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Casting a wide Neto


I walked into the Fab Friday night, not having read the press material on Ernesto Neto’s new piece debuting that night. I was expecting one of Neto’s pantyhose environments like “Nude Plasmic,” which Libby and I walked through in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie International 2000. (third image right)


Instead, Neto has made a grand canyon environment of buttery yellow soft and cozy foam rubber. (That the piece is not fabric caused the Fab’s Curator Ellen Napier, who introduced Neto before he spoke, to do a little dance about how it was appropriate for them to participate. But it didn’t worry me much since I’ve long accepted foam as a kind of cousin to felt in the extruded fabric category.)


Where Neto’s previous, womb-like piece took you back to infancy and caused you — walking through it shoeless and looking at all those hanging tonsils — to feel unempowered and off balance, the new work or works, called “The Gate” and “The Garden” empower you to be a Shackleton.

Walk into the snaking, nautilus like installation like an intrepid explorer. Experience the auditory deprivation that occurs when you’re surrounded by carved pieces of foam that tower five feet above you.

(Both Garden and Gate were shown in 2003 at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, and the two top images are Bonakdar installation shots)


Padded cells came to mind immediately once I was inside the piece, but so did the memory of Richard Serra’s rusty canyons of steel which we had walked among not so long ago at Gagosian (see post of Oct. 12). (image is of Serra’s Gagosian installation last fall)

But in spite of the geological references, Neto’s foam world also evokes something of the romance of Fred and Ginger dancing. The stripe-like cuts and skirted bottoms and tops of these soft canyons list forward and aft andneed only a little Cole Porter to take off.


Neto spoke and showed slides at the opening. The Brazilian born artist, 40, is an engaging, aerobic speaker who used his body this way and that, crouching or pointing, to illustrate things about his working methods. Interestingly, one of the first references the artist made to using fabric was to a dance performance he saw where the dancers used a piece of elastic fabric which triggered a kind of eureka moment for him about soft armatures and undulating forms.

Neto’s work seems process-driven and, as fits a man who connects viscerally with materials, his art practice is fueled by happy-accidents. You could feel the artist’s excitement about his process of discovering how socks and then women’s stockings could be filled with ball bearings and powders and spices then dropped from on high to create works of art about things referring to stars and biology.


Neto said he was into the cosmos and you could certainly read his dropped from on high powder dispersion pieces or “poofs” as having cosmic concerns.

But he is also concerned with human things like fragility and the body and works like “Nude Plasmic” reflect that in spades. About the fragility, he noted that there was always a limit to the work’s strength. Push the foam and it will topple; poke a hole in the stocking piece and it will develop a leak.


Since this new work raises the “how did he do that” factor I was happy to see the Fab has a video of the piece’s making. Called “The Making of the Silent Cliff, the Gate and the Garden,” the short video shows — silently — the simple but painstaking work of carving the foam. In a nutshell, here’s the m.o.

–huge blocks of foam were hoisted by crane up to the Fab’s 5th floor

–Neto laid an undulating line of string on the floor then chalked the line (representing the cuts)

–using an old-fashioned, two-person band-saw, the foam was carved — in a process that looked arduous with a lot of full-body pushing and pulling

–the carved pieces were pulled apart and positioned in their careful arrangements. (no armatures, no glue, just the foam) (bottom image, the artist in 2001 with his piece at the Venice Biennale)