence, imparting self-esteem and dignity to the subject. Maxwell points to fashion as a correlate of art, insofar as it also serves as a tool for social distinction, maintaining the exclusive place of certain social castes. “Entering the Louvre or Louis Vuitton is the same thing. A very similar feeling of not belonging arises when one enters a museum or a jewelry and designer-label store, either due to the unwritten codes of these settings or usually due to the disadvantaged financial position of black people or those from the urban periphery,” the artist says. In contrast to this exclusion, in passability, some figures adopt these codes, highlighting a shift to a more blasé form of bold attitude, thus drawing a parallel between ostentation and this behavior more common to these spaces.
In common stereotypes, beauty and sensitivity aren’t typically linked to black people. Throughout history, fashion and art have been two pillars serving to uphold this disassociation. Colonial barriers like this are subverted by the narratives of New Power: Passability with the well-dressed and refined figures, at home with designer labels and philosophy, at the catwalk or in the museum – the two ultimate instances of fashion and art.
Passability first gained prominence at Maxwell’s initial solo show in Spain, New Power: Passability, inaugurated in February of this year at La Casa Encendida, in Madrid. There, a painting was presented that centralized the concept of the new term, in which a large number of people and situations are depicted against a purely white background, alluding directly to a vernissage. For this reason, its composition resembled that of a “Mother” painting, as were common at the origin of the Pardo é Papel series. The striking nature of the painting was enhanced by its materiality, being Maxwell’s first large-format paper work painted exclusively in oil. Due to the weight of the various layers of paint on the paper, its installation system needed reinforcing. The physical weight was a novelty in Maxwell’s trajectory, along with the visual weight of that work, which differed from the others in the exhibition made with more rudimentary materials that the artist had used up till then: shoe polish, latex wall paint, henê hair dye/relaxer, among other even more rudimentary ones.
The Maxwell Alexandre Pavilion
On April 1st, Maxwell Alexandre inaugurated his 1st Pavilion in São Cristóvão district, Rio de Janeiro. The project allows for the creation of annexed, parallel spaces where the artist will extend the discourse of his exhibitions in the official contemporary art circuit. The Pavilion also offers a chance for his work to develop and expand in the context of a Brazilian audience, as Maxwell’s institutional activity is primarily overseas.
Maxwell aims to use this space to carry out experiments and to present freshly finished or even unfinished, uncertain, and fragile works, breaking free as much as possible from institutional bureaucracies and the demands of the art market, which always wants perfect and immaculate art objects.
The 1st Pavilion served as an extension of the exhibition New Power: Passibility, that was held in Madrid. For the exhibition in Brazil, Maxwell prepared an ambitious installation consisting of more than 50 portraits painted in oil on kraft paper. For a little more than three months, the experiment occupied a recently renovated warehouse with an area of approximately 1,000 square meters. During this time, the artist expanded and deepened the discussion about passability, establishing a program connected with the still ongoing show in Spain. The large “standard” panels, which dominated his previous exhibitions, now gave way to smaller-format paintings. The human characters, which had previously been part of complex compositions in those large images, were now pictured prominently in paintings measuring 210 x 80 cm. These new measurements brought the depicted figures closer to the human scale, allowing the painted characters to stage their physical presence in the gallery. The new, narrower format of the paper and its verticality intensified the notion of a catwalk, a corridor, a walk, a parade.
About the insertion of oil paint in the paintings on paper, the artist comments: “To me it seems very apt to use the most glamorous material in art history to create portraits in “passability.” Oil paint provides more splendid and vibrant visual results. The paint’s sophistication combined with the elegance of the depicted characters sets up the perfect dialogue to express the confidence and tranquility of these figures, who move with confidence and full awareness through the exhibition spaces.” By isolating the characters against a white background, Maxwell invokes the portrait as one of the genres most often used in art history to dignify a person.
