Aracy Amaral: “It is a permanent battle”. Photo: Antonio Henrique Amaral/ Publicity

Restless, Aracy Amaral continues to face the challenge of finding ways to better understand art and national culture. Despite the enormous difficulties imposed by the pandemic, she has been working intensively in recent times to give substance to an ambitious exhibition, which seeks to illuminate the various modernisms that emerged in Brazil in the first decades of the XNUMXth century. The exhibition, made by four hands, in partnership with Regina Teixeira de Barros, promises to reveal an interesting plot between history, art and thought in the first decades of the last century. This plot, by contrast, makes evident one of the hallmarks of Brazil today: the absence of any collective project to overcome inequality and propose new bases for national development.

Researcher, critic, curator, teacher and, above all, an attentive and curious observer of the Brazilian cultural scene since the 1950s, Aracy lived with intensity and vivacity the second half of the XNUMXth century and the first two decades of the current century. It is, therefore, from the privileged point of view of someone who has dedicated herself to investigating the past and scrutinizing the present that she spoke with the ARTE!Brasileiros. In the following interview, she talks about her formative years, about her experience at the head of institutions such as the Pinacoteca do Estado and the Museum of Contemporary Art at USP, about some of the various research topics to which she dedicated herself with rigor and curiosity ( such as social concern in art; constructive art; contemporary art; the relations between Brazilian and Latin American cultures; modernism in general – and Tarsila do Amaral in particular) and about the agony and adversity resulting from the pandemic.

ARTE!Let’s start by talking about the exhibition that you and Regina Teixeira de Barros are preparing for the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (MAM-SP) next year, anticipating the celebrations around the centenary of the 1922 Week.

Aracy Amaral – We are going to talk about the various modernisms in Brazil. The idea is to expand, covering the period between 1900 and 1937, when the Getúlio Vargas coup takes place. We then approach pre-modernism, the arrival of modernisms themselves in the 1920s and then, with the fall of the New York stock market, the change in direction, with federalization, the emergence of a different kind of nationalism. We are going to go through all this transformation that Brazil is going through in this period, the electrification, the reconstruction of several cities such as São Paulo and especially Rio de Janeiro, in short, what is happening in the country. The arts, in this respect, are only an illustration. And we're going to want the catalog to have essays. We have already dealt with several authors: Felipe Chaimovich, who will write about pre-modernism; Ana Maria Belluzzo, who will write about modernism; on poetry and literature will write the  teacher Flora Sussekind; Ruy Castro will talk about Rio de Janeiro; Cacá Machado will write about music; and Luis Felipe de Alencastro will write about the economic and social political problems in the country during this period. We want it to be like a debate, a catalog of what happened in that period.

ARTE!It is a historical show then, with a very complex plot. You said you've never curated this hard. Why?

The interest is that it is historical. Now, we are having a hard time getting the works because the institutions close down, each one wants to do their own thing. MAM-SP wanted to do it a year before (the 22nd celebrations) precisely to avoid facing this competition for works. But it turns out that everyone refuses, thinking about what they will do next year. Of course, the Pinacoteca does not give up its Anthropophagy, and we are now awaiting a response from the National Museum of Fine Arts. In the end, it's a daily battle. I've never curated so hard, so hard, we have to start over several times. Regina and I have already made several works relationships. At a time when everything is closed, we can't go to Rio, we can't see the works live anymore, we can't talk directly to people, it's all via cell phone, computer. It's more complicated, very heavy. Therefore, we depend a lot on the good will of the interlocutors.

ARTE!Speaking of a pandemic, what do you think will be the main effect of all this, thinking about the future. That eye-to-eye, that personal contact is very important for a mining job like this, isn't it? Do you think that we will be able to find a new model, or that we will start from the same point?

Do you say it from the museological point of view, or from the point of view of life?

ARTE!From both.

I think it's an enigma, we don't know. We are groping, not knowing what kind of behavior we might have. Everyone is glued to the screen, exhausted from having or teaching computer classes. We don't know what will happen tomorrow, if the vaccines will come out. Especially in a country like Brazil, where everything is imponderable, the result of electoral whims, there is no planning aimed at society as a whole. In the case of the less favored classes, which are the ones that suffer the most, with unemployment, with lack of resources, the situation is one of chaos. We live in a moment of waiting and at the same time chaotic.

ARTE!Making a parallel with the period of the exhibition you are working on, I think this difference is fundamental: today we don't have a project. We live in a moment of disruption of everything.

