Critics’ Picks

Tarsila do Amaral, Abaporu, 1928.

Tarsila do Amaral, Abaporu, 1928.

São Paulo

Brasil, da Antropogafia a Brasília, 1920–50”

Museu de Arte Brasileira (FAAP)
Rua Alagoas 903 Higienópolis
December 1, 2002–March 2, 2003

With over six hundred pieces and over six hundred pages of exhibition catalogue, “Brazil, from Antropofagia to Brasília—1920–1950” is a tour de force covering four of the country’s richest cultural decades. Commissioned by the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM), in Valencia, Spain, chief curator and Modernismo scholar Jorge Schwartz invited five of his Universidade de São Paulo colleagues to join him as cocurators. After opening in Valencia in 2000, the exhibition has now finally reached home. The two-year delay gave the organizers the exceptional opportunity to revise and sharpen the Portuguese-English exhibition catalogue, a publication that was born as a classic on the many periods and topics it encompasses. Modernismo’s interdisciplinary spirit is strongly felt in the curatorial approach, with the juxtaposition of art, photography, literature, architecture, film, and music displayed chronologically in a succession of ten rooms. The first one is dedicated to what is considered by some critics (including Schwartz himself) the most original contribution to Brazilian culture of the first half of the last century—antropofagia, a notion maintaining that native intellectuals devoured foreign ideas and movements, appropriating, digesting, and then regurgitating their own hybrid original artistic outputs in a sort of postmodernism avant la lettre—and closes with what is considered by others the very same thing: Concretismo’s geometric abstraction. Though I personally feel the best of the past century—the Neoconretismo of Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, which only fully emerged in the ’60s—was left out, one can’t judge a show for what is does not purport to encompass, and the fact is that this exhibition offers a true feast for all factions. On display is Tarsila do Amaral’s painting Abaporu, 1928 (Modernismo’s most celebrated emblem and a work whose Argentine owner is always generous enough to loan back to its people), a photograph from 1926 of the Italian futurist Marinetti visiting a Rio de Janeiro favela, architectural plans submitted by leading (if somewhat neglected) figures such as Vilanova Artigas and Rino Levi for the competition of Brasília, several of Burle Marx’s landscape designs from the 1950s, and Le Corbusier’s proposal sketches for Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, along with a selection of books, magazines, films, photographs, documents, and songs. The copious amount of brilliant modernist and midcentury Brazilian objects and ideas may evoke a certain nostalgia in the contemporary visitor. I left the show reinvigorated but also rather gloomy.