The brown rectangles, which in New Power symbolize the work of art, are no longer distributed across various works in the exhibition – they are now uniquely present only in the background of the warehouse, behind all the paintings, with a huge panel measuring 560 x 1200 cm. The exhibition thus shifts the focus away from the art object to emphasize the individual in the exhibition space, centralizing this presence in a scenario of competition and the power of images. This dynamic is akin to that of vernissages, where, despite being an event for the celebration and contemplation of art, what really matters is the gathering of people. At vernissages, the power dynamics and social distinction are established on the basis of unwritten codes ranging from the people’s clothes and accessories, to their way of speaking and appreciating art, as well as which group or circle of conversation one participates in. It’s the glamorous and vain game of the art world, where the body and presence of the people drive the interactions more than do the sacred objects in the frames or on the pedestals. When the people parade, when they walk confidently on a day like this, they are affirming this New Power that Maxwell reinforces through the concept of passability.
In March of 2023, SP-Arte, an institution renowned for holding the largest annual art fair in Latin America, inaugurated its Casa SP-Arte. This new space was conceived with the aim of serving galleries and their artists, presenting projects with a unique approach compared to the regular art fairs. Now, the exhibitions will be scheduled for longer durations, focused on just one project at a time. Located inside a modernist villa of individual houses in São Paulo’s Jardins district, the casa was designed by the architect Flávio de Carvalho.
the power of the signature.
The building that houses Casa SP-Arte stands out in the modernist villa as the only one among 17 that has been restored in its original design. Flávio de Carvalho’s name and signature are a further empowerment for this fresh initiative. “Flávio’s design is so highly acclaimed, so much revered, that no exhibition I’ve seen there has managed to occupy, or to engage in a genuine dialogue with the space, without competing with the renowned architect’s aura. This challenge often arises in alternative exhibition spaces that diverge from the sealed-off, white-cube aesthetic of standard galleries. An exhibition proposal that ignores the architecture, history, and context of such venues will rarely emerge unscathed from this contest. The objects, as they are normally shown, seem disconnected from the space, and the relationship of indifference between the artwork and the temple it is in gives rise to a strident clashing,” Maxwell comments.
they killed hélio oiticica.
Casa SP-Arte’s inaugural exhibition was Hélio Oiticica: mundo–labirinto in March 2023. Given this context, when conceiving his exhibition at the Casa, Maxwell thought deeply about how Oiticica’s name was imbued in the house’s history, as was also the aura of Flávio de Carvalho.
It’s intriguing to note that a central element of the practice of all three of these multidisciplinary artists – whether in their architecture, their painting, or their attire – is to place the public at center stage in the discussion of their work. This invitation goes beyond interpretative and intellectual questions; rather, it involves the physical body and encourages active engagement, unlike the normal passive spectating role.
“From what I know about Hélio, he was a tremendous experimenter, just as Flávio was. I imagine Hélio walking into that previous exhibition, observing his art being shown like that – a dead exhibition where the artworks resemble mummified versions of what were once vibrant propositions. That exhibition somehow kills Hélio once again. I don’t say this to personally attack or place blame on any curatorial plan or exhibition design. But it’s glaringly apparent to me that a bureaucratic display of artworks by a seminal artist like him is a sort of sacrilege. It moreover sheds light on the rapacious appetite of the murky secondary art market. So the potential for a genuine dialogue between Hélio and Flávio is lost there. I want my exhibition to somehow energize that space, consistent with the pioneering, transgressive, and experimental legacy of those artists,” Maxwell says.
Brazilianness: the legacy of alleys, crossroads, and the Church of the Kingdom of Art
In his new exhibition, held at Casa SP-Arte in a joint effort with Millan gallery – which now represents Maxwell Alexandre – the artist plans to establish a conscious dialogue with figures who have left their mark on that former residence and current art venue, namely Flávio de Carvalho and Hélio Oiticica. Maxwell’s primary objective, however, is to occupy the Casa without letting his own signature wane in the presence of Flávio’s architectural design.
