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Maxwell Alexandre: “I am not relevant because I am black. My work is excellent"


The Brazilian artist with the most meteoric career in recent years opens his first solo exhibition in Spain, a provocation that shows black characters flaunting symbols of power and vanity

The first time that the Brazilian artist Maxwell Alexandre (Rio de Janeiro, 32 years old) exhibited his work, it was in the collective exhibition open to whoever wanted to use it.

In that gallery there were no curators or rules: just space.

And in space he thought.

“If I put four pieces of paper together, I would get a module that occupied the entire wall of the studio that Rocinha [his native favela of his and, with 69,000 inhabitants, the largest in the country] had then.

I joined four modules, that is, four times the wall of my studio, and I stood in the gallery with a three-meter work, ”he recalls today.

“My ambition was to occupy the maximum possible size of that gallery [it was the Flumiense headquarters of Fortes d'Aloia & Gabriel].

The only thing they asked was that you arrive on time with your work already done”.

Almost ten years have passed since then.

Everything has changed.

From a recent graduate in Design from the Pontifical University of Rio, Alexandre has become the great revelation of Brazilian art.

He has been the subject of individual exhibitions at the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art, at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the David Zwirner in London and, currently, at The Shed, New York.

It is necessary to do not a little memory to find an artist from his country with such a meteoric international projection.

It is also true that nothing has changed.

Alexandre, today a whole bull with cyclopean shoulders covered in dreadlocks, continues to draw on


packing paper, the most common that can be found in Rocinha.

He still maintains the challenging attitude of a young Kanye West and the desire, so


so current, to collect as much space as he has ahead of him because no one is going to give it up to him for good.

And he is still surrounded by spectacular works three meters high.

Detail of 'New Power: Passability', by Maxwell Alexandre, at La Casa Encendida in Madrid.

His first exhibition in Spain,

Nuevo Poder: Pasabilidad,

inaugurated on February 2 at La Casa Encendida (Madrid), immerses the visitor in the vision that has brought him here.

He turns two rooms in the center into veritable labyrinths, whose walls are made up of huge drawings on


paper painted in black, white and brown tones, evocative of the American Kerry James Marshall, of black people in almost unprecedented attitudes: “With gestures of victory, party , vanity, wealth, self-esteem”, states the pamphlet for the exhibition, organized together with the Inclusartiz Institute.

It is something that this giant (excuse me) of Brazilian black figuration has already explored in previous series (especially in

Papel é Pardo)


and that is a good part of his artistic vision.

"In Portuguese,


is a concept that refers to the whitening of the black race, its erasure," he articulates.

“There is a link between that

brown color

and the fragility of the

brown paper,

which is more often seen in schools, or for fashion sketching or packing shipments.

You cannot use oil on it, nor oil paints, nor can it be framed.

It's going to be lost.

This”, and here he points to the murals that surround him, “is not going to last ten years.

But I never intended to sell it.

I did want to contrast the size of the work with the fragility of the paper, the ambition to take as much space as possible from the galleries, but from a material that is transparent, that moves when you pass by, the metalanguage of a gallery within a gallery.

Manipulating traffic through an exhibition”.

Detail of 'New Power: Passability', by Maxwell Alexandre, at La Casa Encendida in Madrid.

It has been written about this work that it represents a non-existent world (“both fashion and contemporary art are platforms for dignity, social distinction, self-esteem, scarce goods for

melanized people


he settles in reference to black skins).

That he underlines the low presence of people of color in museums.

But care must be taken to pay close attention, in front of the artist at least, to these proposals on universal reading.

“Every time you set foot outside, you have to explain what

pardo means,

which in a way is already a loss.

What will


mean here.

So it's not universal ”, he rules out and it would almost be said that the impatience in his gaze has increased a bit.

"If you look at my work beyond the concepts of race and its tensions, which are more specific to the culture and politics of a specific country, you will see some plastic issues that, I think, are very well resolved," he adds with rapper cockiness, more closer to Jay Z than to triumphant artists of the current Rio, such as Elian de Almeida or Jaime Lauriano.

“I am concerned about the concept but more about quality.

And I know that what I deliver has a lot of quality, the same as that of great European or American artists or of another great power in the world of art.

That's how universal it is.

Do you want to see good pictures?

Go see a Maxwell Alexandre exhibition.”

Detail of 'New Power: Passability', by Maxwell Alexandre, at La Casa Encendida in Madrid.

There is in his words an old racial claim.

There are people who are prevented from seeing the forest by the trees and white spectators who are prevented from seeing the painting by their black skin.

“Yesterday I went to the exhibition [at Tate Britain in London] of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, for me the best painter of all time.

Imagine if you had heard a comment like, 'Lynette is really good, but there are other wonderful black artists.'

You're talking about the best artist out there, got it?

We must try to extract that politics, that cynical ideology, from an exhibition that is plastically excellent”.

—Like yours, for example, according to so many critics?

Do you feel that the racial issue hinders the artistic reading of his work?


I think my relevance within the art circuit, especially in the Brazilian world, has become so great in such a short time that it is associated with a quota system: 'Okay, it's that big because now blacks take it'.

You know?

When in reality there is no precedent in the art world for my career, if you compare it to that of any white artist.

You cannot have the size that I have, the relevance that I have, without a plasticity as strong as the one I have.

It's an important statement: I need to get rid of the stigma of being black.

People can't go around thinking that my relevance and my size come from my blackness.

It is that my work is excellent.

Detail of 'New Power: Passability', by Maxwell Alexandre, at La Casa Encendida in Madrid.

It is possible that if they could speak, it is what their characters would say, those idealized blacks so well dressed, so glorious, so victorious.

With so much self esteem.

It is even worth considering if he will not be one of them (and if he is aware of it or if the


touch is accidental).

If these drawings are also a beautiful outcome to the story of a favela boy blessed with a talent for image and who wanted something more than the life of Rocinha.

“My mother said that drawing was the gift that God had given me.

So, as a child, she would draw, ”she says.

“I made drawings of

A Turma da Mônica

[a Brazilian children's comic created by Mauricio da Sousa and of popularity equivalent to Mafalda for Spanish-speakers or the Peanuts in the US] and sold them at school”.

—Where do you think your artistic vocation comes from?

—From the fear of having a common life.

I feel it since I have a minimum feeling of consciousness.

—And what led you to painting?

That has more to do with money.

Painting gives fucking money.

Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-02-03

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