7 Must-See Shows during the 35th São Paulo Bienal

Ela Bittencourt
Sep 7, 2023 2:35PM

Marina Perez Simão, Untitled, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, Brussels, New York

Returning for its 35th edition, the São Paulo Bienal once again takes place in Brazil’s capital from September 6th through December 10th. To mark the occasion, galleries across the city will present unmissable shows by their leading and up-and-coming artists to welcome art enthusiasts, budding collectors, and the public, in a large-scale celebration of São Paulo’s vibrant and increasingly diverse art scene.

The largest and oldest event of its kind in Latin America, this year the Bienal features 121 artists. They range from significant local names such as the Afro-Brazilian pioneers Emanoel Araújo and Arthur Bispo do Rosário, to internationally exhibited artists, including Katherine Dunham, Trinh T. Minh-Ha, and Simone Leigh, to those better known in avant-garde cinema—notably, the American experimental filmmaker Maya Deren (1917–1961) and the French West Indian filmmaker Sarah Maldoror (1929–2020).

Here’s a selection of seven unmissable shows during the Bienal.

Laura Lima, “The trip of those who never went”

Galeria Luisa Strina

Aug. 31–Oct. 31

Laura Lima, installation view of “The trip of those who never went” at Galeria Luisa Strina, 2023. Photo by Mario Grisolli. Courtesy of Galeria Luisa Strina.

Laura Lima, installation view of “The trip of those who never went” at Galeria Luisa Strina, 2023. Photo by Mario Grisolli. Courtesy of Galeria Luisa Strina.


The Brazilian artist Laura Lima, whose work was featured in the 24th and 27th São Paulo Bienals, and at the XI Lyon Biennale, focuses on immersive installations that encourage visitors’ bodily interaction with architectural and spatial elements. Her past shows have also included living matter and natural elements, as in the show “Six Feet Over,” at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in Los Angeles in 2022.

The current exhibition at Galeria Luisa Strina picks up on the show “Balé Literal,” which Lima originally presented at the gallery she co-founded, A Gentil Carioca Gallery, in her hometown of Rio de Janeiro in 2019. That show consisted of suspended moving everyday objects along with specially sculpted pieces, and was later restaged at the Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona. Its somber tone alluded to the political climate in which Lima conceived it, in 2019, under Brazil’s ultra right-wing government. The new expansion of these ideas at Luisa Strina picks up on the absurdist, surreal tone of the original, in flying saucer–like porcelain aerial sculptures.

avaf, Rolieiro de Peito Lilás, 2023. Photo by Filipe Berndt. Courtesy of the artist and Casa Triângulo.

Color is the dominant element in the works of the Rio de Janeiro–born artist Eli Sudbrack, who has lived and worked in New York since the 1980s, and French multimedia artist Christophe Hamaide-Pierson. Together known as avaf (assume vivid astro focus), the two artists formed a collective in which they have been collaborating alongside other artists since 2001.

The exuberance and forcefulness of color and line are highlights of avaf’s new show at Casa Triângulo. Large paintings in funked-out, irregular shapes, as well as in a more habitual rectangular mat, occupy the gallery’s walls, while others are attached to wooden supports, creating new painting/sculpture/architecture amalgams. The overall effect is explosive color that delineates space within the pictorial frame, due to the paint’s neatly outlined, hard edges.

The unusual shaping makes some of the works resemble loose pieces of a puzzle, suggesting that individual works are meant to be taken in together—an idea strengthened by the stencil supports that allow viewers to see a number of works simultaneously. While the acrylic paintings come from the same computer-processed template, the exhibition’s final effect is a constantly unfolding, highly quixotic tonal and geometric cornucopia.

Sonia Gomes, Untitled (Torção series) | Sem título (série Torção), 2004–21. Photo by Bruno Leão. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, Brussels, New York

Mendes Wood DM commemorates its decade of existence with a show at its outpost in São Paulo. “Linhas Tortas,” meaning literally “crooked lines” in Portuguese, traces the many ways in which artists play with the idea of a line as a visual and verbal sign across different cultures, periods, and media. The title also references a popular Brazilian saying, “Deus escreve certo por linhas tortas” (“god works in mysterious ways”).

Organized around themes such as fortuity, mysticism, authorship, and journey, the show follows five threads, each interrogating a different aspect of lines, as vectors for narrative, time, and space. The show includes some of the artists that the gallery represented in its early days, such as Paulo Nazareth and Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, alongside renowned local artists such as Sônia Gomes and Rubem Valentim, plus a host of international artists like Luc Tuymans, Etel Adnan, and Senga Nengudi.