Improvised and makeshift solutions are strong hallmarks of Brazilian practice, and Maxwell’s production has been in keeping with this. With his brown kraft papers, he has built scenographic walls, cutting the paper and mending it with adhesive tape. In this way, the artist has reconfigured large exhibition rooms in prestigious institutions worldwide. His installations with large sheets of paper hanging in the middle of rooms have altered visitor flow inside galleries in museums and cultural centers, as he has closed off pathways, opened up others, created corridors, rooms within rooms, mimicking the white cube inside the white cube itself.
Maxwell’s incisive critique of Hélio’s exhibition, which preceded his own at Casa SP-Arte, might almost seem unfair, considering how difficult it is to design a solid exhibition. In Maxwell’s case, however, the semantics he has established with large sheets of paper – a light, malleable, and affordable material – made this task easier. The characteristics of paper and its possibilities allows him to redesign any sort of exhibition space: a white cube, a house, or church. Using this material and his engineering, he manages to hold his ground in the competition with the architecture of the place, or at the very least, affirm the value of his art. The brown kraft papers allow the artist the chance to establish his own authorial architecture, or at least generate a sort of co-authorship with Flávio de Carvalho’s design during the exhibition period.
This distinctive feature of Maxwell’s work did not arise by chance; it is influenced by his background. The artist was born and raised in the Rocinha favela and for a time was a professional street skater, an activity which, according to critic Fernando Cocchiarale, shaped his perception of space – “his skater’s body and the wheels beneath his feet made him akin to a swift commuter zipping around the city on a daily basis, thus igniting an artistic, poetic curiosity, specifically for the dazzling flow of images through which, for a decade, he watched the city of Rio de Janeiro glide by. The final years of this era saw his first paintings of graphic patterns on walls and urban equipment – fluid and gestural paintings, nearly as swift as his skating.”
As a co-founding member of A Noiva – Igreja do Reino da Arte [The Bride – Church of the Kingdom of Art], Maxwell has actively participated in rituals and liturgical services held in homes in the favelas and apartments in Rio’s South Zone. At such events, it’s customary to install art objects for determined rituals. He has furthermore often carried and displayed his pieces during street processions and offerings. It seems that these practices, in both sports and religion, equipped the artist with his ability to cope with challenging spaces and put his art pieces into operation. These abilities are complemented by Maxwell’s academic background in design, specifically in visual communication. This education gave him an understanding of space and its articulations, whether in painting, photography, video, graphic layout, or the design of settings. His development continued in 2018, when Maxwell began to be represented by the gallery A Gentil Carioca, a relationship that spanned the initial five years of his professional career in art. Housed in a heritage building at an intersection in downtown Rio de Janeiro, the gallery is very unlike the idea of the traditional white cube, as its aesthetic is far from neutral. It has many windows providing natural lighting, a pool area, an irregular stone wall, and wooden floors on its different levels. Staircases, ramps, a skylight, and a section of its roof covered in antique tiles all help to compose this unique space. It was in this setting that Maxwell made his debut in the contemporary art circuit, in his first solo show, O Batismo de Maxwell Alexandre [The Baptism of Maxwell Alexandre]. In that exhibition, the artist carried out an excellent occupation of the gallery’s settings, with monumental paintings on canvas, doors and windows with iron and wooden frames, and an entire room lined with brown kraft paper, with household items, drawings, toys, food, photos, a baptismal tank, and so on.
fashion: a shared interest
Flávio de Carvalho’s interest in fashion is seen in his illustrations and articles for newspapers. He also designed and produced a summer outfit he wore himself, which he called New Look. This attire for men in the tropics was, essentially, a skirt paired with a loose fitting short-sleeved shirt. In one of his most celebrated actions, which he called Experiência Número 2, Flávio wore a cap he had acquired while studying in England and walked deliberately against the flow of a Corpus Christi procession, generating controversy and hostile reactions from the crowd.
