Saint Clair Cemin: Oedipus / Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York

Oedipus is the title of Brazilian artist Saint Clair Cemin’s fourth solo exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York. The show presents new sculptures, including a twenty-part work. The exhibition is on view at the gallery’s 293 Tenth Avenue location between March 8 – April 14, 2018.

Saint Clair Cemin: Oedipus. Solo exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 Tenth Avenue, New York. Opening, March 8, 2018.

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Exhibition text:

Paul Kasmin Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new sculpture by Brazilian artist Saint Clair Cemin. This will be Cemin’s fourth solo exhibition at the gallery. Oedipus takes on the renowned and influential Greek tragedy in order to interrogate the commanding force that human action can impose over what we perceive to be ‘destiny.’ Furthering the artist’s investigation into the symbolism of ancient mythology, the exhibition presents a new, twenty-part work alongside the sculptures that act as monuments to the power of language and family. The exhibition is on view at the gallery’s 293 Tenth Ave location between March 8 – April 14, 2018.

The exhibition’s title work, Oedipus, functions as its focal point and represents Cemin’s first exploration into the form of narrative sculpture; a traditional folk practice popular in his native Northeastern Brazil. Twenty sculptural tableaux are cast in bronze, each presented on an individual plinth and placed in a spiral formation that curves into the center of the gallery. Tiresias, the blind prophet of Apollo, revered for his clairvoyance, takes the role of narrator and sits at the center of the configuration, posed gesticulating as though in the midst of a passionate retelling of the tragedy.

The scenes, while remaining true to the myth’s original narrative, are humorously embellished by Cemin to include an array of carnivalesque incarnations of the tragic hero. Oedipus takes on a human form when confronting the emblematic Sphynx; a monstrous figure when he meets Iocasta; a giant, raging baby when he murders Laius; and lastly a helpless, blind chimpanzee being led by the hand of Antigone. This act of retelling—its ability to create anew as it amends what was before—is a central facet of the exhibition. By contributing his own unique rendering of Oedipus to the manifold versions belonging to literary and oral history, Cemin underscores the nature of storytelling: its inherently transmutable essence; its ability to espouse a central philosophical tenet even as the particularities of the narrative shift and mutate.

The works presented in the second room of the gallery are what Cemin refers to as ‘domestic monuments,’ each depicting a Greek character: ‘Logos’ and ‘Ismene.’ ‘Logos,’ realized in the form of a large-scale parrot on a green perch, embodies the spirit of the incantatory word such as that referred to by St John in the gospel. ‘Ismene’, sister of Antigone, represents a monument to the lesser-celebrated sibling. The works have all been forged in Cemin’s foundry just ten miles outside of Thebes (the city of which Oedipus, according to the myth, was King.)

Cemin’s broad sculptural vocabulary has developed over his four decades as an artist and is articulated in a range of materials with subjects both figurative and abstract, drawing on traditions from across the globe and cannibalizing a range of aesthetic movements from modernism to folk art. The artist lives and works between Brooklyn, New York, and Beijing, China.

Cemin’s work is included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France; Emily Fisher Landau Collection, Long Island City, NY; Rooseum, Stockholm, Sweden; Eli Broad Family Foundation, Los Angeles, CA; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; and Inhotim, Minas Gerais, Brazil, among many others.

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