In this interview art historian Felipe Scovino engages in conversation with two important Brazilian critics and curators, Moacir dos Anjos and Agnaldo Farias. Dos Anjos and Farias discuss their thoughts on the 29th São Paulo Biennial, which they jointly curated, and relevant topics, such as: the temporal gap between the international reception of Brazilian artworks and Brazilian critical thought; the friction between the artwork and a foreign context; problems faced in the process of writing a history of Brazilian art, such as institutional precariousness and the relative lack of consistent public collections; and the implication of the multiple tasks – critic, curator, art historian – often performed by arts-related intellectuals in the country. Leading on from the diagnosis of these difficulties, the conversation also probes the specificities of the Brazilian artistic field and its inherent ambiguities.
This article examines the development of discourses on Brazilian art and national identity over the period from 1850 to 1930. It begins with the nineteenth-century idea that the art produced in Brazil was lacking in a character distinct from its European origins and traces this to the strident nationalist stance of the 1920s, charting the implications of this debate for issues of race and culture, politics and social organisation. The main writings addressed are those of Manuel de Araújo Porto-Alegre, Gonzaga Duque, Alberto Torres, Graça Aranha, Monteiro Lobato, Oswald de Andrade and Mário de Andrade, key figures in fleshing out the ideal of brasilidade that came to prevail from the 1930s onwards.
During the 4th Bienal de São Paulo in 1957, many artists excluded from the selection confronted the selection commitee. Still more controversy was created when Alfred Barr Jr, member of the award jury and former director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, criticised Brazilian and Argentinian Concrete art as mere ‘bauhaus exercises’. Lourival Gomes Machado, director of the first Bienal, reproached Barr for ignoring ‘Brazil's artistic reality’. Mário Pedrosa, who was aligned with Concrete artists, replying to Barr's comments, stated that the North American critic wanted Brazilian art to conform to international taste and produce Abstract Expressionism. This article investigates the episode in order to understand the relations between Barr and Brazil's artistic debate, at this point dominated by diverse abstract productions, drawing on the testimonies of Gomes Machado and Pedrosa, eminent critics of the 1950s, as well as an interview given by Alfred Barr during the time of the exhibition.
The article addresses the use of geopolitical criteria as a method for classifying art, so as to revise what is considered prejudicial to the appreciation of art in its symbolic and sociological dimensions. These criteria applied to Brazilian art produce classification models based on dichotomies such as exoticism versus civilization, centre versus periphery and nationalism versus universalism. These models have guided museum directors, historians, art critics and curators alike for more than a century. They are analysed in the critical discourses on Albert Eckhout's painting and the Baroque style, as well as those related to Brazilian modernism. This article concludes that only further investigation into the finer nuances of the interactions between individuals and groups will lead to a comprehension of the complexity of artistic creative processes, breaking free from the constraints of geopolitical classification categories and allowing a transit through yet unknown areas.
The critic Mário Pedrosa defines ‘post-modern art’, in 1967, as a fundamentally ethical stance. Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark offer the most incisive reflection on and practice of such ethics of art in which the presence of the other is fundamental, not only as a participant but also as a category that is capable of subverting categories such as I, other and object. This subversion allows art to propose a relation between subject and culture akin to fundamental psychoanalytic concerns of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan.
Hélio Oiticica's artistic practice moved through a number of discrete, though related, conceptual phases, each with its own distinctive articulation and each bounding one or more series of works. Each successive phase of Oiticica's work developed out of his attempt to resolve the challenges raised by a preceding phase. His work was explicitly dialectical in this sense and its philosophical sophistication marks its distinctiveness in ways that are only beginning to be recognised. In the work the artist developed in New York between 1970 and 1978, elaborating on the concept of ‘creleisure’ that he had conceived in London in 1969, Oiticica proposed nothing less than a revolution in the idea of aesthetic revolution. Creleisure was a neologism that combined the senses of creativity, faith, leisure and pleasure, but in order to understand the concept's full significance it is necessary to trace its relation to the aesthetics of Schiller and Marcuse and Latin American foquismo theory.
