LES EXTRAORDINAIRES MÉSAVENTURES DE LA JEUNE FILLE DE PIERRE. Gabriel Abrantes, 2019
In 2010, Gabriel Abrantes had his first solo exhibition in a museum in Portugal.That same year, the Portuguese-American artist won the prize for best short film at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, with the film A History of Mutual Respect, which was shortly after included in a large group show that opened simultaneously at the Palais de Tokyo and at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC. It was also around that time that, with the curator and longtime friend Natxo Checa and Lisbon's Galeria ZDB, he founded the independent film production company Mutual Respect Productions, through which he would direct and co-produce many of his films, shot in different locations around the world with different social contexts, such as Haiti, Sri Lanka and Angola. In his early twenties and already flaunting his peculiar and singular vision, Abrantes quickly became a regular presence in international festivals and European cinemas, and was awarded numerous prizes and notable awards, among which stands out the Critics’ Week Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, which he won in 2018 with his first feature film, Diamantino.
The exhibition opens with watercolours hung along the corridor, a series that introduces an intimate and autobiographical dimension unusual in his work. Except for the room where the painting As Banhistas [The Bathers] is displayed, the exhibition is divided into six distinct environments, each inspired by one of the artist’s films. The first room is dedicated to his most recent short film, Les Extraordinaires Mésaventures de la Jeune Fille de Pierre and includes one of the new VR 3D animations made specifically for this solo exhibition at MAAT. In the case of Visionary Iraq (2008) and Too Many Daddies, Mommies and Babies (2009), the film which won him the EDP Foundation’s New Artists Award, replicas of the original film sets have been recreated. Produced between 2008 and 2019, these film works are based on complex narratives that combine a series of historical, social and political situations with a critical reflection on major themes of anthropology, modernity and identity.
Abrantes’ new paintings are populated by enigmatic and ambiguous characters, both cute and grotesque, hovering on a blue background resembling a deserted and gloomy landscape, evocative of a metaphysical space-time that transcends the physical materiality of the canvas. With images created using a range of computer animation software, they confirm Abrantes’ growing interest in the meeting point between 3D computer animation, artificial intelligence and art history, with a special focus on Western painting. In them, one can spot references to Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso or Ed Ruscha, but also to the votive figures of the Archaic Dynastic Period, to commedia dell'arte or the visual aesthetics of Disney and Pixar films, and to the famous American cartoons (Talkartoons) distributed by Paramount Pictures in the 1920s and 30s. Considering the relationship between cinema and painting and the concomitance between these two different practices — while acknowledging the successive interruptions and deviations of the latter, it is clear that the films’ imagery owes a lot to the painter’s source material — for example, the futuristic robot from Humores Artificiais (2017) is a clear reference to René Magritte’s iconic bells — and that, in the case of this new series of paintings, his inspiration also comes from animation movies and short films.
With his seemingly inexhaustible well of references and resources, Abrantes is an unconventional artist who delights global audiences and challenges the traditional boundaries between the disciplines of cinema and contemporary art. Being more than a simple retrospective of his work, Programmed Melancholy proposes an experimental (and open) stage for visual encounters that guide the visitor through the unorthodox and seductive work of one of the most prolific artists (and filmmakers) today...? today, revisiting different moments and phases of his career as a (somewhat romantic) attempt to integrate past, present and future.