Keila Alaver, Untitled, 2000

Past future/Gift, on display at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art, is more than a commemorative exhibition. Conceived in the midst of the celebrations of 70 years of the museum's creation and originally created two years ago to present the institution's collection to the Atlanta public (it is worth noting that it was the first MAM exhibition in North American territory), the selection offers an interesting opportunity for fruition and reflection on important aspects of contemporary Brazilian art. 

The criterion adopted by the curators Cauê Alves and Vanessa Davidson is neither chronological nor thematic. The 72 works selected for the Brazilian version, which will occupy the museum's main room until April 21, were not chosen with the aim of narrating or illustrating an official history of national art, nor presenting a particular trajectory of the collection. The plastic, conceptual or poetic power of the work, as well as its ability to connect with other pieces in the selection, seem to have been the most important criteria for choosing. This is already evident in the first work, “Notes on a lit Scene”, by José Damasceno. This seductive panel, which with hundreds of yellow pencils recreates the perspective image of a silhouette looking at a canvas, immediately arouses the sympathy of the public, as witnessed by the frequent smile on the faces of the visitors. Finesse and formal creativity, capacity for synthesis and appropriation of unusual materials and procedures are among the preponderant aspects of this work and that echo throughout the exhibition.

As an organizing structure, the exhibition is divided into five blocks: The body/The social body; mutable identities; reimagined landscape; impossible objects; and the Reinvention of monochrome. But such segmentation is quite porous, as the curators say in the presentation. Thus, the same work is often linked to more than one nucleus and often serves as a guiding element between one and the other. This is the case, for example, of the marble sculpture/installation by Laura Vinci, which makes a smooth transition between the block dedicated to landscape and the one that presents a series of investigations into monochrome.

This segment dedicated to works that explore the power of color not in its diversity, but in its purest formal essence, is one of the most interesting in the exhibition. And not just because it brings together important works by very different authors, such as Rosangela Rennó and Antonio Manuel. But also because he seems to subtly indicate that the attempt to associate Brazilian art with the generous and abundant use of colors would be to reiterate stereotypes and that it is necessary to look at the most different aspects of an art research, without reducing research to a single central reason. such as conceptual research or political engagement. Interestingly, this nucleus brings together the largest number of abstract works in the show, indicating that the separation between figuration and abstraction – which marked so much the history of the museum in its beginnings – has lost its relevance today.

The notion of identity, when thought of in a broad sense, seems to be the one that stands out the most in the selection and constitutes a central element for thinking about contemporary production. Whether in the use of the body as an element of creation, or in a reinvention/investigation of the landscape as a place for the synthesis of an idea of ​​nationality that always slips through our fingers. It is interesting to note how it is present in the most different investigations. There is a strong presence of works that start from the representation or investigation of the human body as an element of creation, such as the series of videos by Lenora de Barros about the image of the artist, the touching feet with wounds recreated by Efraim Almeida or even in the already classic work 50 Hours, Stolen Self-Portrait, by Rochelle Costi made in the early 1990s. But the identity reflection is also present in another type of plastic investigation, as in the ironic installation Wind Curtain – which plays with the stereotype of the Brazilian landscape as a tropical paradise full of coconut trees – or in the iconic series of postcards in which Anna Bella Geiger contrasts images of Indians and Westerners, showing how fragile and instigating the native versus foreign opposition is.

With works created mostly in the 1990s and 2000s, the exhibition carefully mixes works already well-known to the public and lesser-known productions, allowing pleasant reunions or new surprises. In this relationship between greater and lesser visibility, another issue is insinuated that seems interesting to take into account: the relationship of mutual dependence between artists and museums and a decrease in the capacity of institutions such as MAM to expand their collections. There are several ways to enter the collection, but – as can be seen from the identification tags – the importance of donations, whether made by companies, collectors, or by the artist himself, is unquestionable. Confirming this feeling is the exhibition that the museum dedicates to new acquisitions from its collection, which can be seen in the Paulo Figueiredo Room. There it becomes clear how partnerships are increasingly essential to expand the capacity of museums and fill the gaps in their collection.

Past/Future/Present: Brazilian contemporary art in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo
Curated by Vanessa K. Davidson and Cauê Alves
Until July 28
Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo: Ibirapuera Park (av. Pedro Álvares Cabral, s/nº – Gates 1 and 3)

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