Adriano Costa culls his materials from the detritus of contemporary existence. He weaves together poetic tableaux from objects and images generally regarded as ephemeral, accidental, or discarded. In his work these forms find new life while retaining markers of their disvalued state, allowing the artist to hold up a mirror to the social divisions, the pervasive dread, and the paradoxical, fallen beauty that characterize life in the first quarter of the 21st century. Costa’s practice often involves working on site in whatever city his next exhibition will take place, and he combines materials foraged from the urban landscape of his native São Paolo with those he finds in his temporary adopted homes. DearMeatCutsDevilMayCry will therefore reflect the booming and broken dream-state that is Los Angeles, the political and economic disasters facing Brazil at a moment when it is very much on the world stage, and the perennially decaying cornucopia of information that is the Internet, where a large part of the global population currently maintains a second residence.
The exhibition features works made using a wide range of processes, and includes paintings, works on paper, and a diversity of sculptures, though it is impossible to relegate any given piece to a single one of these categories. Costa’s approach to installation reinforces this notion. Works that might ordinarily be placed on the floor are suspended from the wall and vice versa, and almost all are replete with imagery and text that speak to the moment of their creation.
A hanging bath mat, canvas fragment, and the top of a styrofoam to-go box, for instance, bear printed dates in the style of On Kawara: “22 JUL 2016″, “23 JUL. 2016” and “24 JUL 2016″, the day before, of, and just after the exhibition’s opening. In this case, as in several others, cutting-edge digital printing techniques are applied to the most humble and abject of materials. Similarly, in many sculptures Costa combines durable media like steel and aluminum with ad hoc objects and unstable substances that are the very definition of impermanence. He thereby undermines traditional notions of value, and highlights unsustainable attitudes toward luxury in a world brimming with deprivation.
Despite the pressing contemporaneity that characterizes his work, Costa is also an astute descendant of the rich art historical traditions particular to Brazilian modernism. These include Neo-Concretism and Antropofagia, a movement that originated in the 1920s and celebrated the cannibalization of Eurocentric cultural forms, reimagining and distorting them from a South American position at the geographical periphery. Such reference points help situate Costa’s affinity for consuming the stuff of world culture and regurgitating it according to the unavoidable particularities of his own sensibility, as well as the compositional decentralization that informs each of his works and his exhibitions as a whole. If the products of this regurgitation are notable for their aesthetic subtleties, and a finely tuned sensitivity to geometry, color, and volume, Costa’s is an aesthetic in crisis, one in which formal decisions feel inevitable rather than planned, and works are not finished so much as posed as ongoing questions. As such, his aesthetic is inseparable from the pertinent extra-aesthetic issues of the age, including income inequality, the constant threat of reactionary politics, and the authoritarian abuse of power, as well as the fact of the artist’s own queerness, all of which he allows to saturate his work even as he eschews polemics.
Costa instead delights in uneasy contradiction and slack humor, both of which are on view in a work on canvas featuring appropriated images of a muscle-bound Arnold Schwarzenegger in his beefcake prime. Equal parts digital collage, political commentary, studio painting, and agitprop-style provocation, the work is like a Google image search gone wrong, with decidedly non-digital interventions (doodles, scrawled marks, erasures) registering the emotional timbre of the artist’s response to the political and ideological climate of California, where originality is indistinguishable from artifice. Slapdash painted text reads “Muscular / Committed / Refugee / Versatile / Indigenous”, speaking to the troublesome social hierarchies in a state where the line separating Muscle Beach from the governor’s mansion is as porous as Swiss cheese.
The image of Swiss cheese, incidentally, plays an important and recurrent role in Costa’s practice. It appears in this exhibition in the form of a sculpture consisting of a grid of aluminum tiles, punctuated by irregularly shaped openings that give way to the floor below. Easily trod underfoot, its holes both pornographic and purely spatial, the sculpture’s radically low profile renders it at once inconspicuous and pervasive, dependent on the space in which it is installed, and yet stubbornly insistent on claiming its own territory within that space.
In this way Costa incorporates his surroundings at every turn, whether that means responding to the news dominating the media, reacting to the environments in which his work is shown, or making use of objects he acquires as he moves through a given city. A new work of the latter sort plays a key part in DearMeatCutsDevilMayCry. By applying an industrial, glittering gold finish to a group of found objects, including a bass drum, a walker, and a vacuum cleaner all acquired at a thrift store within close proximity to the gallery, Costa has created an unlikely family of stand-ins for the contemporary human subject. Bathed in visual symbolism indicative of the promise of easy wealth, and yet divorced from the purposes of their own labor, the objects hang together by the slightest of conceptual threads, united by surface alone as their usefulness disintegrates. With this exhibition opening less than two weeks before the already fraught spectacle of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, works like these channel the corruption and despair, the crumbling nostalgia, and the specters of disease, that are, despite their ominous undertones and overtones, inexhaustible sources of life as we know it now.