In the early ’80s, Marcelo Pombo started to make art related to the underground and gay culture under the dictatorships in Argentina and Brazil. Pombo’s trip to Brazil in 1982 was a true Starting Point. There he explored the nightlife and gay culture with their cruisings. Dibujos de San Pablo [The São Paulo Drawings] are an ethnographic fantasy made with soft pencil strokes, portraying scenes of sexual sociability with new dissident political imageries. Pombo stages an erotic genealogy of the monstrous, the insubordinate, the bizarre, those who overflow from the institutions of the discipline of the body, and the lustful and depraved.
Pombo is an artist of the minorities alien to normalization, such as children, the insane, and animals; of the invisible, the silenced, the declassed, the degenerate, the non-binary, and those without a future.
Upon returning to Argentina in 1983, Pombo learned about gay activism and joined GAG (Gay Action Group) one year later. GAG was a discussion, action, and social exchange group that published a magazine on politics and sexuality. GAG appeared in 1984, in Parque Lezama (Buenos Aires), against police edicts, violence, and discrimination. They came together to commemorate the Stonewall riots in New York. GAG presented itself with a handmade flag with the motto, “Let’s bring sex to the government and pleasure to power.” In 1985, Pombo illustrated the second edition of Sodoma magazine that discussed disobedience, prostitution, lesbian and gay movements, sexuality in prisons, raids in gay bars during the “democratic” leadership in Buenos Aires, and the persecution of homosexuals in Cuba.
In the context of civil strife and the visibility of the gay community, at a time when the appearance of AIDS was associated with homosexuality, Pombo’s work entered the Buenos Aires art scene. From his black and white drawings in the eighties, Pombo switched to light pink aesthetics (“arte rosa light”) in the second exhibition at the Rojas gallery: it is the political aesthetic of dripping anal vs. the cum shot. In the 1990s, the conceptual complexity of Pombo’s operations proliferated, including elements that deny certain premises of contemporary art: the incorporation of ornament, the decorative, and the cosmetic into the found object (“ready-made”). His artworks were crafted on the surfaces of objects collected and rescued from the street, then polished, painted, made up, and decorated.
It is an aesthetic associated with an ethos of the world of the poor that does not seek revolution, but progress and order, which finds joy in moments of escapism. Pombo’s therapeutic and artisanal conceptualism sacralizes everyday objects.
The exhibition concludes with five drawings Pombo made between 2022 and 2023: an obsessive weaving of lines and plots with ink, colored pencils, markers, acrylic, and tempera on paper. The three bodies of works (Dibujos de San Pablo [The São Paulo Drawings], Conceptual Textiles, and his recent drawings) presented at Barro NY contemplate the long path of Marcelo Pombo’s aesthetics from his Starting Point in São Paulo to his Artisanal Conceptualism. The subjugation of the conceptual by the artisanal is the limits of the baroque and the conservatively aberrant that deconstructs the antinomies of the cultured and the popular, the obscene and seduction, fine arts and crafts, the luxurious and the cheap, nature and culture.
Marcelo Pombo’s exhibition
Artisanal Conceptualism: Starting Point
March 30th – May 21st
BARRO NEW YORK
25 Peck Slip, New York, NY, 10038
PH: Cortina [Little curtain], 1993. Polyester fabric with sewn plastic appliqués and nylon rope. Variable measures.