The art world is forever enmeshed in the debate of whether it is right to show graffiti art in galleries. While many a graffiti artist is worth celebrating, an organized indoor exhibition is generally not the means to do so, as street art is so closely tied to its surrounding environment and location. Such is not necessarily the case, however, with the work of Brazilian street artists Os Gemeos ("the twins" in Portuguese), who had their first solo New York show last month at the trendy Deitch Projects Gallery in SoHo.
While much of Os Gemeos’s press and hype has sprung from their ubiquitous murals on the streets of Sao Paulo, the twins are also accomplished graphic designers, painters, and sculptors in their own right. It was this aspect of their work, and not their public work, that was emphasized at the Cavaleiro Marginal ("Marginal Rider") show at Deitch that ran from March 12th through April 2nd.
The twins in question, Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, owe as much to Diego Rivera, Gustav Klimt and Dr. Seuss as they do to the graffiti artists of hip hop culture, and their unique, fantastic characters look equally at home on canvas as they do on city streets and buildings. Their style is decidedly unique, though, and the two brothers are said to work side by side, always together, on each piece, one often finishing off what the other had started.
It is often said that twins have a special connection, or even a language that only they understand. If this is indeed the case, Os Gemeos’s is manifested in what they refer to as "Tritrez" an imaginary place known only to them, where their playful yellow-faced characters come from. These figures are featured in all of the twins’ work, and are on the one hand extremely surreal and at times seemingly childish, yet are somehow also hyper-realistic in their reflection of human nature and contemporary society. For although they come from a fictitious place, this place and its people are clearly an amalgam of real life, as depicted in the show’s catalogue, which includes photographs of some of the people and images that inspired the patterns, colors, and characteristics of Os Gemeos’s affable characters.
Each of the three rooms at Deitch’s Grand Street space focused on a different aspect of the twins’ work. The first room included several sculptures: boxes made out of discarded wood, decorated with sequins, paint, soda cans, and other mixed media, and featuring the staple yellow-faced characters. These sculptures were by far the least impressive of the twins’ work, as they lacked the boldness and impact that the size, color, and patterns of their paintings and installations, featured in the other two rooms.
The other front room featured about ten paintings on canvas and wood, each of a different character, with an accompanying soundtrack courtesy of discmen hung on the wall next to the paintings. It is in these works that the brothers’ phenomenal talent is most evident. The images are at times exact replicas of some of their graffiti art, but the canvas medium enables them to spend more time on the intricate patterns, subtle details, and overall composition that is often impossible on an outdoor mural.
Each work is extremely intricate, some with sequins or glitter, and others with silk-screened images of newspaper articles or photos in the background. But while some elements are extremely life-like and seemingly three-dimensional, other aspects (like the people themselves) are completely flat and disproportionate, adding a playful twist to the images.
The most impressive part of Cavaleiro Marginal was by far the installation in the back room. It combined all the different media employed by Os Gemeos, with colorful, detailed murals and collage on the walls, interspersed with sculptures of puppet-like people with their heads inside cuckoo clocks, multiple, sometimes overlapping patterns, and an enormous 3-D rendition of one of their typical people lying on his side, where you can walk inside his "head" (only to encounter a room of mirrors with an infinite number of your own reflection looking back at you). The whole piece is highly fantastical, and has a certain young, childlike effect to it, but is somehow too intricate and thought out to be infantile. The impact of the room is decidedly otherworldly, though, perhaps evoking the "Tritrez" the twins speak about.
The installation, prepared in just a few days and only on display for a bit over two weeks, also possessed a certain fleeting aspect to it, thus perhaps adding more value and importance to it than the paintings and sculptures in the other rooms (though these were selling for tens of thousands of dollars!)
While the price tag on the actual pieces was too steep for your average viewer, Os Gemeos added a nice touch to their show by giving away the Cavaleiro Marginal book, a collaboration with Nike, for free, thus keeping with the notion of accessible art for the masses. The book is made up of some of the works from the show, as well as photos of their street murals and other installations.
Two days after the show opened in New York, Otavio and Gustavo jetted off to Hong Kong for another event of theirs, but not to fear, the twins will most likely be back! This exhibit of Cavaleiro Marginal was dubbed "Part 1," hopefully implying a second one to come. The brothers’ masterful combination of playful imagination, pure skill, and social relevance was extremely refreshing, especially at a gallery that until now has pretty much ignored work coming from parts of the world not known for their glamorous art scenes.