Julião Sarmento. Works 1981–1996

EXHIBITION 24.10.97 – 18.01.98

Julião Sarmento (born 1948) is regarded as one of the most important contemporary Portuguese artists. With close to 80 paintings, the exhibition at Haus der Kunst offers an overview of his work to date, focusing on the large-format paintings from the 1980s and 1990s.

After Sarmento initially made a name for himself as a conceptual artist with photographic installations and experimental films, he turned to painting in the 1980s. His works range from the symbolic and expressive paintings on brown packing paper from the early 1980s through the dark-hued painterly and opulent oil paintings, with their enigmatic characters and symbols, to the White Paintings of the 1990s.

Although the paintings initially appear random and fragmentary, on closer inspection they reveal a narrative richness. Full of mysterious signs and characters, they deal with human relationships interwoven between memory, desire, and fantasy. The works from the 1980s, particularly the love scenes, are characterized by an atmosphere of ferocity and animal instinct and are reminiscent of cinematic images, as is the case with "Estratégias de Sobrevivencia" (1984). Often they relate to rituals that illuminate the night to reveal what lies hidden in the darkness. The animals that have populated Sarmento's work from the beginning embody man's natural element; his natural instinct and instinctuality. They are like the human figures in the works and are not only witnesses but also fellow players, as in the mystical pair "David and Devil" (1986).

Since the mid-1980s, headless and faceless figures have been familiar motifs in Sarmento's work, for example the female figures in the White Paintings, begun in the 1990s. As figural fragments, they demand that the viewer mentally completes the images. The use of concealment to challenge the viewer's imagination continues in the following years with the multiple outlining of the figures in transparent overpainted drawings and shadow paintings. Sarmento's images conceal as much as they reveal. The eroticism of many of the depictions places the viewer into the role of a voyeur. In concentrating on the female body, an effective game is set in motion – between tempting the viewer to look and the image's refusal to open itself completely to this process of seeing. 

Among the contemporary artists whose works concern the human body, Sarmento is one of the few to treat the body as more than just an object of manipulation. The Portuguese artist, rather, depicts the body as a vehicle of sensation and expression; as loving, suffering, and longing; as an aggressive and receptive vessel that constitutes a human being in his or her entirety (as in "Laura und Alice", 1994) – full of desire and vulnerability, a mystery to itself and others. 

Julião Sarmento, Descem por Ela as Maos da Noite, 1987, detail, The Giorgio Persano Collection, Torino
Julião Sarmento, Descem por Ela as Maos da Noite, 1987, detail, The Giorgio Persano Collection, Torino
Julião Sarmento, Untitled, 1981, detail, Fundacao Luso-Americana, Lisbon
Julião Sarmento, Untitled, 1981, detail, Fundacao Luso-Americana, Lisbon
Julião Sarmento, Prussian Blue, 1987, The Giorgio Persano Collection, Torino
Julião Sarmento, Prussian Blue, 1987, The Giorgio Persano Collection, Torino
Julião Sarmento. Works 1981–1996, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1997, photo Wilfried Petzi
Julião Sarmento. Works 1981–1996, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1997, photo Wilfried Petzi
Julião Sarmento. Works 1981–1996, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1997, photo Wilfried Petzi
Julião Sarmento. Works 1981–1996, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1997, photo Wilfried Petzi
Julião Sarmento. Works 1981–1996, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1997, photo Wilfried Petzi
Julião Sarmento. Works 1981–1996, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1997, photo Wilfried Petzi

Stretch your view


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