Claudia Fontes is an artist who emerged in the early 1990s in Buenos Aires – the first generation to be able to vote freely and recover the personal and subjective space in art after decades of repression under the military regime.
Many artists of this generation used this new-found freedom to explore intimacy and subjectivity, for example by openly expressing sexuality in ways that were formerly marginalized. Fontes was at once part of that movement, but also significantly different from it, in that she felt a tension between the inward need for self-expression and the broader demands of a society that was embarking on a painful process of reckoning with its recent past. These threads came together in one of her most emblematic works, “Reconstruction of the Portrait of Pablo Miguez” (1999–2010), an homage to one of the many victims of the dictatorship: a solitary figure who stands on the waters of the Rio de la Plata, where many people were ‘disappeared’. The poignancy and sensitivity of this work provided a way forward for many artists and viewers who were looking for a way to understand a historical trauma that was social and political, but also extremely, and painfully, intimate.
Fontes’s work can be hard to fit into familiar artistic categories, as she approaches each project from scratch with a long and intensive research process before arriving at a formal solution. As such she does not have a ‘signature style’. One constant throughout her career is her engagement with the possibilities of sculpture as a medium, through which she effectively explores questions of scale and relation. At two ends of the spectrum are her large sculpture of a horse and two human figures for the 57th Venice Biennale (2017), and her series of Foreigners (2014–present), strange small-scale porcelain figures that seem to carry the physical marks of intimacy and emotional porosity.
In 2017/18 Fontes was invited to be one of the seven artist-curators of the 33rd São Paulo Bienal; her project The Slow Bird was a rich experiment commissioning 10 artists from different disciplines and backgrounds to engage with a meditation on art, nature, and perception. For this biennial she also produced a major work Nota al Pie (Footnote), which also served as a kind of guide to the rest of her curated exhibition, incorporating ideas of translation, transcreation, randomness, and order.