Valeska Soares (b.1957) was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and from a young age, she was exposed to references from a variety of cultural milieus, including poetry, literature, film, psychology, and mythology. She studied architecture at Universidade Santa Úrsula, Rio de Janiero; this training reinforced an interest in site specificity, with artworks that consider both contextual history and spatial constructs. The Brazilian art scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s catalyzed Soares’ artistic career in Rio and São Paulo, and in 1992, she moved to Brooklyn, NY, continuing her artistic education and career. From New York, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, her work has been positioned in multiple platforms, reinforcing the globalized art world’s questions of geography, cultural and national identity, discipline, and form.
Soares’ bodies of work are linked thematically, but deploy diverse strategies to address issues and concerns through materials, forms, and experiences. Utilizing tools of minimalism and conceptualism, her work embraces emotion and humanity, mining territories of love, intimacy, and desire; loss and longing; and memory and language. She has explored these elusive themes through a myriad of tactics, infusing objects such as mirrors, clocks, glass, books, furniture, and flora with poetics, narratives, and alchemy. The resulting artworks—paintings, sculptures, installations, videos, and audio experiences—morph the physical and the psychological, the body and the mind. In Soares’ refined visual language, reflective objects suggest reflective thinking, concealed images reveal unexpected mysteries, and accumulated words disintegrate linear narrative.
Desire is a central theme in Soares’ practice, enticing viewers though an engagement with all five senses. Her installations have included perfume, decaying flowers, or spirits; these works result in phenomenological experiences that shift perception and expectations. In her words, “desire is like a vanishing point: every time you go towards it, it recedes a little.” Another motif in her work is the transference of personal memory and collective history; the artist frequently re-purposes second hand objects that she considers charged by “the lives and memories [of former owners], becoming for a moment in time, part of those personal narratives as each one travels from subject to subject.” Canvases made of book covers convene and re-orient individual narratives; collections of empty antique cake platters or half-filled drinking glasses suggest rituals or celebrations that have been suspended in time. Soares’ art encourages the widest possible viewer experience, rejecting the idea of a singular reading or message. Describing this interest in unrestricted opportunities for engagement, she states, “what interests me is the surprise in how each person is going to perceive the piece. And even the same person, on different days—depending on the sun and the moon, a dream they had, how they woke up—the work is never the same.”
In 2018, a retrospective of Valeska Soares’ work was on view at The Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. She was the subject of the major mid-career survey, Valeska Soares: Any Moment Now, co-curated by Julie Joyce and Vanessa Davidson, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA (2017) and the Phoenix Art Museum, AZ (2018). Previous surveys of Soares’ work have been presented by the Museum de arte da Pampulha, Belo Horizonte, Brazil (2002) and the Bronx Museum for the Arts, NY (2003).
Soares has participated in numerous international exhibitions, including two Venice Biennales (2011, 2005); several São Paulo Biennials (2009, 1998, 1994); the Sharjah Biennial (2009); the Taipei Biennal (2006); the Liverpool Biennial (2004); inSITE San Diego/Tijuana (2000-01); and the Havana Biennial (1991). Other group exhibitions include Jardin infini. De Giverny à l’Amazonie, Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz, France (2017); 99 Cents or Less, Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, MI (2018); Permission to be Global: Latin American Art from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2014); Seduções: Valeska Soares, Cildo Meireles, Ernesto Neto, Daros Collection, Zurich (2006); Puro Teatro at Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City (2002); Virgin Territory: Women, Gender, and History in Contemporary Brazilian Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC (2001); and the landmark Latin American exhibition, Ultra Baroque: Aspects of Post Latin American Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (traveled) (2000-03). She has been the subject of many solo exhibitions including shows at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT (2017); The Jewish Museum, New York (2015); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Mexico (2003); Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City (2002); Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla, CA (1999); Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, OR (1998); Laumeier Sculpture Park and Museum, Saint Louis, MO (1996); and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1995).
Soares’ artwork is included in many private and public collections, including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum d’Art Contemporary de Barcelona, Spain; Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York; Tate Modern, London; Fundacion “la Caixa,” Barcelona; The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.; Museu de Arte Contemporânea–MAC in São Paulo; Museu de Arte Moderna–MAM in Rio de Janeiro; Inhotim–Centro de Arte Contemporânea in Brumadinho, Brazil; Museo de Art Contemporánea–MARCO in Monterrey, and others. Soares has been the recipient of multiple grants and awards, including the Coordenao de Aperfeioamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) fellowship, Brazil's Ministry of Education; Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, The Getty Foundation, Los Angeles; Ida Ely Rubin Artist in Residence Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; Anonymous Was a Woman Award, New York; and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, New York. Valeska Soares is also represented by Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel in São Paulo, Brazil.