Art as a Trigger

Valeska Soares: Any Moment Now

text and images courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

 Valeska Soares, Any Moment Now…, 2014. 365 vintage dust jackets mounted on linen panels and 4 vintage library ladders. Courtesy of Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and Alexander Gray Associates, New York. Installation view, Eleven Rivington Gallery, New York, 2014. Photo: Charles Benton.

For many visitors, from newcomers to longtime museum-goers, contemporary art remains something of a mystery. Why does an everyday object, like a vintage book cover, become art when it’s placed in a museum? How do we connect with a minimalist painting or installation when its intent may be a mystery, its meaning obscured? These examples of highly conceptual art seem to exist in a completely different realm than Renaissance sculptures or the paintings of the Old Masters of European art, often leading to the inevitable question: Is it art at all?

The exhibition which debuted this past weekend may offer some illuminating answers to these very questions. Valeska Soares: Any Moment Now, organized by Phoenix Art Museum and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, is a mid-career survey of Valeska Soares. A Brazilian-born artist now based in Brooklyn, New York, Soares is known for creating multimedia installations, as well as sculptures, collages and assemblages that often incorporate scent, sound and motion with a uniquely clean, polished aesthetic.

 Valeska Soares, Finale, 2013. Antique table, 151 antique glasses, 5 pitchers, 3 decanters, liquor and mirror. The Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, Miami. Photo: Oriol Tarridas. 

Born in 1957 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Soares was originally trained as an architect. She received a Bachelor of Architecture from the Universidade Santa Ursula and a postgraduate diploma  in the History of Art and Architecture from the Pontificia Universidade Católica while living in Rio de Janeiro.

When encountering Soares’ work for the first time, keeping the idea of architecture in mind can serve as a helpful guide.Whether its an imposing cathedral with soaring ceilings, a giant concert arena or even a white-walled museum, a well-designed structure can inspire profound emotions and sensations, from worship and awe to fear or comfort, joy or nostalgia. This proves that the experience of a great work of architecture revolves around feeling, not knowledge. Learning about the technological developments of skyscrapers can be fascinating, but it is by no means vital to appreciating the great buildings of the world.

The idea of individual experience and sensation lives at the core of Soares’ artwork. Although her practice takes on many forms, her art shares a common purpose: to serve as a trigger, entirely dependent on the subjective experience of each individual viewer.

Valeska Soares, Stop Motion, 2012. 40 disco balls, motors and computer. Courtesy of Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and Alexander Gray Associates, New York. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano.

One of the first things viewers may notice in Any Moment Now is the number of blank surfaces. The walls stand free of labels, encouraging visitors to rely on their own interpretations. A pair of pristine marble sculptures, titled Duet I, creates an incredible illusion of soft, white pillows bearing the imprint of two people who have just gotten out of bed. Fainting Couch, a stainless-steel bed sculpture with perforated holes, unexpectedly perfumes the air: this plinth turns out to be filled with fragrant Stargazer lilies, replaced weekly to maintain the aroma.

Even artworks that incorporate words, like the vintage book covers, suggests meaning rather than spell it out, with titles such as The Morning After and Now or Never. The polished, minimalistic look of Soares’ art encourages viewers to project their own thought or desires onto deceptively blank exteriors.

Similarly, the everyday objects that Soares incorporates into her installations are meant to elicit emotions and memories and also demand viewers’ active engagement. These everyday items include glasses, furniture, books, tables, light bulbs and mirrors. For the most part, their physical forms haven’t been altered: it’s their placement in relation to one another  that gives them new life as art objects. She takes these objects and by placing them in inventive arrangements or imbuing them with scent, motion, sound and even physical touch, she turns them into metaphors of everyday experience, works that evoke memories of a universal, deeply human nature.

Valeska Soares, Un-rest, 2010. 128 footstools and 1 glass chair. Courtesy of Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and Alexander Gray Associates, New York. Photo: Ronald Amstuz. 

Her work is not politicized or socio-historical. Instead it deals with love, desire, intimacy and relationships; the passing of time; dreams that may never materialize but lay dormant nonetheless. The art only exists with each viewer’s memories and emotions, triggered by the sights, scents and sounds of the work.

In its conceptual origins, Soares’ artwork is incredibly complex. She is the artistic heir of a long line of Brazilian artists who made key contributions to 20th century art, and her work is built upon those achievements to leave a critical impact on the international legacy of installation art.

Soares’ art strongly insists that the viewer’s emotions and sensations are the key to its meaning. Valeska Soares: Any Moment Now simply asks us to experience. And it also reminds us of an important possibility — that although many kinds of knowledge may influence the process of creation, an artwork is rarely complete until it encounters a viewer, whose experience of sights and sounds, through the lens of memories, sensations, emotions and dreams, can transform an ordinary object into something extraordinary.


Valeska Soares: Any Moment Now

Through July 15

Phoenix Art Museum

Marcus and Marley Galleries