Maxwell Alexandre was introduced to fashion through his immersion in the street skating culture, which was highly influential in countries like the USA, UK, France, and Spain. Inspired by videos of skater Alex Broskow, Maxwell’s style and behavior became distinctly different from the prevailing trends in his social circle in Brazil. Later, when he enrolled in a design course, Maxwell thought about a career in fashion, but he eventually chose to focus on visual communication, considering it a broader field more aligned with his general interests. That decision, however, didn’t stop him from including specific fashion subjects in his curriculum or attending the college’s fashion lab. It was in that lab that Maxwell began to sew the initial supports for his first abstract paintings, which he made using skating tricks. Also within that environment he started collecting his first pieces of brown kraft paper, attracted to their shapes as well as the notes, lines, doodles, and clothing measurements made by students on those pieces of paper typically used for designing patterns for shirts, skirts, dresses, etc.
The event at Casa SP-Arte will not be the first convergence of this shared passion between Maxwell and Flávio. In 2022, curators Pollyanna Quintela and Kiki Mazzucchelli invited Maxwell to participate in the exhibition Flávio de Carvalho Experimental at Sesc Pompeia. On that occasion, Maxwell presented a panel where fashion, specifically catwalk modeling, was the central theme. That untitled panel measuring 480 x 240 cm belongs to the series Pardo é Papel: First Contact. The piece was originally produced in 2020 for an exhibition of the same title held at the Museum of Contemporary African Art in Marrakech (MACAAL).
the greatest of all.
For Maxwell Alexandre, Arthur Bispo do Rosário stands as the supreme artist, which is why he often puts representations of Bispo’s works in his paintings, particularly in the New Power series. He does this because this series, which treats on specifically the contemporary art circuit, offers Maxwell a conceptual space in which he can refer to iconic works like Jeff Koons’s Gazing Ball, Damien Hirst’s aquariums, and even Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie. By associating Bispo with these figures – who achieved massive success during their lifetimes and whose careers were closely intertwined with the art market – Maxwell creates a critical effect where he once again challenges the values of this circuit.
Although Maxwell aims to establish a dialogue with Flávio and Hélio in the new exhibition, he has chosen Arthur Bispo do Rosário as his main reference, incorporating a piece by Bispo in one of his paintings and making it the focal point of his exhibition: the beauty queen sash titled Miss Brasil.
This piece by Bispo do Rosário refers to the national beauty queen contest, Brazil’s most traditional beauty pageant held yearly to select the nation’s representative of Brazilian feminine beauty from among contestants from every state. In contexts like this, the sash bears multiple meanings. It often operates as a badge of prestige, as does the presidential sash, which is an official institutional symbol of one of the country’s most esteemed positions. We can therefore make a link with the symbolism of the Miss Brasil sash, which, when worn by the chosen beauty queen, grants her a status as a sort of national beauty standard to be exported to the world.
New Power: Passability, Miss Brasil
Flávio de Carvalho, Hélio Oiticica, and Arthur Bispo do Rosário are three artists who wore their works as clothing, making a striking affirmation of Brazilian identity, each in his own specific artistic language. The influence of these artists was crucial in shaping Maxwell Alexandre’s works presented in the show at Casa SP-Arte.
Hélio’s Parangolés, designed not just to be worn but also danced in and activated through motion, along with Flávio’s New Look fashion design, can be validly compared with the creations of professional fashion designers. And for his part, Bispo, even though he refused the label of artist – a title both the public and critics resoundingly assigned to him – in this context also offers a reading that helps establish relationships between art and fashion, in his renowned mantles and other pieces decorated with embroidery and sewing.
While in the initial phase of passability the emphasis was on the idea of elegant and beautiful black characters, strolling confidently through gallery and museum spaces, in Miss Brasil these figures go beyond that comfort and assuredness to take on a more cheeky and worldly demeanor, embracing a show-stopping vibe of “killing it.” These characters now appear to be so well acclimated to the gallery and museum settings that their outfits go beyond being mere attire for art celebrations or vernissages. They have become allegorical, reminiscent of costumes linked to fun events and popular celebrations like Carnival, folklore, the Folia de Reis festival, and the carnival bate-bola [ball-slamming] parades.
In this new approach, Maxwell also depicts characters in everyday situations – like the local black woman in a floral skirt who is out shopping at the market, police officers and school students in their respective uniforms. This locates their daily attire – whether worn by government officials or homemakers – halfway between reality and fantasy, between nonbelonging and overbelonging.
