By his death in August 2018, Antonio Dias had assembled a collection of his own works that covered his entire artistic career. The collection consisted of both pieces that he had never relinquished and others repurchased from third parties to whom they had been sold. It was, thus, a representation of himself intentionally constructed, maintained, and preserved.
The desire to collect himself, so to speak, expresses an essential aspect of the artist: Antonio Dias cultivated a work ethic that allows us to understand his career from positions clearly formulated by him. Thus, the choice of the elements of this collection attests to the principles that guided the artist throughout his life and that he sought to keep close to him.
We have assembled part of this unique collection here. In addition to featuring emblematic pieces such as Nota sobre a morte acidental [Note on accidental death] and Anywhere Is My Land, the series ranges from the first abstract works of the early 1960s to the last canvas painted by Antonio Dias. The show is organized chronologically. It begins with the most recent works, where the use of mineral, electrically conductive pigments was essential to the artist due to the presence of physically charged matter. The second section brings together works that use words, frequently English words, in arid compositions in black, white, and gray, which appear to question their own meaning as art, since they deny any pleasure to the audience. The third series consists of pieces from the 1960s, whose fragmented figures evoke the violence of the Brazilian dictatorship, sex, and extirpated viscera. Along the way, there are also unique works, such as the abstractions of the young artist made shortly after his initial period of study under the engraver Oswaldo Goeldi, the films made in New York between 1971 and 1972, and the various representations of the body. Punctuating the whole series, different self-portraits record the author’s process of maturation.
The work, albeit manifold, presents one common aspect: it is impossible to experience a full understanding of each piece; on the contrary, the audience is confronted with a construction unable to present itself fully. From a method that yields objects whose full meaning is always absent, there emerges the ethical dimension of Antonio Dias’ work: the incompleteness of human existence. The recurrence of existential themes confers a sense of witnessing on the work of Antonio Dias. Thus, the collection he amassed of his own work is a unique synthesis, due to both the path he constructs through the various phases and the declaration of the guiding ethical values of his art.
The opportunity to exhibit part of his collection in this show, while the artist’s period of mourning continues, was only possible thanks to the generosity of his family, to whom the exhibition is dedicated.