Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1941, Nelly Gutmacher began her artistic career in the early 1970s by making collages. She studied with Ivan Serpa (1923–1973) and attended workshops and classes at the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro. Her first solo exhibition took place at the Instituto Brasil–Estados Unidos, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1972, where she displayed a series of photomontages. Works from this early period present images of fragmented bodies amid surrealist-inspired scenes and landscapes. With these works she received the acquisition prize at the Third Salão Nacional de Belo Horizonte; she also won prizes at the Salão Nacional de Artistas Jovens, in Campinas, and the Eleventh Mostra de Artes Visuais in Rio de Janeiro. In 1973 the art critics Walmir Ayala and Antonio Bento nominated her to represent Brazil at the Eighth Paris Biennial. The following year she participated in the Sixth Salão Nacional de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro. In 1978 she became a professor at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, initially teaching collage; she taught there until 1999.
In the early 1980s she shared a studio at Parque Lage with two ceramic artists, one of whom was Celeida Tostes (1929–1995). She then began to create three-dimensional works, using her own body to make molds in gesso. Afterward she produced a series of female body parts in ceramic: belly, bust, breasts, back, and arms, over which she fashioned details in relief, such as necklaces and lace underwear. The series, called Arqueologia do desejo (fragmentos) (Archaeology of desire [fragments]), was presented at the Fourth Salão Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Rio de Janeiro in 1981 and at a solo exhibition at the Galeria Aktuel the following year. Her work garnered recognition among art critics in Rio de Janeiro. Writing on the series, the critic Maria Lucia Rangel highlights the visceral quality of the pieces. Frederico Morais writes about her works presented at the Galeria Aktuel, asserting that Gutmacher, together with Celeida Tostes, was the creator of a "Rio school" of ceramics, introducing feminine themes and celebrating everyday objects. Morais also points out the aspect of "archaeological research" present in this series, a characteristic that Gutmacher further develops in her later sculptural work. In the installation Filhos do fogo (Children of fire, 1989), she presents a series of terracotta pieces similar to stones, marked with designs that hark back to a prehistoric gesturality. In Serpente de ouro (Serpent of gold, 1990) she gathers a group of small sculptures that resemble archaeological pieces, containing marks in relief that portray snakes and religious symbols. The Rio art critic Walmir Ayala discussed Gutmacher's ceramic work at various times in his column in the Jornal do Commercio, emphasizing the ritual character of her installations and her interest in a mythical universe of the relationship of man to clay.
Between 1986 and 1988 Gutmacher developed activities in an art workshop at the Colônia Juliano Moreira, a psychiatric institution in Jacarepaguá, Rio de Janeiro. Her engagement in the women's wing of the psychiatric hospital led to the 1988 exhibition O ar subterrâneo, held at the Imperial Palace, with works by the inmates. In the 2000s Gutmacher delved more deeply into her art therapy activity. She also began to run workshops in childcare centers and practice as a Jungian therapist. After the 2000s her artistic production has mainly been two-dimensional, including drawings, photography, and photocollages.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1971 Nelly Gutmacher, Instituto Brasil–Estados Unidos, Rio de Janeiro
1982 Arqueologia do desejo (fragmentos), Galeria Aktuel, Rio de Janeiro
1982 Nelly Gutmacher, Solar do Unhão, Salvador, Bahia
1989 O Sol e a Lua, Galeria Cândido Mendes, Rio de Janeiro
1995 Os filhos do fogo, Galeria Cândido Mendes, Rio de Janeiro
Ayala, Walmir. "Os filhos do fogo." Jornal do Commercio, Rio de Janeiro, December 6, 1989, p. 24.
Canongia, Ligia. "Ritualismo quase religioso." Jornal O Globo, Rio de Janeiro, December 13, 1988, p. 2.
Gullar, Ferreira, ed. Arte brasileira hoje. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 1973.
Morais, Frederico. Cronologia das artes plásticas no Rio de Janeiro 1816–1994. Rio de Janeiro: Topbooks, 1995.
———. "Arqueologia do desejo em Nelly Gutmacher." Jornal O Globo, Rio de Janeiro, August 23, 1983, p. 28.