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Organic Surrealism amidst Stark Industrialism: installations of Henrique Oliveira

We swoon just thinking of Henrique Oliveira’s work. The Brazilian native is known for massive sculptural installations of tangled roots, bursting forth from and wrapping through rigid non-organic spaces. Sharp gallery walls and beams erupt into gripping tendrils of wood to provoke transformative interactions with the surrounding architecture.

What is so successful about Oliveira’s installations is their ability to create fundamentally surreal spaces. There is no post-apocalyptic feeling of overgrowth through abandoned industrialism— which is a common product of incorporating root-like webs in structured man-made environments. Rather, it’s as if the room itself is growing and reaching. It’s the opposite of industrial violation by nature, it’s a world in which the stark manufactured coldness of modern architecture is alive with new found organicness.

We first experienced Oliveira’s genius at the Van de Weghe gallery on Madison Avenue. Accessible only by a door tucked away, the gallery is easy to miss even to those who are actively looking for it. Walking into a typical commercial space, we found our way to a tiny and seemingly ancient elevator and pressed the button to take us up to the floor that housed the Gallery. When the door opens, we were met with a completely transformed space. Every visible surface had been covered with mangled uneven wood that framed a strongly unapologetic vein of roots, which branched horizontally though the gallery room. The smell was incredible. In the heat of NYC summer, the wood was rich and spicy and transported us somewhere rustic and unfamiliar. We were allowed to move through the root system, ducking below and climbing around outstretched arms of wood (careful to not trip on the uneven floor boards that seemingly ruptured to accommodate the roots) to find our way behind the structure and felt slightly pinned by this organic invasion. It was truly incredible. The moment the door of the elevator opened we completely forget that we were in the heart of bustling and scorching Manhattan.

Oliveira’s ability to transform in both a powerful yet comforting way captures everything we love about Mother Nature. We feel simultaneously unsettled and captivated. Further more, experience aside, the installations are breathtaking for their scale and flawless construction alone. Individual boards become effortlessly fluid curves that tower over us and that contrast of rigidity and motion is fantastic. Oliveira presents us with a surrealist hybridized landscape of industrial architecture and explosive nature and we hope you find an opportunity to adventure, even briefly, into his world!


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