So it is. And in the case of our country, you don't feel anyone at the head of the government, with a thinking capacity that says: we have a north, we are projecting this for the North region, this for the Northeast... It's all an enigma, there is no firmness. This is painful for a country of 210 million people.

At the 2nd Bienal de São Paulo, talking to the Uruguayan critic Nelson di Maggio. Photo: Personal Collection

ARTE!One thing you've always defended, as a teacher, is that art is learned by looking. How to do today?

I don't think anyone is looking, not least because young people don't read books, neither from the point of view of literature nor from the point of view of art history. You know, I read a lot. We had to make a summary, we had to make an appreciation, there was a training that no longer exists today. I feel totally obsolete from a learning point of view and from a point of view of what they read today. It's not the book itself. I think, for example, that only those who are doing literature focus on literature.

In general, the new generation only sees the cell phone, at most the computer, when they have to do their school or university work. I had a former student, who is now a professor at the School of Communications and Arts (ECA-USP), who said that his visual arts students at ECA never went to MASP. They are from São Paulo and have never been to MASP! If we know that they don't have the habit of looking, the habit of seeing, of following the writing through the original, imagine now. But you can say: that's why they have a good training for everything we're going through.

ARTE!In a way we are always in the minority, aren't we? This effort for the democratization of art, for making art accessible – a mark of its trajectory – does not end.

This is an insane fight, but it is a fight that goes on. It's a permanent battle. Now museums try to temper, they do more recreational things. Going to the museum has become an outing, you can't take it too seriously, because otherwise no one will. You have to make exhibitions that entertain. This is complicated, having to deceive the public. It's not like in Europe where you can do, I don't know, a retrospective of a great artist like Holbein or Delacroix, which people go to visit because many of them have already studied these authors in junior high school. Here it doesn't exist. If we have difficulty in literate, imagine if we think from the point of view of knowledge literacy, of reading the periods of art. The situation is much more serious and we must not think only from the point of view of large cities, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. We have to think in terms of the interior of Goiás, of the interior of Ceará, of Pará. Imagine, it's an absolute desert. Only those who have the chance to win a scholarship and study abroad can escape this desert. Not that there aren't good teachers here, but very few people follow, very few people interested in this type of training. It is necessary to feed the formation of the artist, so that he knows what happened at the beginning of the century, what happened in the 2011th century, that he has an idea of ​​what happened at the end of the 40th century. It's a rarity the artist who can express himself in relation to what happened in the past. It's the same with art critics. In 45 I participated in a group that curated the Mercosul exhibition and I noticed that critics who were around 50, XNUMX, even XNUMX years old were only interested in artists  that emerged from the 1990s onwards. What happened before they did not know and had no interest in knowing. I was interested from the conceptual to here. There is a very large delimitation from the generational point of view of being open or not for all seasons. I think it's impossible to want to be a great writer without having read the authors of the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the end of the XNUMXth century. For me it is an enigma, for a person to have an education in their area without knowing those who preceded them.

ARTE!Speaking of training, could you tell us a little about yours? There's a very strong artistic streak in your family, right?

My upbringing was eclectic, confusing, chaotic (laughs). But I think that if there was a family artistic influence, it all came from my mother, Abreu. On our Lusitanian side. As my father was a distant cousin of Tarsila, everyone thinks he came around, but on Tarsila's side there are absolutely no other artists. My mother, my aunts painted. One of them, who died at age 27, was a graphic designer.

ARTE!And was it in this domestic environment that the taste was formed?

It's not that my mother made us interested. But from the point of view of influence, we knew that my mother liked these things, that my aunts liked them too. There was a family precedent there, even if it wasn't noticed. I only realize this today, looking back. And I believe that both my sisters and my brother and I belong to a generation that was formed in a very tumultuous and auspicious time, from the point of view of intellectual curiosity here in Brazil and in São Paulo in particular. My adolescence was all during the Second World War, I was called in my house as an Esso reporter because I had real madness to hear what was happening. I would plummet downstairs to listen to reporter Esso, I wanted to know where Germany was, who was invading, if France was regaining territory, about the bombing of England. Anyway, we experienced this climate.

ARTE!Was it this Esso reporter nickname that led you to journalism?

My training is as a journalist and my first jobs were as a journalist. I worked at A Gazeta, at Diário de São Paulo, I did a column of correspondence in Folha de S.Paulo. Later, in the early 1970s, I also worked as an advertising copywriter, at the same agency where Décio Pignatari and journalist Fernando Lemos worked. We were copywriters. I even made a program about art on Jovem Pan radio. It was called “Let's Talk About Art?”. It felt like nothing, just two minutes a day. At first I did it like this, live, direct, then I started recording and started writing because people later charged me, by correspondence, by phone calls, by letter. And I had all the freedom. I find this means of communication very interesting, which has not been surpassed by television or the internet or anything else.

