press release

Joana Vasconcelos
I'm Your Mirror
20 July until 17 November 2019

From Saturday 20 July the Kunsthal Rotterdam will present an impressive retrospective exhibition featuring the work of the famous Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos. ‘I’m Your Mirror’ will show more than thirty of her iconic sculptures and installations from 1997 to the present, including ‘Lilicoptère (2012)’, the gold-plated helicopter decorated with Swarovski crystals and ostrich feathers that she made for her solo exhibition at the Palace of Versailles. In an activist and feminist way, and with a profound respect for Portuguese culture and traditions, Vasconcelos gives reality her own personal twist. The result is a seductive, funny, exuberant and sometimes absurdist exhibition in which nothing is what it seems.

The Kunsthal is delighted to present this special exhibition, organised by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, in collaboration with the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Portugal, and Kunsthal Rotterdam - a first for The Netherlands.

Joana Vasconcelos is known for her keen sense of proportions, masterly use of colour and unusual choice of materials, such as domestic items, wall tiles, textiles, medicines, urinals, telephones, pans and plastic cutlery. Like a modern alchemist, she transforms everyday objects and clichés from the consumer society into works of art full of meaning and symbolism. Hidden beneath the apparent cheerfulness of her work lie social and political issues such as oppression, human rights, immigration, globalisation, identity and gender. Vasconcelos explores various forms of identity in her work, including the identity of women, and their underlying ambiguities. With directness and irony, she questions social contradictions and draws on a large number of influences from music, literature and the traditional crafts of her home country. Vasconcelos appropriates well-known Portuguese icons and gives them a twist, such as the heart-shaped jewel from Viana do Castelo and the series of ceramic animals by the Portuguese artist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, which she covers with crochet work.

Militant goddesses
The 23-metre-long ‘Material Girl (2015)’ from her ‘Valkyries’ series, named after the warrior goddesses from Norse mythology, is an emblematic work. With its organic form and construction from various kinds of fabrics, traditionally handcrafted crochet and embroidery work and LED lights, ‘Material Girl’ represents the creative and combative spirit of women. She is assisted in producing these, at times, extremely complex works – many of her sculptures and installations move, emit sound or light up – by a team of sixty permanent staff in her studio in Lisbon.

The exhibition highlights works that are characteristic of her early period, including ‘Valium Bed (Cama Valium, 1999)’, ‘Burka (2002)’ and ‘The Bride (A Noiva, 2001-2005)’, a six-metre tall chandelier made of 14,000 tampons. It also includes several of her most prominent recent works, such as ‘Marilyn (2011)’, a pair of sky-high stilettos assembled with stainless steel pans, and the steaming, almost choreographic installation of steam irons ‘Full Steam Ahead (A Todo o Vapor, 2012)’. This combination of romantic beauty and hard machinery might be said to blur the boundaries between traditional male and female characteristics.

‘I’ll Be Your Mirror (2018)’ has been specially designed for this exhibition. It is a Venetian mask composed of mirrors set in bronze frames. Visitors can look through the gigantic mask from all sides, but are never able to escape from their own reflection in the mass of mirrors. The title of this work – and of the exhibition – is a reference to the Lou Reed Song ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ and a tribute to the famous German vocalist of The Velvet Underground, Nico. She sang it as a promise to reflect – like a mirror - her ‘true self’. Another new work is ‘Solitaire’, a monumental engagement ring made of whisky tumblers and wheel rims. This work will be presented outside, on the square in front of the Kunsthal.

Joana Vasconcelos Joana Vasconcelos (1971) has been creating a furore since 1997 with her impressive oeuvre, which by now has achieved worldwide recognition and familiarity, and she has evolved into one of Portugal’s best known and most loved artists. Her big breakthrough came in 2005 at the Venice Biennale, where she put herself on the map for good with ‘The Bride’, a six-metre tall chandelier made of tampons. With this bold work she managed to secure international fame, resulting in exhibitions in various prestigious European museums. In 2012 she was the first female, and the youngest artist ever to present a solo exhibition at the Palace of Versailles.