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The New York Times on Americas Society's José Leonilson: Empty Man

January 10, 2018


Through Feb. 3. Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue, Manhattan; 212-249-8950,

José Leonilson’s (1957-1993) work is cryptic, coded and often hard to read — even if you understand Portuguese. Like a personal poetry project, the paintings, drawings and embroidery works of this Brazilian artist, who died from AIDS-related causes in 1993, are filled with meandering lines of text and small images: trompe l’oeil scars, foliage, pictograms. Surprisingly, “Empty Man” at the Americas Society is the first solo exhibition in the United States to showcase his work, and it is a great introduction.

Learn more about the exhibition.

Mr. Leonilson’s early pieces fit in very much with a 1980s return to the figure in the work of the famed “three C’s” of Italian painting: Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi and Sandro Chia. Like those artists, Mr. Leonilson painted curious figures in bright flat fields of color, adding bits of language, in keeping with a postmodern era in which semiotics and other theories were central elements in art. Travel and wandering were a constant theme too, as Mr. Leonilson exhibited his work in Europe and toured Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid....

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Image credit: José Leonilson Bezerra Dias, Empty Man, 1991, Thread on embroidered linen, 20 7/8 x 14 9/16 in (53 x 37 cm). Família Bezerra Dias/Projeto Leonilson. © Projeto Leonilson