This article undertakes a critical analysis of the central Neoconcrete theoretical text, Ferreira Gullar's 1959 Theory of the Non-Object. It historically accounts for its indebtedness to senior critic Mário Pedrosa's 1949 thesis on Gestalt theory and for the development of Gullar's ideas in the course of the critical debates apropos of abstract and Concrete art in the 1950s, and also challenges the supposedly neat correspondence between Gullar's formulations and the Neoconcrete artistic production it was supposed to read, emphasising its limits vis-à-vis the work of sculptor Amilcar de Castro. The Theory of the Non-Object is shown to rely on a double-bind: on the one hand, it undoubtedly formulates a radically open phenomenological model of interpretation, but, on the other, it also relies on a historicist reading of modern art that ultimately binds the concept of the non-object, even if negatively, to painterly paradigms.
In 1959, immediately after the publication of the ‘Neoconcrete Manifesto’, the Brazilian poet and critic Ferreira Gullar embarked on an art historical series, ‘Stages of Contemporary Art’, published in weekly installments in the Suplemento Dominical do Jornal do Brasil. Explicitly teleological in narrative form, the series sought to re-evaluate the theoretical development of modern art in light of contemporary experiments in Brazil. This article examines the intersection of this historiographic project, as well as Gullar's subsequent rejection of the formalist vanguard for the ‘engaged’ art of the political left, in keeping with the pedagogical initiatives of the Superior Institute of Brazilian Studies (ISEB), which sought to elaborate an ‘ideology for development’ between the mid-1950s and the military coup in 1964. In light of these overlapping histories, this article argues that Gullar's formulations of the ‘non-object’ and the ‘open work’ correspond to both the potentiality and limits of the concept of national ideology operative at the time.
In the 1950s, modern architecture became one of the most compelling and widely circulated, if controversial, symbols of industrial and cultural progress in Brazil. Such architects as Oscar Niemeyer and Affonso Reidy were both celebrated and reviled by specialists in the developed world for the liberties they took reconfiguring European architectural conventions for their tropical conditions. Two particular cases emanating from Rio de Janeiro – Reidy's design for the Museu de Arte Moderna and Niemeyer's journal Módulo – highlight how Brazilians engaged with this polemical discourse and disseminated their works of tropical modernism to foreign audiences. Through these and other examples, this article also points to ways in which Brazilians were complicit in the exoticization of their own country, deploying rhetoric about the tropics when it was advantageous and condemning it when it was not.
With the hardening of the Brazilian military dictatorship and the counter-cultural artistic turn, the end of the 1960s became one of the most intense and explosive moments in the country's recent cultural history. As an effort to encourage a more collective and urban-orientated way of living, architects Vilanova Artigas and Paulo Mendes da Rocha built houses that abolished the traditional notions of domesticity associated with comfort and the protection of privacy. At the same time, artists like Hélio Oiticica created immersive environments intended to foster creative leisure (‘creleisure’), transgressively proposing a domestic mode of experience in public spaces such as art galleries and museums. One might then say that the artistic and architectural frontlines were crossing, in inverse directions, the boundaries between the public and the private spheres in an attempt to invent a new kind of sociability.
In 1978 the first and only Bienal Latino-Americana de São Paulo brought tensions between the national, the continental and the normative International into sharp relief. Two years later the critics Aracy Amaral and Frederico Morais presented proposals for the permanent transformation of the Bienal Internacional de São Paulo into a Latin American biennial. Their ideas remained unrealised, and the historiographical register overwhelmingly consigns the I Bienal Latino-Americana to failure. This article does not seek to contest that verdict but rather to establish how this biennial arose from wider debates that both preceded and followed it, and how it relates to the reception and influence of Latin Americanist thought on the part of Brazilian critics and artists. It retrieves a history of the São Paulo biennial's engagement with the idea of Latin American art as a significant dimension of that institution's ill-remembered critical history, and considers how ideas in circulation at that time might continue to inform the São Paulo biennial's still inconsistent and ambivalent relation to Latin America.
This article explores some contradictions that arise from the recent prominence of Brazilian contemporary art within the international art circuit. One can note on the one hand a denial of any specificity relating to notions of national identity, while on the other this new globalised condition is defended by the incorporation of theories emerging from the struggles against cultural derivation from European modernism. The contradiction pertains to the fact that such theories were themselves elaborated on the assertion of cultural specificity. The article concludes that instead of using the presence of contemporary Brazilian art within the international circuit of art fairs, biennials, European and North American museum collections as a gauge for its recognition and pertinence within the new global order, a more productive means of assessing its standing within the international context would be to analyse the state of consolidation of collections and art historical narratives within the national context.
Third Text is published in print and online by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.