Miss Brasil epitomizes the pinnacle of black individuals being elevated within the elitist and exclusionary context of art. The works by Flávio, by Hélio, and especially by Bispo do Rosário, echo the clothing of the characters constructed for this exhibition. They proclaim that everything that’s beautiful and valuable in this country is intrinsically linked to the melanized body. Brazilian cultural identity and its advancements belong to the Afro-Brazilians. In New Power: Passability, Miss Brasil, the self-esteem of marginalized individuals becomes the new face of art, fashion, and Brazil – no longer due to exploitation but to sensibility, beauty, and subjectivity.
The large-format paintings opened new possibilities in Maxwell’s approach to exhibition design, challenging the conventional structure of exhibition spaces. Since these artworks are hung in the middle of the room, rather than attached to walls, the back of the paper is also on display. The structures of adhesive tape mending the papers together thus become visible, as do also various splotches where the official painting on the front seeped through the paper. There is also an effect where ambient light filters through the sheets, revealing their translucency. Rips, mendings, and wrinkles can be seen. All these features are part of the artwork’s semantics. The material’s fragility is powerfully poetic when one considers the narratives painted on it. The large sheets sway subtly in the space, and this movement intensifies with the flow of more visitors through the rooms, walking among the artworks. It’s as though the work were alive, and this exhibition design helps us understand that the show isn’t only about painting – it’s also about sound, air, flow, enactment, architecture, and movement.
Analyzing the origins of the New Power series, it is a complex task to determine the role that this approach played in its creation. The chromatic triad of black, brown, and white in the series operates in three different ways. The white mainly represents the exhibition space itself. And when it shares the same setting with the sheets of brown kraft paper painted white, these artistic supports take on a scenographic role, mimicking the walls of the venue where they are shown.
Maxwell takes this aim of theatricalizing the series one step forward in the exhibition New Power: passability, Miss Brasil at Casa SP-Arte, introducing an installation that he calls Gallery 1. This work has a format that literally resembles that of a white cube. An entrance in the front allows visitors to go inside. Although the sheets are unpainted, the external light filtering through them nevertheless reveals the yellowish hue of the brown kraft paper, which in the semantics of the series represents the manifestation of the art object. Operating as a kind of central axis for the exhibition, this installation perhaps offers the most concise and educational representation of the symbolic roles of white and brown in the New Power series.
Gallery 1 launches a new subseries within New Power, where these staged exhibition spaces are constructed. The piece manifests Maxwell’s interest in dedicated spaces established within the art circuit, like the pavilion bearing his name that he himself made. Exhibition spaces are temples for the affirmation of power, where to a certain extent the public’s behavior can be determined and manipulated based on a program established for that setting and occasion. This is done through the exhibition design, the critical analysis, and the curatorship in regard to what is shown and how it is exhibited.
The idea for the Gallery series idea also arises from Maxwell’s observations of the spaces at MoMA, which displays the names of collectors in nearly every hallway. As the artist sees it, this clearly represents the symbolic capital and the ostentation of power which are created to distinguish certain social strata and grant prestige to them. It’s nearly comical, and yet at the same time it overtly reveals the game of vanity inherent in the art circuit. “I remember that when I entered MoMA for the first time I was very surprised and shocked to find names of people and families everywhere. Everyone had a gallery or a space in the museum; all that remained was to allocate the restrooms,” the artist recalls.
Penetrável PN1 and Gallery 1
Gallery 1 establishes an implicit dialogue with Hélio Oiticica’s prior exhibition at Casa SP-Arte. Oiticica’s Penetrável PN 1, with its yellowish hues very similar to the tone of brown kraft paper, which previously occupied the very same spot, now finds its resonance in Maxwell Alexandre’s artwork. Upon entering Maxwell’s Gallery 1, the color hits one’s body, akin to the immersive experience in Oiticica’s work.
