São Paulo

“Transfer”

Pavilhão das Culturas Brasileiras

Transfer: Arte Urbana e Contemporânea, Transferências e Transformações” (Transfer: Urban and Contemporary Art, Transfers and Transformations) brought Brazilian youth subcultures of street art, underground comics, fanzines, independent music, and skateboarding to a newly opened museum built according to an early 1950s design by Oscar Niemeyer. With several hundred artists, designers, performers, and musicians, many of them autodidacts, represented by a wide range of original works in different media and extensive photographic and video documentation of their activities over the past thirty years, the exhibition showed to what great extent Brazilian art has been affected by those underground subcultures. At the center of the show, a fenced ramp, designed by the art collective Noh in collaboration with the architect Pedro Mendes da Rocha, served as a space for skateboarding performances by professional riders and for videos and films documenting various aspects of street art.

Like its predecessor, also called “Transfer,” organized at the Santander Cultural in Porto Alegre, Brazil, two years ago, the São Paulo exhibition was divided into four sections, “Mauditos” (Cursed, misspelled in Portuguese), “Intervencionistas” (Interventionists), “Autoindicados” (Self-Appointed Ones), and “Beautiful Losers,” each arranged by one or two curators from a team led by Lucas Ribeiro (aka Pexão) and including Fabio Zimbres, Alexandre Cruz (aka Sesper), and Christian Strike. “Beautiful Losers,” curated by Strike, consisted mainly of works by the US-based collective of DIY artists, designers, photographers, and filmmakers known under that name since the ’90s, among them Barry McGee, Thomas Campbell, and Steve Powers, who produced site-specific installations for the show in São Paulo. By inviting a large group of North American artists, the curators stressed the origins of the art on view in various youth subcultures of the US, from graffiti and skateboarding to hip-hop, rap, and punk rock, about which young Brazilians mostly learned secondhand in the ’80s and ’90s—from movies and magazines, and, occasionally, through direct contact with foreigners (for instance, McGee first came to Brazil in 1993). Devoted to paintings, sculptures, and installations by a new generation of Brazilian artists, “Autoindicados,” curated by Ribeiro, demonstrated how much those works are stylistically interconnected with those currently made in the US and other parts of the world.

Conversely, while Os Gêmeos and Nunca are known by aficionados around the world, they are household names for street art in Brazil, and their works were prominently featured in the show. On an equal footing with these celebrated figures were lesser-known artists and designers such as Billy Argel, whose skateboard decks decorated with intricate weavings of original fonts with Halloween-style monsters, skulls, and zombies as well as insignia-like images with symmetrical patterns of swords and brushes are highly valued collectibles. Another artist/designer, Zimbres, was honored as the innovative and provocative editor of ANIMAL magazine, published in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the most important comic in the history of the Brazilian underground press. Zimbres’s site-specific installation here retained the playful freshness of his original graphic design, depicting cartoonish creatures crawling on the wall, looking both funny and grotesque. By focusing on local underground graphic productions, some with commercial appeal, “Transfer” extended the definition of “rebellious Brazilian artist” from an adventurous graffitist who tags public property to a provocative artist/designer working in a studio, often with clearly mercantile goals. To some, this shift might be problematic, but to acknowledge it is only realistic; eventually, many successful graffiti artists here end up showing in galleries and museums.

Marek Bartelik