Pempowering the works on display is one of the main tasks of the curatorship and, in this sense, radical gestures are welcome when they seek to go beyond representation, by allowing a real experience. For a breath of fury and hope – a declaration of climate emergency is one of the best recent examples of this gesture by flooding the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture and Ecology (MuBE) to address the ongoing climate catastrophe on the planet, which has among its main promoters the current federal government.
The exhibition is curated by Galciani Neves and Natalie Unterstell, but the scenographic installation Inundation is signed by Ary Perez and Flavia Velloso. By filling the museum floor with water and allowing you to walk only on wooden structures, an experience is created that brings the public closer to a reality not far from the one denounced in many of the approximately one hundred works on display.
It is, of course, an exhibition with a militant character, which took place simultaneously with COP26, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, which took place in Glasgow, Scotland, at the beginning of last November, with results below expectations, thus expanding the warnings of a difficult future for the planet.
If, on the one hand, the denial of scientific data, largely encouraged by large corporations and agribusiness, makes many people disdain the need for attention to sustainability, the exhibition is exemplary in creating an environment, in one of the most privileged and elitists in the country, which attests that the dystopian future has already arrived and not just symbolically, as is the case with the exhibition.
It is notable that this radical gesture – scheduled for the first weeks of the exhibition, but which no longer exists from December to January 30, when it will be closed –, has made it practically impossible to know whose works are in the show. But when it comes to a climate emergency, it seems coherent that individual authorships are “harmed”, because that is what it is after all: the possible end of a species. At the same time, the museum's website lists all the works in images and their due credits, which allows those who have more compulsion to identify authors and authors, to have their wish fulfilled.
There is thus an ethical relationship between what is exposed and the context. Flooding a museum also brings a strong charge of institutional criticism to an art circuit marked by hypocrisy: collectors occupy decisive spaces in art institutions, shaping this scene and acquiring everything that appears as a transgression, while their companies follow in anti-civilization.
The history of exhibitions is full of radical gestures of this kind, such as the installation of Marcel Duchamp in the exhibition The First Papers of Surrealism (the first articles on surrealism), held in 1942 at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion in New York. There, in the midst of what is considered the largest exhibition of surrealist works in the United States, Duchamp spread more than 1.600 meters of string, creating an environment full of webs, which made it difficult for visitors to walk. This surreal atmosphere had, after all, everything to do with the show's theme.
In the same year and city, another exhibition dedicated to surrealism, this time at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of this Century gallery, also created an eerie atmosphere with dramatic lighting and the deafening sound of a passing train, which occurred every two minutes. These are two good examples of strategies created, even before the concept of curation, to enhance the works on display, avoiding the sanitized and neutral white cube.
Such forceful stagings do not always win unanimity, such as the one that took place during the Rediscovery Exhibition, in 2000. Considered the largest exhibition ever held in the country, occupying three of the four buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer, in Ibirapuera Park, it traveled 500 years of art history in the country, dividing 15 thousand works into 13 modules, the most controversial being the one dedicated to baroque art. Conceived by Bia Lessa, it was made up of immersive environments, with thousands of paper flowers enveloping sculptures. The question, when it comes to radical gestures, is to what extent the scenography draws more attention than the works themselves and, in this case, that is decisively what happened.
Another embarrassing example of exaggeration in scenography comes from Bia Lessa herself when she simply laid out 22 canvases on the floor horizontally in the show. Itaú Contemporary, 1981-2006, held at Itaú Cultural in 2007, to the surprise and anger of its authors.
Thus, the scenography enhances, hides and can be contrary to what the work itself proposes, as seen in the case of horizontal paintings. Recently, two cases in this segment can be observed, both at the São Paulo Museum of Art, MASP, in exhibitions by two artists: Erika Verzutti and Maria Martins.
Verzutti is one of the most original artists of her generation, with works that provoke strangeness, while at the same time getting closer to nature, whether animals such as swans, or fruits such as jackfruit and watermelons. These organic elements form figures that are somewhat bizarre and difficult to classify. Because Erika Verzutti – the indiscipline of sculpture, which was on display until last October, presented an icy and rationalist scenography, composed of right angles, with works arranged on white bases that distance this oneiric universe from visitors. The museum thus sanitizes the artist's work, contradicting her poetics.
Something similar happens with the show Maria Martins: imaginative desire, which can be seen at the museum until January 30, 2022. Among Brazilian modernists, Maria Martins (1894-1973) is a key figure in tropicalizing surrealism and the show at MASP is full of exemplary works. However, by placing the sculptures on white bases with ribbons that still create a distance from the works, she refers to the control society, without seeking creative outlets to maintain the necessary safety of the works. The option for the obvious is a way of reducing the potency of the works. The division of the rooms by curtains still looks like a copy of the scenography by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich for the exhibition The Velvet and Silk Café (the velvet and silk cafe), held in Berlin for no less than 94 years.
At least on the same Avenida Paulista, the Instituto Moreira Salles honors another woman, in this case the writer Carolina Mary of Jesus (1914-1977), in a much more dignified way. This is the first exhibition of the program created by João Fernandes, and it is worth noting that he forwards the show to a Brazilian team composed of Hélio Menezes and Raquel Barreto, in the curatorship, and Isabel Xavier, in the expographic project.
With many commissioned works, the exhibition presents the work of Carolina de Jesus in a complex way, creating many dialogues between texts and images, sometimes even making it difficult to identify their authors, but in the end creating an environment that enhances the work of the honoree. . It is seen, after all, from a cultural perspective, which does not only use literature and plastic arts, but also includes fashion and carnival, including the historic Mangueira parade of 2019, Bedtime stories for grown-ups.
At a time when prejudice and racism gain institutional air, the exhibition in its form and content is courageous, following what the author herself defended: “Life is not for cowards”. Creating the right environment for exhibitions doesn't either.