São Paulo

Amadeo Luciano Lorenzato, Erupção Solar (Solar Eruption), 1992, oil on board, 20 3/4 × 20".

Amadeo Luciano Lorenzato, Erupção Solar (Solar Eruption), 1992, oil on board, 20 3/4 × 20".

Amadeo Luciano Lorenzato

Bergamin & Gomide

Amadeo Luciano Lorenzato, Erupção Solar (Solar Eruption), 1992, oil on board, 20 3/4 × 20".

“He doesn’t belong to cliques / He paints what he feels like painting / Amen.” Amadeo Luciano Lorenzato (1900–1995) wrote this prayer on the reverse side of an untitled painting from 1948. And indeed, Lorenzato was an artist who just seemed to follow his heart, with little regard for conventions of genre or style. This exhibition of the self-taught painter’s work, curated by artists Alexandre da Cunha and Rivane Neuenschwander, included an assortment of: still lifes, rural and semi-urban landscapes, as well as fully abstract compositions. The two works that opened the show announced that the diversity of Lorenzato’s oeuvre, and thus his stylistic independence, was key to the exhibition’s conception. On the left wall, a pale-blue band bisected an untitled painting from 1989. Its upper register presented curved and linear forms in somber tones from black to light gray, while rose-colored circles fill in the black background on the lower register. Facing this was an untitled work dated 1974, showing people standing outside a store; their bodies and faces revealed no painterly modulation, displacing specific identities in favor of cultural context. What the two works have in common is their richly textured surfaces, which Lorenzato achieved through the use of combs, forks, and brush handles.

In the exhibition catalogue, the artist-curators confess that their selection was based on an “emotional relationship with Lorenzato’s work.” Indeed, many Brazilian artists share such a deeply personal response to his production. Matheus Rocha Pitta, for one, proudly displays a Lorenzato in his home. Yet the history of self-taught artists in Brazil is more complex than the curators’ affective affirmation allows. Simultaneously on view at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Universidade de São Paulo, the exhibition “Two Moments of José Antonio da Silva,” curated by Ana Magalhães, featured the works of this other self-taught painter, including his portraits, rural scenes, and religious subjects, all marked by imaginative color schemes and skewed perspectives. Here we learned about his “invention” as an artist when museum directors Lourival Gomes Machado (at the former Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo) and Pietro Maria Bardi (at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo) first discovered Silva’s work in the late 1940s. What is more, despite the paintings’ visibly naive aesthetic, the works made their way into modern art collections. Silva also participated in the first São Paulo Bienal in 1951, and formed part of the Brazilian contingent exhibitions at the Venice Biennale in 1952. Here the self-taught artist was revealed not as an outsider to modernism but as deeply entwined with modern art and its institutionalization in Brazil.

This brings me back to Lorenzato the self-taught painter, the “free agent” from Belo Horizonte. Echoing the artist’s self-description, the curators further explain, “What seems most import to us, as artists, is the freedom with which Lorenzato worked.” One might locate such freedom in his indifference to the distinction between abstraction and figuration, as well as his unconventional approach to composition, perspective, and painterly facture. But the curators’ statement also echoes Jean Dubuffet’s definition of art brut as an art “untouched by artistic culture”—and, in this sense, their words read more like a wishful projection than anything based on reality. To consume the Lorenzato myth of artistic freedom, one would have to ignore the fact that he briefly attended the Reale Accademia delle Arti in Vicenza, Italy, and was thus exposed to modern art in Europe, and that his work was circulated and sold in elite spaces. This is not to say that Lorenzato’s variegated and singular paintings don’t merit artistic, curatorial, critical, and historiographic attention; they absolutely do. The challenge, however, is to rethink the history of self-taught artists and its relation to modern art and cultural institutions, from the 1940s to today.

Kaira M. Cabañas