Ernesto Neto, who has called himself a “carioca artist-sculptor,” is the long-standing art darling of Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian city where he was born, raised, and actively nourishes the art scene.
This love for the arts began in his childhood in the 1960s when Neto’s mother first enrolled him in art school. “That was the beginning of the love affair,” he told Artsy, just days before his hometown will open its doors to the art world for the international fair, ArtRio. It was in Rio where Neto attended the Escola de Artes Visuais Parque Lage, where he had his first solo exhibition at the Petite Galerie in ’88, and where today—in addition to keeping a studio in the center of the city—he runs A Gentil Carioca, the gallery for emerging Brazilian artists he co-founded in 2002.
At ArtRio, Neto will exhibit a pen-and-ink work on paper at Galeria Fortes Vilaça, but he’s better known for immersive, environmental sculptures that beg to be touched, smelled, or climbed inside of—as in Anthropodino, his giant fabric canopy inside New York City’s Park Avenue Armory in ’09, or Léviathan Thot (pictured), the sensuous “fabric stalactites” that hung from the 200-foot dome of Paris’s Panthéon in 2006. “Nature is sensual,” he said. “Society could be less sexy and more sensual—less business and more life.” Although his tactile sculptures are usually made with his signature material, a stocking-like, translucent elastic, it is not the fabric itself that Neto is drawn to. “Elastic does not inspire me,” he said. “Relationship, energy, and life inspire me.”
But it seems, still, that his greatest inspiration comes from Rio, where Neto sits front row in the contemporary art scene and spends his days at a studio in the run-down center of the city. “The neighbors frequently drop litter through the window all over the street,” he told us of his block, an immersive environment in its own right. “When it rains the street normally becomes a sea, and we get water on our knees. At night it is very calm and delicious.”
Images: Leviathan Thot, 2006, Installation view at 36th Edition of Festival d’Automne, Paris, photographs by Marc Domage; Klink, 2002, Installation view at Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, TX, photographs by Julius Pickenpack, courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York.