Mike Nelson was invited to represent Britain at the 26ª Bienal de São Paulo, 2004, following the highly successful Edinburgh showing of The Pumpkin Palace, his work of 2003 using a 1954 GMC transit bus, presented by the Collective Gallery for the Festival Programme 2004, as well as his critically acclaimed solo exhibition Triple Bluff Canyon at Modern Art, Oxford.
Mike Nelson’s new work, Modernismo Negro, is sited on the 2nd floor of the Pavilhão da Bienal in the Parque do Ibirapuera. Constructed over a period of four weeks, it incorporates a five-metre high curved wall which extends out into the main exhibition hall and confines a womb-like space at the very heart of the building. Entered through double-doors, this newly created space has been built around the entrance-lobby for the goods lift. It contains a mezzanine level which is accessed by a spiral staircase found on one of the artist’s foraging trips to the reclamation yards of São Paulo. The surface finish and curve of the wall ensure it blends into its surroundings so as to appear to be an integral part of Niemeyer’s celebrated building. Through meticulous attention to every detail in its construction, and the objects and items found within this fictive space, Nelson’s imposing new work references both the history and position of the Bienal in the second half of the 20th century and Niemeyer’s architectural vision for Brazil by playing with the belief systems they represent and in their complex relationships with the city of São Paulo and the country as a whole.
In addition to the national representations, the 26ª Bienal mounted an international exhibition, curated by the director, Alfons Hug. Featuring artists invited by the Bienal de São Paulo, the exhibition included new work by both David Batchelor and Simon Starling. In order to achieve greater conceptual unity, the work of invited artists and national representations was not separated in the building; the distribution of exhibition spaces over the three floors of the Bienal pavilion followed purely aesthetic and technical criteria.