For over a decade, Miami International Airport has pursued a vigorous program of installing artworks meant to engage travelers. Though many works, such as Michele Oka Doner’s 1.25-mile-long A Walk on the Beach, are permanent, mia Galleries also mounts temporary exhibitions. On Concourse E, mia Central Gallery recently installed “Objet petit a,” which served as a mini-retrospective of Adriana Carvalho’s three-dimensional pieces. Carvalho grew up in Brazil, where she studied metalwork, welding, and mechanics, before moving to the U.S. As part of Miami’s arts community, she has become known for sculptures that resemble dresses and other items of clothing. “Objet petit a” featured a selection of works that demonstrate Carvalho’s range and her mastery of metals such as aluminum and brass.
The show’s title (taken from a term coined by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan) refers to an object that causes or provokes desire and to the container or box that houses this object. It is clear that Carvalho’s work engages with themes of desire, femininity, power, containment, and vulnerability. One of the most striking pieces, Serendipity, which measures 60 inches high, is constructed of aluminum and metal mesh. Although its outline is reminiscent of a ballgown, the texture and layering recall medieval chain mail or armor. With Serendipity, Carvalho makes reference to history and gendered clichés, which seems especially relevant given current discussions about gender fluidity. The piece exudes both fragility (in its construction) and potency, while its “waist” appears as tiny and cinched as that of Sargent’s Madame X.
Carvalho’s deliberate engagement with art history is highlighted by certain titles. Frida, obviously a reference to Frida Kahlo, features a transparent skirt that reveals intricately made “underwear.” The lower half of the sculpture is coquettish and sexualized, while the upper bodice recalls armor as well as the plaster body cast that Kahlo wore and painted.
The “Las Meninas” pieces allude to Diego Velázquez’s portrait of the Infanta Margarita Teresa and her attendants; here, Carvalho not only refers to art history, but also inserts humor into her work. The three sculptures are made, in part, of stainless steel wool, not unlike kitchen scrubbers—an irreverent choice of material to represent Spanish royalty. Carvalho’s “maids of honor” are rather fierce, with bold “skirts” and armored bodices. Only about 10 inches high, they exaggerate the smallness of the principal figures (including two dwarves) in Velázquez’s painting.
With the “Las Meninas” and “Mutation” series, Carvalho dispenses with transparency. The “Mutation” pieces once again employ stainless steel wool, but they do not allude to kitchen chores: the one “dress” brings to mind car tires. With bulbous, segmented shapes, the sculptures’ very density serves as a counterpoint to the fragility of Carvalho’s other work; these are neither containers of desire nor expressions of vulnerability. In this case, a typically feminine “dress” has metamorphized into an impenetrable, mysterious object.