The relationship between these two artworks reinforces the theme of Brazilianness present in the new figurative paintings shown here. This connection is important not only in light of the Brazilian nationality shared by the two artists but also because of Hélio’s extensive exploration of Brazilianness, like few other artists. Thus, while Gallery 1 concisely encapsulates specific themes in New Power, it also subtly refers to the richness of Brazilian art and its role in the ongoing evolution of the country’s cultural identity.
Gallery 1 was designed specifically for Casa SP-Arte and its architecture. It stands just inside the entrance to the Casa, rising up very high within the space, and can be contemplated from the mezzanine halfway up the staircase that connects the house’s first and second floors.
On the Casa’s second floor, Maxwell has installed a diptych of golden frames, in the architecture’s rotunda. The artworks are displayed side by side, following the curvature of the walls from the room’s entrance to the edges of the central window. This particular window is the only one Maxwell has not covered with his artworks on paper, allowing natural light to enter and bathe the frames, lending a glow to the golden paint. The last room on this floor is occupied solely by another golden frame. In both works, one can identify the rudimentary materials Maxwell used in his earlier works: latex wall paint, charcoal, and bitumen.
The golden frames, with their luxurious tone, play a complementary role in the fundamental color palette of the New Power series. Such frames enhance the artwork they surround, lending it a heightened sense of importance. This transcendent relationship between the frame and its painting is like how jewelry enhances the human body, granting status and relevance.
At its core, this symbolic value that the golden frame confers to the painting is linked through analogy to the value of gold as a precious metal. This connection between gold and its historical importance, however, is rooted in a history of exploitation.
The central decoration on the frame in the final room is the emblem of the city of Rio de Janeiro: foliage, a boat at the center, and two marine creatures which in the municipality’s updated version are depicted as dolphins. Meanwhile, the diptych, titled Cafezal [coffee plantation], is decorated with coffee plants all around the frame. This particular decoration in New Power: passability, Miss Brasil subtly urges us to recall the colonial character of certain histories and tightens the link between the past and the revered spaces for the contemplation of art: the white cubes. Recalling for whom and by whom these spaces were initially constructed sheds light on the values they were meant to uphold and the legacies they served to preserve. Thus, even though the coffee motif contrasts with gold in color, both share a historical backdrop rooted in slavery. Historically, coffee played a pivotal role in Brazil’s economy, especially during colonial and imperial times, becoming a key agricultural product that drove Brazil’s prosperity.
By establishing the relationship between the golden frame and coffee in an exhibition being held in Brazil, Maxwell adds a historical layer to the exhibition space itself, tensioning the frameworks and narratives that shaped the nation’s cultural landscape. Cafezal thus beckons the viewer to reconsider the origins of the divide between the sterile white cube and the black body, hinting at why these bodies have nearly always been at the service of these spaces – subjugated and underrepresented.
A usage manual. how to use the casa? how to enter these spaces?
When he wrote a user manual for the modernist homes in the villa, Flávio de Carvalho aimed to educate its inhabitants in regard to a new sort of society, demonstrating his distinct approaches, personal guidelines, and unwavering convictions about his work. For his part, with his New Power series, Maxwell Alexandre sets forth concepts that empower black individuals to confidently occupy new spaces, while raising awareness about the inherent hostility within such environments. According to Maxwell, this assertive stance should emanate from the inside out of this body subjugated by any prevailing system of legitimization. Such insights lend meaning to the term passability.
The usage manual for the houses and for the New Power series each share a similar purpose. While encouraging this movement of entering, and creating invitations for these individuals to explore these temples for the contemplation of art, Maxwell also senses a need to convey messages that assist them in navigating these barriers. The passability that Maxwell espouses originates from within, and begins with behavior, denying the established norms. It’s as though self-esteem were encouraging this body to stroll confidently in a space that was historically denied to it, amidst glances that judge and condemn – a space that adores its culture, yet fetishizes and degrades its physicality, presence, and very existence. Novo Poder: passability, Miss Brasil serves as a user’s manual, a mapping, and a spirited proposal to be taken up, even if with a hint of sly jest.