Julião Sarmento was a contemporary Portuguese artist whose mercurial practice explored themes of sensuality and voyeurism, memory and behaviour, and emotions. Working with painting, video, sound, sculpture, and installation, among others, Sarmento often referred to fragmented and partially erased bodies.Read More
Sarmento studied painting and architecture at the Escola Superior de Belas-Artes in Lisbon, graduating with both his Bachelors and Masters degrees in 1970 and 1976 respectively.
From the early days of his career, eroticism and desire—especially as it relates to the female body—were frequently examined in Sarmento's work. In his Super 8 films such as Pernas (Legs) (1975) and Faces (1976), the camera zooms in on parts of the body that sway in movement or individuals engaging in intimate activities.
Sarmento often referenced multiple sources, including film, philosophy, and contemporary literature, as with his installation, Untitled (Bataille) (1976). The work consists of two sets of 22 panels, mounted on the wall, and a white plinth between them. On the left, the panels show black-and-white photographs of a woman with bare breasts, whose form increasingly disappears into the shadows as the camera focuses on her body. On the opposite side, each of the panels depict a word relating to the text featured on the plinth, which is an excerpt from French philosopher Georges Bataille's book L'Erotisme (Eroticism) (1957).
Julião Sarmento's wide-ranging practice saw the artist summon fragmented forms to his work by drawing in graphite over canvases primed with thick layers of paint. Many of his paintings from the 1980s and 90s feature line drawings against a white background, which typically depict female figures whose heads or feet are missing.
The intentionally incomplete forms in Sarmento's paintings generate ambiguous narratives and relationships. To Take Off the Lace and Blow the Flower (1997), a large painting included in the Portugal Pavilion at the 47th Venice Biennale, shows two women whose postures—one straight and resting and the other bending over the table—imply a hierarchy. In the otherwise empty, white background, contours of what could be a finger and a person's neck suggest a third presence in the room.
Sarmento continued to explore human desire, inviting participants to secretly take polaroid photos of their crushes. The project, entitled Secret (2000), further instructed them to seal the images without looking at them, leaving the photographs to be a secret forever.
In Arena (2021), the artist's posthumous solo exhibition at Pilar Corrias in Saville Row, London, the works on view are loosely based on Spanish painter Francisco de Goya's drawings. Against a white background, Sarmento spirited nude or clothed figures from Goya's work, placing them in washes of colour that have dried while dripping from the canvas, and juxtaposing rectangles of solid colours and grayscale images of the sky or the ocean. Removed from their original environments, the figures express an array of emotions that convey the diversity of human experience.
Sarmento began to garner international recognition in the 1980s, following his presentations in Documenta in 1982 and 1987, and cemented his reputation as a leading contemporary artist with his presentation at the Portuguese Pavilion at the 47th Venice Biennale.
Sarmento went onto hold numerous exhibitions in Europe and North America and his works are in the collections of Centro de Arte Manuel de Brito, Algés, Lisbon; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo, Madrid; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Gent; and Tate Collection, London, among others.
Selected solo exhibitions of Julião Sarmento's work include Arena, Pilar Corrias, London (2021); Julião Sarmento, MUDAS Contemporary Art Museum, Madeira Island (2021); A linha que fecha também abre, MNAA Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga — Sala do Tecto Pintado, Lisbon (2020); Julião Sarmento. Without, CGAC Centro Galego de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago de Compostela, Spain (2018); Easy Pairings Fractals Stars, Galerie Daniel Templon, Brussels (2015); Julião Sarmento, Terra Incognita, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York (2014); and Julião Sarmento: Noits Brancas (White Nights), Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal (2012).
Selected group exhibitions include O Canto do Bode in collaboration with Galeria Luisa Strina and Sé Galeria, Casa da Cultura da Comporta, Portugal and São Paulo (2021); Collectors Plus, Silverlens, Manila (2020); Reasons and Emotions, MNAC National Museum for Contemporary Art, Lisbon (2018); A Colecção (Reloaded) Norlinda e José Lima, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, (2017); Per/Form — How to do things with[out] words, CA2M — Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid (2014); and Retro-Prospecção: Portuguese Pavilion at 12th Venice Architecture Biennale (2010).
Julião Sarmento's website can be found here.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021