Alexandre da Cunha – Laissez-Faire

Published on Culture 24

Laissez-Faire – Alexandre da Cunha, Camden Arts Centre, London, until September 13 2009

Some artists take inspiration from nature, and some from light: however, Alexandre da Cunha must have taken inspiration from the acquisition of a job lot of industrial mop heads.

The mops are now woven together to form a giant net, which hangs from gallery floor to ceiling and runs in a curve through the middle of the space. Their arrangement encourages the viewer to walk around, to peer through, and to treat them like a work of art but no attempt has been made to disguise their original purpose. They are cleaning products.

It is some ninety years since Marcel Duchamp signed a bottle rack and put it on display in a gallery, and the gesture continues to find echoes in the work of artists today. Brazilian sculptor Da Cunha locates recycled goods and objects sourced from pound shops, and then tends to improvise.

Another work in the room consists of three squat totem poles fashioned from white pots and topped off with incomplete plaster casts taken from coconuts. As if to advertise their uselessness, a cheap drinking straw has been placed in each. This flimsy addition challenges the dignity and certainly the worth of the artwork.

The third piece is a wall-mounted board covered with green fabric and smeared with red paint. It probably should be called a painting, except it looks more like something dug out from a skip following an accident with a tin of gloss enamel. Like the rest of Da Cunha’s work it has a difficult aesthetic. In other words, it is quite ugly.

Most people don’t visit galleries in order to view unwanted objects with limited visual appeal, but perhaps they should. Such works still make a worthwhile point about the role of the artist and can still lead one to question the very point of coming to the gallery and looking at art in the first place.

Duchamp gave it all up and took up chess. He may not have seen much future in ready-made art, but others clearly have.

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