Wednesday, April 18, 2018

“Merging Art and Language in Museums”

Sergio Bessa gave a talk titled, “Merging Art and Language in Museums” at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, (1414 Art Center Ave, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168). I figured this was a fine subject to  bring along Pam Schwartz, the chief curator at the Orange County Regional History Center. The Atlantic Arts Center of the Arts is like an artist camp set out in the woods at the edge of civilization. Boardwalks interconnect communal cabins. We were at a loss to find where the talk would take place and we finally asked another artist wandering about, and he guided us there. The lecture hall was about the size of a small basketball court with stadium seating for the attendees. We sat in the front row to get a good view of Sergio. Perhaps a dozen or so people filed in to listen.

Sergio Bessa is the director of curatorial and education programs at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, which he joined in 2003. A scholar of concrete poetry, Bessa has published several volumes on the subject.  At the Bronx Museum, he has organized several exhibitions including Joan Semmel: The Lucid Eye (2013), Paulo Bruscky: Art is our last hope (2013); Martin Wong: Human Instamatic (2015), in collaboration with Yasmin Ramirez, and later this year he will present Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect, organized in collaboration with Jessamyn Fiore.

The talk was all about concrete poetry, which is poetry organized to fill specific shapes and structures. Concrete poetry has developed from a long tradition of shaped poems in which the words are arranged in such a way as to depict their subject. The talk was a dry and in-depth look at concrete poetry in its early days in Brazil. Without digital tricks the early poets had to rely on typewriters with different colored ink tapes and extensive use of actual cutting and pasting of text. A poem by Augusto de Campos, titled “here are the lovers,” is meant to depict nude lovers copulating. 

Other audience members must have had a solid week of exposure to concrete poetry because they interpreted the work with reflective and deep interpretation as if their grade depended upon it. Personally, if I want to depict something on a page, I  would much rather sketch it with line and color  than be limited by the linear structure of words. Now that I am firmly aware of this form of poetry, it seems I can't escape it. Pam and I ran across a concrete poetry exhibit in Miami shortly after the talk. Every poem was arranged the the shape of a cube. What did it all mean? I don't know. I don't think I am esoteric enough to let this poetry affect me deeply. I  just like to draw stuff. Pam was just surprised that the talk had absolutely nothing to do with museums.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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