São Paulo’s art spaces are currently shining a concentrated spotlight on the Brazilian artist Iole de Freitas, whose art practice began in the 1960s. The artist’s works are being explored in three different shows, at the Institute Moreira Salles (IMS), Tomie Ohtake Institute, and Galeria Raquel Arnaud. At the latter exhibition, de Freitas’s 2021 stainless steel sculptures are on show, where delicate metal curves create chiaroscuro and unfolding drama.

The artist’s early photographs document photo-actions in which her body and ordinary objects create uncanny sequences—for instance, her series “faca na agua” (“knife in the water,” 1981), in which four photographs depict a serrated blade and a sheet of glass traversing it at different angles. The combined images create a sense of action and disequilibrium across the composition, emphasizing the artist’s keen sense of an event as a visual action, and the interaction of light and shadow, which is also the focus of the show at IMS.

Rodrigo Cass, Permanente revolução [terra livre], 2023. Photo by Eduardo Ortega. Courtesy of the artist and Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel.

Rodrigo Cass has had an unusual career journey: As a Carmelite monk at the age of 16, he studied art originally to paint for religious functions. Since then, the artist has been experimenting with different materials. He often uses concrete as both the main sculpting element and tint, exploring questions of impermanence, the spirituality of the mundane, and the possibilities of intervening in space.

In his prior show at Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, Cass presented the video Em Libera Abstrahere (2014), in which a hand removes a glass from a setting, leaving behind it a circle of lighter space on the stable where it had sat: a negative space that nevertheless becomes a geometric part of the scenario. Some of Cass’s works, such as the series in which he affixes gray or white concrete to linen, create a contrast, bringing a sense of lightness and delicacy to the rigid original matter.

The new solo show will feature 12 video sculptures and 12 gouaches, in which the artist explores the relationship between body, object, architecture, and the moving image. The exhibition will also be accompanied by the launch of the first monograph dedicated to the artist, with texts by the curator Ana Paula Cohen and by Frédéric Paul, curator of the contemporary art department at the Musée National d’Art Moderne/Centre Pompidou.

Erika Verzutti & Anderson Borba


Sep. 2–Nov. 26

Pivô, which functions as both a residency and an exhibition space, brings together two artists who experiment formally with materials. Anderson Borba uses industrial-grade wood, cardboard, textiles, and magazines, sculpting them into surprising rugged shapes by carving, burning, pressing, or painting over them. The results range from flatter shapes that resemble pictorial spaces to sculptures whose simplified forms make them reminiscent of the works of Brazil’s self-taught folk artists.

Erika Verzutti, on the other hand—whose recent institutional shows include the Museum of Modern Art São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP) and CCS Bard Galleries, and who’s been featured in the 11th Biennale de Lyon (2011), the 32nd São Paulo Bienal (2016), and the 57th Venice Biennale (2017)—works in equally diverse media such as bronze, clay, papier mâché, and porcelain, sculpting handcrafted shapes and forms that at times allude to everyday objects in uncanny, often whimsical ways.

The two artists, who have collaborated in the past, present a project specifically commissioned for Pivô’s concrete brutalist exhibition space.

The video works of Guerreiro do Divino Amor, from the series “Superfictions,” dive into Brazil’s national myths by employing a unique virtual language that collages computer graphics, live action, images resembling video games, and pop culture, in order to stage apocalyptic scenarios. For instance, in the video Crystalization of Brasilia (2019), Guerreiro do Divino Amor focused on the prevailing image of Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, as a model modernist urban project of the 1960s. The artist, however, uses digital imagery to stage a series of interventions—manipulating the images of the pristine white buildings that comprise Brasilia’s governmental complex, as the seat of Brazil’s legislature.

The result introduces a bitter, often sarcastic tone, eviscerating national myths and unearthing histories of racism, and of political, institutional, and everyday violence. The artist, who got a degree in architecture in Switzerland before returning to Rio de Janeiro where he currently lives and works, has had a number of retrospectives, including “Superfictional Sanctuaries” at Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva in 2022, and a residency at DAAD in Berlin from 2021–2022. The artist will also represent Switzerland at the 2024 Venice Biennale.

In addition to the four previously produced video works, the current show at Galeria Marília Razuk also includes a new video work, O Milagre de Helvetia (“The Miracle of Helvetia,” 2022), which is being shown in Brazil for the first time.

Ela Bittencourt

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the 35th São Paulo Bienal will feature 120 artists, instead of 121. It also said that “Linhas Tortas” will take place across multiple venues internationally (it will only take place in São Paulo) and include Louise Bourgeois, who is not in the show. It also misstated that the dates of the Bienal art September 3rd through 6th. The 2023 Bienal takes place September 6th through December 10th.