Critics’ Picks

Jorge Guinle, Nos confins da cidade muda [do Man Ray], (At the frontier of the mute city [after Man Ray]), 1982.

Jorge Guinle, Nos confins da cidade muda [do Man Ray], (At the frontier of the mute city [after Man Ray]), 1982.

São Paulo

“2080”

Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (MAM)
Parque Ibirapuera gate 3 - s/nº
January 24–April 6, 2003

If radical political and experimental conceptualisms flourished in Brazil under the ’60s and ’70s military dictatorship (from Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Pape to Cildo Meireles, Tunga, Barrio, and Waltercio Caldas), the ’80s redemocratization witnessed the reemergence of painting (much like in Europe and the US) and was often paired here with a rather hedonistic self-proclaimed attitude of “liberation.” The new spirit had a reactionary program vis-à-vis the previous generation’s severity of content and form: “Pleasure” was largely expressed in vivid and expressionistic brushstrokes, colors, and figures. Drawing mostly from the holdings of the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro Museus de Arte Moderna, “2080” attempts to “revise Brazilian art of the ’80s.” Organized by Felipe Chaimovich and the MAM-SP’s educational department, it takes as points of departure four exhibitions of the period: “Pintura como meio” (Painting as medium; 1983); “Como vai você, Geração 80?” (How are you doing, ’80s generation?; 1984); “Grande Tela” (Large canvas) at the 1985 Bienal de São Paulo; and “Imagens de Segunda Geração” (Second-generation images; 1987). Works by every participating artist are hung on color-coded articulated partition walls (their backs suitably painted in vivid green, pink, yellow, and orange) according to the four now-rendered-historic shows. This generates an incongruousness: Key artists such as Leonilson, Nuno Ramos, and Beatriz Milhazes are represented by a single painting and not-so-relevant others by two or three works. Underlying this rationale is a certain self-effacing curatorial approach, another symptom of which takes on more populist tones: Visitors are invited to submit their input to the exhibition, which will be regrouped by the educational department every two weeks according to their views. None of this can disguise what the checklist alone makes evident: the strikingly poor quality of the works. There are a lot of attempts at “bad painting,” mostly with juvenile results. There are certainly good artists among the thirty-seven here—Leda Catunda, Beatriz Milhazes, Daniel Senise, Luiz Zerbini, Monica Nador, Rodrigo Andrade, Nuno Ramos, Leonilson, Edgard de Souza, Iran do Espírito Santo, Caetano de Almeida, Ana Maria Tavares—along with many who have either abandoned the medium or fallen into oblivion. But most of those would develop their interesting and complex work in the decade to follow. Milhazes and Espírito Santo, leading contemporary Brazilian figures these days, are featured with incipient works, executed when they were a mere twenty-three and twenty-one years old, respectively. (Nuno Ramos and the late Jorge Guinle, however, are represented by fine canvases.) One doesn’t even have to go back to Benjamin Buchloh’s famous 1981 attack on the “return of representation in European painting” to assess the Brazilian ’80s that are surveyed here. Judging from this exhibition, the harsh truth is that the ’80s seem not so much passé, but simply poor; energy, vigor, and “pleasure” were plentiful back then, yet “good painting” all too scarce.