Galeria Nara Roesler | Rio de Janeiro presents Retroatos (Retroactions), Cao Guimarães’ first show in the Rio venue, and the seventh since he began working with the gallery in 2002. For this show, the curator Ricardo Sardenberg selected 18 various-sized photographs and a video culled from the artist’s archive, created at different points of his career and in different places. 

This series sees Guimarães create boundlessly original portraits, underpinned by a subset of his poetic vocabulary according to which “seeing is a fable,” so well expressed in the title of one of his mid-career surveys (Itaú Cultural, 2013). To the show’s curator Ricardo Sardenberg, in working with this classic art format, Cao Guimarães omits precisely what one would first expect to find, i.e. a representation of the faces of one or more people. “It’s up to the viewer to intuit what’s at once absent and present,” he asserts. 

But Sardenberg stresses that in its current sense, portrait is an ambiguous word when it comes to photography, since it implies two meanings. Its first definition is the image of a person interpreted through painting, drawing, sculpture, photography etc. But when it comes to photography specifically, any image is a portrait. One can make a portrait of a landscape, of a flower pot or even of a sculpture. “The Retroatos exhibit operates in that lexical gap,” he explains. 

The curator also suggests that the zone of instability of the word portrait gives rise to a second lexical gap with the addition of the word retro, which implies the past, the time that has passed and will not come back. Throughout the history of photography, the portrait has always been associated with memory, with a repository of recollections. But first and foremost, Sardenberg notes, ‘retro’ means the back of something, the other side in space. This hints at a reversal of the famous saying ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’ that is typical of portraits. “Thus, ‘retro’ here alludes to both space and time,” he concludes. 

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