The Brazilian artist Tunga—the first contemporary artist to exhibit works at the Louvre in Paris—died yesterday (6 June) in Rio de Janeiro, aged 64.
“The news came in last night and it was devastating,” says Irina Stark, the sales director at Pilar Corrias gallery, who represented the artist in London from 2008 until last year. Tunga, who was suffering from cancer, had “been in intensive care for the past couple of days. We are all in mourning”.
Art world tributes have begun pouring in for the artist who worked with sculpture, performance and video, and never shied away from the body in his often-surreal works. In interviews with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, the artist Adriana Varejao called him “a visceral artist, an alchemist” while the sculptor Waltércio Caldas said that Brazil has lost one of its great artists. The curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist posted a tribute image on Instagram while on twitter the Frieze director Victoria Siddall wrote: “Sad to hear of the death of Tunga, Brazilian artist who was only 64 and was still making great work.”
At last year’s edition of Frieze London, a recreation of Tunga's Xifopagas Capilares (conjoined twins) performance from 1984—where two twin girls are joined by their hair—proved to be one of the most memorable works at the fair, scandalising some critics but delighting visitors and Instagrammers alike.
One of Brazil’s best-known contemporary artists, Tunga was born Antonio José de Barros Carvalho e Mello Mourão in 1952 in Palmares, Brazil. He represented Brazil at Documenta 10 in 1997 with the performance Debaixo do meu chapéu (under my hat) where seven women dressed in white moved around the city of Kassel carrying a giant hat—the work was reportedly one of the most talked about and photographed at the exhibition. He was also one of the four artists representing Brazil at the Venice Biennale in 2001. Tunga’s A la Lumiere des Deux Mondes (the meeting of two worlds) installation at the Louvre in 2005 was the first exhibition by a contemporary artist in the Paris museum.