What Street Artists Os Gêmeos Have in Common With Frida Kahlo
Courtesy of the artists and Prism Os Gêmeos: The Artist
The concrete swaths of Sunset and Wilshire don't readily conjure images of abundant nature, lush dreamscapes and feminist activism. Yet these boulevards certainly have seen their share of otherworldly goings-on, and this month they prove to be fertile ground for two ambitious exhibitions -- Os Gêmeos' "Miss You," at Prism Gallery, and "In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States," at LACMA -- that wind their way luxuriously through the anything-goes terrain of surrealism.
Identical-twin brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo (Os Gêmeos is Portuguese for "the twins") got their start as street artists in São Paulo. They now masterfully bridge the gap between the public and private sectors by throwing up murals in decrepit alleys as gleefully as they tackle site-specific installations at world-renowned museums.
Courtesy of the artists and PRISM; photo: Colin Day
At Prism, Os Gêmeos have populated the two-story space with a collection of paintings, sculptures and textiles that feels at once familiar and not familiar at all. The brothers' yellow-skinned, stick-limbed figures, folk-artsy flourishes and clashing geometric patterns may be instantly recognizable to their legions of worshippers, but when these tried-and-true characters assert themselves in the form of plastic heads bursting up through the floorboards, like a field of daffodils craning toward some unseen sun, or as intrepid forms disintegrating into a pile of wooden blocks (in their work The Artist), sinking into a striped vortex (PRISM) and plumbing the ocean's depths with puffer-fish guides (In the Depth of the Ocean It's Easier to Breathe), they open the door into an uncharted parallel universe that may overwhelm the uninitiated. Explosions of color, allusions to incomprehensible narratives, big eyes watching our every move, each of our breaths regulated by the beat of the ambient soundtrack ... where to look first?
Courtesy of the artists and PRISM Os Gêmeos: PRISM
Yet what we experience initially as sensory overload, as an obligation to supercharge all of our synapses on command, gives way to curiosity, then to respect, then to elation, as we realize all the fun we can have by sitting back and letting Os Gêmeos do what they do best: suspend disbelief. All the classic elements of surrealism are here -- fantasy, folklore, unfettered imagination -- but the work exudes a particular vibrancy, thanks to details that pay homage to the artists' native Brazil: portraits of mixed-ethnicity subjects, homespun, embroidered scenes that would be right at home in a street market, and depictions of beachside recreation and impromptu musical jam sessions.
© Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy; photo © Yale University Art Gallery Kaye Sage: Danger, Construction Ahead
"Miss You" can stand on its own as a feast for the eyes, but LACMA's "In Wonderland" is the Michelin-starred main course. The first large-scale survey of work by female surrealists in North America, "In Wonderland" features 47 artists, among them the usual heavyweights -- Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington -- as well as the equally compelling Helen Lundeberg, Kaye Sage and Rosa Rolanda.