In 1951, interviewing the director of MoMA, René d'Harnoncourt, for the Faculty's newspaper. Photo: Personal collection

ARTE!And the experience as a monitor at 2a Bienal de São Paulo, how was it?

One thing leads to another. As I said, in São Paulo in the 50's there was a lot of vivacity. At the same time I did a little contemporary dance with Yanka Rudzka, I did mime with Luís de Lima, I signed up to do cinema until they approved me and I was terrified, scared out of my mind. I made the Teatro Paulista do Estudante, we premiered on the same day that Guarnieri, Vianinha, premiered. Antonio Henrique, my brother, also participated in this play. It was all like that, everyone had every possible opening. So the young generation was very contaminated. We would meet at the end of the afternoon, everyone would go to the Museum of Modern Art on Rua Sete de Abril to see the exhibitions, discuss, watch the films that Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes was projecting, everyone participated in everything. Those who were curious would feed on the history of art, the history of cinema, exhibitions, conferences also at the Municipal Library… We watched everything. We were even stunned by so many possibilities, so multidirectional that we had. Then one left for the cinema, the other left for the theater. My sister Ana Maria went to create theater direction, went to live in New York, and then she went to do puppet theater, to be a teacher at ECA, winning international awards. Suzana went to film, Antonio Henrique went to paint. it was something like that contagious.

ARTE!I think you have an amazing ability to change the subject and fall in love with new topics.

Yes, this is fundamental for me, because staying in one place, with a single theme, is impossible. So much so that I did a lot of research on modernism. First “Arts Plásticas na Semana de 22”, then, from Tarsila, I saw so much in her house, so much documentary material, that I ended up making, even before the work on her, the book Blaise Cendrars in Brazil and the Modernists. Because I realized how important his presence and influence had been on Tarsila and Oswald de Andrade. Then came the book about Tarsila, which I presented as a doctorate at USP, at ECA. Then I got tired of modernism, because people only called me to talk about it, you know? So I thought: I need to go somewhere else. So I did the Expo-Projection-73, about the young people who were messing with new media, working with video, all the unusual forms of expression, in 1973. Then I started to be called too, I went to give a lecture in Buenos Aires…

ARTE!Is it from there that you start to circulate more intensely in Latin America or did that connection already exist?

I already had that bond. I don't know because when we were little, my father working with the Brazilian Coffee Institute (IBC), we lived in Argentina. I did primary there. Then I came back, I took some classes here to get all the Spanish out of my speech and I went to high school in Santos. But I don't know if that was it. Why was I interested in Latin America? Was it because of the Argentine precedent? Why did I know Argentine history better than ours? Why did I go to primary school there?

ARTE!Maybe because you didn't start from the traditional place that Brazil reserves for its neighbors. Brazil avoids looking to the side.

Well, it could be. Brazil looks outside. I've always said that the two most similar countries in South America are Venezuela and Brazil. Both have their eyes on the outside and are very interested in what is happening in the United States, in Europe, and less in what is happening in South America. So much so that Venezuela will have the great kinetics and Brazil will have other generations of plastic artists also looking abroad, with an interest in information that comes from abroad. While the Andean countries are more closed within themselves in their traditions and Argentina, Uruguay and Chile are more linked to Europe. Going back, I was tired of doing works on modernism and Tarsila, I had finished that aspect, I had already finished the Expo-Projection and started traveling around Latin America. I had an enlightenment through a book found in my mother's house. I was doing a lot of work with Luís Saia, on heritage in São Paulo. I realized that the houses they called, in quotation marks, bandeiristas were nothing but a “hacienda house”. There are many very similar cases. In São Paulo, these houses were also far from the center, whether in Caxingui, in Butantã, in São Bento… I started seeing these plants, I went on a trip, I was in Paraguay, I went to Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela. I used to go on vacation from USP and many times when I went to a conference to photograph these houses. They were very similar, many persisted until the XNUMXth century. It's no use that Julio Katinsky, Carlos Lemos keep talking about the isolation of the São Paulo house. It exists throughout South America, as an extension.

Work by Miguel Rio Branco exhibited at the 34th Panorama of Brazilian Art, “Da pedra Da terra Daqui”, curated by Aracy. Photo: Disclosure

ARTE!Did you discover that the image of the Argentinian patron saint is Brazilian?

