Mexico City

Ernesto Neto: La Lengua de Ernesto, Obras 1987-2011

Leslie Moody Castro
June 8, 2012

El Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso is a massive colonial structure whose galleries line the perimeter of a large open courtyard. Often the architecture works against the museum’s exhibitions. It fragments the space, causing the viewer to enter small exhibition rooms before stepping out into a beautiful sunny courtyard, then into the next gallery to continue the exhibition on view. Ernesto Neto’s retrospective at the San Ildefonso uses these fragmented gallery spaces to its advantage. La Lengua de Ernesto (the Dialect of Ernesto) uses the array of small rooms to build on the senses, as his command over material, space and sculptural form engages not only the viewer’s sight but their entire body. Neto’s sculptures manipulate the viewer’s movement within the space, somehow walking a line between sculptural objects and performative ones. Walking through Neto’s retrospective is like moving deeper and deeper into the artist’s mind.

Ernesto Neto, Copulônia, 1989; nylon stockings and lead; dimensions variable; installation view at Instituto Inhotim, 2009 by Eduardo Eckenfels, courtesy of Instituto Inhotim.

Beautifully constructed minimalist sculptures scattered the floor as I walked into the first few galleries, making palpable the space and my movement within it as I tried not to step on anything. A large white curtain was strategically and beautifully “thrown” on the floor in a swirling pattern, and smaller minimalist drawings lined the walls. While the work in the space is beautiful and poetically engaging, it was hard to make the connection between the artist’s desire to engage all of the senses so immediately in the exhibition. At first glance the initial galleries seemed to be no more than minimalistic sculptures blocking the galleries’ natural walkways. But as the sculptures grew larger and more invasive it became clear that the first galleries formed a gentle introduction, encouraging Neto’s audience to works that appeared later in the exhibition and required more radical physical interaction on the viewer’s part.

As each gallery wound around the courtyard of the San Ildefonso the work became more detailed, larger in scale, and required more physical maneuvering on the part of the visitor. Beyond such maneuvering, however, Neto offered still more possibilities for the public to interact with his works. I, for example, removed my shoes and entered Nave Deusa (1998), one of the larger gauzy sculptures. The soft cloth between my toes made me hyper-aware of the cold stone underneath, and as I looked beyond the sculpture to the drawings lining the walls my vision was blurred by the translucency of the space that Neto constructed. From inside the sculpture the gallery space became a mesh bubble bouncing in every direction as more and more visitors entered.

Ernesto Neto, Nave Deusa, 1998; 500 x 690 x 950 cm.; installation view at Instituto Inhotim by Eduardo Eckenfels, courtesy of Instituto Inhotim.

Neto must be fully aware of the impact his sculptures have on visitors moving through the exhibition, who by the end enter his sculptures completely, and move around in them. It’s an inventive and beautiful entry into the artist’s mind that verges on the border of a performance work even in the artist’s absence. 

La Lengua de Ernesto is on view at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City until September 9th.

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