National Gallery of Art acquires works by Chakaia Booker, Carla Accardi, and Sonia Gomes

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National Gallery of Art acquires works by Chakaia Booker, Carla Accardi, and Sonia Gomes
Sonia Gomes, Correnteza [Current], from Raízes [Roots] series, 2018. Stitching, bindings, different fabrics and laces on wood, 35 1/2 x 82 x 36 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of the Collectors Committee. Photo: Jenalee Harmon © Sonia Gomes, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo

WASHINGTON, DC.- Chakaia Booker (b. 1953) works almost exclusively with recycled tires to transform familiar symbols of urban waste and blight into extraordinary compositions of renewal. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Egress (c. 2000), the first sculptural work by Booker to enter the collection, joining her woodcut print, Untitled (2011).

In Egress, numerous long, spiraling bands and short, spiky shards of rubber appear to unfurl from within and pour over and around the pedestal. The layers curl, pile, and protrude to form a mound that is simultaneously monstrous and playful, hard and soft, abstract and representational. While the plantlike, layered form recalls ivy or fern, the tracks, treads, and manufacturer name (Cooper) embossed on the sidewalls remind us of the medium's previous automotive life.

Booker's artistic practice is highly physical, from transporting the tires to reshaping them with machinery. Her use of discarded rubber references industrialization and factory labor as well as transportation, consumer culture, and environmental concerns. Her process of salvaging beauty from scraps of black rubber serves as a metaphor for Black American experiences of struggle, strength, and survival. Details of the tires demonstrate the capacity for meaning in Booker's forms: the varied tones that parallel human diversity, the treads suggestive of African scarification and textile designs, and the visible wear and tear that evokes the physical marks of human aging and inevitable distress in life. As she has said, "[my] intention is to translate simple yet complex materials into imagery that stimulates people to reconsider the expressive nature of art and how broad, complex cultural transformations can continue to be expressed through common materials."

Acquisition: Carla Accardi

Born in Trapani, Sicily, Carla Accardi (1924–2014) was a prominent figure of postwar Italian art and the Italian feminist movement. After studying at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Accardi moved to Rome in 1946 and became a founding member of the Forma I group (1947–1951). Emerging during the postwar era of intense political and aesthetic debate in Italy, the Forma I artists attempted to reconcile Marxist ideals with abstract form. An exquisite example of Accardi’s experimental practice, Rossorosa (1966) is the first painting by Accardi to enter the collection of the National Gallery of Art.

Accardi is best known for her works in Sicofoil, a transparent plastic used in commercial packaging, which she was introduced to in 1965. Sicofoil inspired her to explore its unique qualities, which she enhanced through such techniques as painting, wrapping, and stretching. In Rossorosa, wavelike forms are painted in red varnish on a sheet of clear Sicofoil suspended in front of pink cardboard. The work exemplifies Accardi’s preference for combinations of maximum-intensity hues and bold patterns to create powerful optical effects.

Rossarosa also speaks to the history of 20th-century Italian art and critical discourse. The wavelike shapes establish a symmetrical pattern reminiscent of the dynamic, repeated forms of Italian futurist artist Giacomo Balla (1871–1958). Like the works of such contemporaries as Lucio Fontana (1899–1968) and Piero Manzoni (1933–1963), Rossorosa disrupts the homogenous surface of oil on canvas of conventional painting, challenging the definition of what a painting is.

Anticipating the use of industrially produced soft materials by the Arte Povera artists during the late 1960s, Accardi’s experiments in Sicofoil would become a central reference in the writings of the art critic Carla Lonzi (1931–1982), with whom Accardi cofounded the Rivolta Femminile (Women’s Revolt) collective in 1970. Well established during her lifetime, Accardi’s renown has continued to grow since her death, as testified by the inclusion of her paintings in the 2022 Venice Biennale curated by Cecilia Alemani.

Acquisition: Sonia Gomes

Sonia Gomes (b. 1948), a contemporary Afro-Brazilian artist who lives and works in São Paulo, Brazil, is known for her mixed-media works made of fabric, wire, and other materials. The National Gallery of Art has just acquired Correnteza (Current) (2018), a sculpture from her Raízes (Roots) series.

Gomes brings the aesthetic and the human together in memorable sculptures that are at once traditionally Brazilian and fluently contemporary. Most important to Gomes's practice is the fact that the pieces of fabric she works with are almost always given to her. "I feel that when people give me these items, they are bestowing a great responsibility on me, a sort of plea asking me not to let them die," she has said.

Textiles continue to be at the heart of Gomes's work as she addresses floors, walls, and ceilings: among her many series are reliefs, hanging works (Acordes Naturais), and, most recently, wrappings around branches (Raízes). Correnteza epitomizes the blurring of "high" and "low" and of international modernism and Afro-Brazilian tradition found in Gomes's approach. In this work, the drawing-in-space of a modernist like David Smith (1906–1965) meets the fabric work of a Brazilian outsider like Arthur Bispo do Rosário (1909–1989) (one of Gomes's heroes). Other artists in the National Gallery collection who have used fabric to explore similar intersections include Miriam Schapiro (1923–2015), Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), Al Loving (1935–2005), Thornton Dial (1928–2016), Ernesto Neto (b. 1964), and Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980).

Gomes was born in Caetanópolis, Brazil, a center of textile manufacturing. Her mother died when she was three years old and she was raised for three years by her maternal grandmother, a shaman who performed folk cures and who twisted fabric to make rodilhas, cloth turbans. When Gomes returned to her father's house, she absorbed European culture in his extensive library. At age 28 she moved to Belo Horizonte, capital of Brazil's Minas Gerais state, and eventually studied law but continued to make her own clothing and jewelry. In 1988, when she was 40, Gomes started to take free art classes at the Guignard School. She left her law career in 1993 to devote herself to art. In 2015, she gained international renown when curator Okwui Enwezor included her in the Venice Biennale. Her solo exhibition in 2018 at MASP, the São Paulo Art Museum, was the institution’s first ever by an Afro-Brazilian woman. She currently lives and works in São Paulo.

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