When I did this study, in correspondence with a Jesuit historian from Buenos Aires, I discovered that the Immaculate Conception, who became Our Lady of Luján, patroness of Argentina, is a São Paulo image. And of lower quality than those made in Santana do Parnaíba or Mogi, but there was, at the same time, a trade between Lima and São Paulo. We have to remember that there was another type of exchange, which was later overcome. And the architects here didn't realize that because they had never traveled to South America. They preferred to travel to Paris, to other places, so they settled on the idea that São Paulo had a house that it only had here. When I published the Hispanity in Sao Paulo, they didn't recognize the work, in the first place because I was a woman, a factor to be considered whether I like it or not. Secondly, because I wasn't an architect and I was talking about architecture and FAU doesn't forgive me in this regard. There was discrimination. You're not an architect, you stay in your place, write about art history, whatever you want, but don't step into terrain that isn't yours. I didn't even defend free teaching with this research because they were going to say: you're not an architect. A non-architect writing about architecture! The proof of this is that later, when I got tired of the problem of concretism and decided to do a work on the social concern in Brazilian art, another thing that started and I fell in love, an architect friend asked me: “Your chapter on architecture you will not publish huh?". To which I replied: “Why not? It's part of the book, it's even with a publisher”.

ARTE!Did you face many difficulties? Brazil seems to be a place where, in art, women have had a little more space than elsewhere. What do you attribute this to?

It's true, Brazil has a lot of female artists. In the United States, women complained in the 1970s and 1980s that there was no room for them, that they were persecuted. This is the case even with Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner, or Helen Frankenthaler, Motherwell's wife. In Brazil, on the contrary, our great artists are many: Anita Malfatti, Tarsila, Maria Martins, Maria Leontina, Lygia Clark, Mira Schendel, Carmela Gross, Regina Silveira… art history of Brazil. I once wrote to a magazine in New York that asked me for a text about it. In the 1950s, 1960s and perhaps even today, Brazilian women  have had more space for research than women in France, the USA, Germany, because here they always had helpers who helped out in the house, while in other countries domestic life was much harder. That's one side.

ARTE!Perhaps also art here was not a career so valued by men?

If Milton da Costa was an excellent artist up to a certain point in his life, Maria Leontina was great throughout her career. And yet she also maintained that discreet space of being the wife of an artist she respected. So much so that once, in the 1970s, a director from the Guggenheim came here and I took him to meet several artists. I would love for him to know Maria Leontina's work. I called her to ask if I could make an appointment. She said to me, “Aracy, be very clear with me. Does he want to see my work or does he want to see Milton's work?” I said: "Yours". She said: “I'm very sorry, but I prefer not to receive you then”. The case is very dated, but it is peculiar. You see, it's a portrait of an era.

Works in the exhibition “Das Mãos e do Barro”, at Galeria Millan, about indigenous and Latin American popular art, curated by Aracy. Photo: Everton Ballardin

ARTE!I take advantage of this story to talk about these more recent movements to rescue the art of women and black people as well. How do you see this movement, more linked to identity causes?

Well, the women's one is open there because the United States has been doing it for a long time and here in Brazil it started in a somewhat exasperated way more recently. But black art I think is an incredibly positive thing, because we stay closed to black culture, we ignore the history of blackness. To this day you know that it is a subject that should be taught in all schools, but there are not even specialized teachers in Africa. Now, we're watching another time, aren't we? On television we see many advertisements in which there are mixed-race couples, presenting black people in an unprecedented way.

ARTE!And from an artistic point of view, there is a great power, perhaps the most important of the moment, in contemporary art, right?

In fact, Afro inspiration has always existed, whether in painting, in particular in music. What was the biggest international influence on 1920th century music? It's black music. Whether in tango, samba, Caribbean rhythm, jazz or North American music, wherever you want, the rhythm that has imposed itself is the black rhythm, it is the international music that arrives in Paris. Not just because of Josephine Baker in the XNUMXs, but because it's the beat of the XNUMXth century. There is no doubt.

ARTE!Another chapter along the same lines, let's say, of gaps that are being opened up, is that Brazil seems to have finally started to realize that it has indigenous people and that this culture is also important to us.

I don't know if Brazil has already discovered this… I don't think so. Because in the case of the African presence there is no doubt, it is on the surface. After all, white people today are a minority in Brazil. And what is white? Nobody knows if there is white in Brazil. It's very rare. Who is not mixed in some way? There is an indigenous heritage, but for us it appears a lot in popular art, which is also something that has not yet been assimilated and accepted. I'm not just talking about pure art, like Yanomami basketry, but popular art from the interior of Ceará, which is very rich, or from Piauí… There are already numerous galleries working in this direction. But there is still no acceptance that values ​​the precious character of these works, you know? Even their preservation.

