September 21, 2017 - Americas Society - José Leonilson: Empty Man
September 21, 2017

Americas Society

José Leonilson Bezerra Dias, Empty Man, 1991. Thread on embroidered linen, 20 7/8 x 14 9/16 inches. Família Bezerra Dias/Projeto Leonilson. © Projeto Leonilson.

José Leonilson: Empty Man
September 27, 2017–February 3, 2018

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10065
USA
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 12–6pm

www.as-coa.org
Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

José Leonilson: Empty Man
September 27, 2017–February 3, 2018

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10065
USA
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 12–6pm

www.as-coa.org
Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

Curated by Cecilia Brunson, Gabriela Rangel, and Susanna V. Temkin

Americas Society is pleased to present José Leonilson: Empty Man, the first solo exhibition in the United States of one of Brazil’s leading figures of contemporary art. 

In the 1980s, when the world was reverberating from the shockwaves sent by AIDS, Brazilian artist Leonilson (1957–93) adapted the political discourse of the epidemic into a metaphysical rumination. His work offers a pantheon of symbols, poetics, and patterns, charting in personal terms the odyssey of a disease, which sparked fear, confusion, and panic. Leonilson’s mythical universe constructs an existential narrative around his own predicament, and this timeless intimacy resonates in the context of a disease characterized so often by losses.

The show features approximately 50 works, including drawings, paintings, embroideries, and documents borrowed from public institutions and private collections in Brazil and the U.S. Focusing on the artist’s production dating from the mid-1980s until his death in 1993, the exhibition will showcase his idiosyncratic language in which he combined a distinct iconographic lexicon with intimate text. This short yet prolific period showcases the artist’s fully developed language, connecting Leonilson’s oeuvre with contemporary art practices, Brazilian vernacular traditions, and global issues prompted by the AIDS crisis. By taking as its starting point the works produced during the last three years of his life and moving backwards into the 1980s, the exhibition maps Leonilson’s artistic journey following the reverse chronology of T.S. Eliot: “in the beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.” The show will be accompanied by an illustrated publication with newly commissioned texts, edited by Karen Marta and Gabriela Rangel.

Born in Fortaleza in 1957, Leonilson emerged as a seminal figure of the Brazilian contemporary art world during the 1980s. Over the course of his career, he traveled extensively throughout Europe, and his paintings, drawings, and installations were featured in solo and group shows in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, in addition to many exhibitions held in Brazil. In 1991, the artist tested positive for HIV. This diagnosis compelled a decisive shift in his career, as Leonilson began to develop his intimate embroideries, a practice he continued until his death in 1993 at the age of 36. Leonilson's artworks are included in public and private collections including the Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou; the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona; the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others.

Press inquiries: mediarelations [​at​] as-coa.org / T 1 212 277 8384.

Public programs:

José Leonilson: Autobiography of a Brazilian Artist
Symposium and launch of the Leonilson Catalogue Raisonné

September 25, 6-8pm

Opening
September 26, 7-9pm

Film screening: A Paixão de JL
October 19, 7 pm

Film screening: Abrazo Íntimo al Natural
October 25, 7pm

Talk and tour with Visual AIDS
October 28, 3pm

Carlos Motta in conversation with Lia Gangitano
November 2, 7 pm

José Leonilson: Empty Man is made possible by the generous support of the Projeto Leonilson, Galeria de Arte Almeida e Dale, Diane & Bruce Halle Foundation, Fundación AMA, PHILLIPS, Genomma Lab Internacional, and Paul Boskind and Robbie McMillin-Boskind. This project is also supported, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

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