ARTE!Among his recent works is the curatorship of an exhibition of drawings by Tarsila, on display at Fábrica de Arte Marcos Amaro. Could you talk a little bit about this aspect of her work?

The exhibition – which is also a joint curatorship with Regina Teixeira de Barros, a great scholar and curator – shows the development of Tarsila's path based on drawing. It is very curious to see how the exercise of drawing guided her development and liberation as an artist, from, let's say, study, training, first academic, then Paris, with great masters of the time such as Andre Lhote and Gleizes, until reaching a total release and she feels able to return to acting, on a trip to Minas, with complete freedom, but with a very great spirit of synthesis. Then it will fall a bit into figuration, into a realism so much to the taste of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, which is the time that, so to speak, will also release a figure like Portinari. A time also when she wrote chronicles for the Diário de S. Paulo, and did a lot of illustration for books, a lot. As there was no market for painting, she lives on illustrations, she also lives on chronicles. It is not a time of inactivity, but of changing activity.

Exhibition “Tarsila, study and notes”, curated by Aracy and Regina Teixeira de Barros, at FAMA, in Itu, 2020

ARTE!If you had to choose among the various personalities you have, such as critic, teacher, museum director…

I do not know what I would be. I was a mixture of all of that. In every moment I was a thing. If I was avant-garde in the 1960s, 1970s, then I was a historian in the 1970s, 1980s. Then I was museum director. I really enjoyed being the director of the Pinacoteca, because I completely changed the image of the Pinacoteca. It was a closed museum, where people made the sign of the cross when they passed by, thinking it was a temple. And then I started doing exhibitions, courses there, a live model course, temporary exhibitions. I changed the Pinacoteca and this change, which was noticeable, was a pleasure, a huge satisfaction. Putting Ana Maria Belluzzo there, putting Paulo Portella there, one doing art education, the other helping me in research, being able to put together that exhibition of the Brazilian Constructive Project in Art, courses, everything was very interesting. In that period of the Pinacoteca there were still salons, a time when it ended. Young artists were launched from salons in small towns and then, with the awards they won, they moved to another level.

ARTE!Today they depend on the market.

Now, from the 1980s and 1990s, a new phenomenon enters the art world in Brazil: Volpi, for example, who sold very little until the 1940s. He will have his first exhibition in 1944, in a small gallery, in the Barão de Itapetininga. It didn't even have a catalog yet and he was 48 years old. Today, there are many artists in their 40s who already have a book published as if it were a finished work. It was another rhythm. The artist produced, a person would do a biennial or a large salon, go to the artist's studio, choose the works. Today the artist makes the works for the event. The market today is overwhelming. And for my generation it is a new phenomenon. It is logical that for young people today it is the fundamental principle of their performance.

ARTE!Philip Kennicott, from the Washington Post, said just now that he feels “freer to like things without asking permission” due to the pandemic. Does this recognition not seem frightening to you?

A lot of curators and critics that we know, who are between 30 and 50 years old, are tied to the market, you know that. Often we don't name, but we know who they are. We worked with museums, with entities. If I have to resort to a gallery, I do it with a little modesty, so to speak. Because I think that the market is one thing and those who curate it have to have another point of view, look for museums, look for private collectors. Now, many curators or young critics don't go to artists' houses, they don't go to collectors' houses. You can claim: they don't go because they don't know, they don't have access. Yeah, but why did we have it? Why were we able to get in? Maybe because they were people who published in newspapers and the name was already known, so they opened the doors for you. But today the curator, a young critic, writes for the gallery catalogue. That is, he already writes for the market. He is not in the habit of visiting the artist's studio or visiting the collector's house.

Exhibition “Tarsila, study and notes”, curated by Aracy and Regina Teixeira de Barros, at FAMA, in Itu, 2020

ARTE!You commented that young people who don't see much of the past history of art, of what was produced before them. But we also see a lot of people who are stuck in time and who don't see what comes after.

I think that today we see many researchers in the history of art who are locked up in their office doing their master's, doctoral, post-doctoral, post-doctoral degrees, who are only concerned with their degree in order to be able to obtain a guarantee of a contest to be able to sign at university or whatever.  But I don't think they go to the artist's studio. They don't leave his office. This I also find objectionable. I guarantee you that artists would be delighted to welcome historians… I'm sure.✱

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