Arcangelo Ianelli, still life, 1960. Photo: Sérgio
Arcangelo Ianelli, still life, 1960. Photo: Sérgio Guerini

O MAM-SP presents Ianelli 100 years: the essential artist, an exhibition that opens its 2023 calendar, when it completes 75 years of activities, and rescues the research of lines, shapes and color by the painter, who had a close relationship with the São Paulo museum. It was there that Ianelli had his first solo show at an institution, in 1961, and, from 1969 onwards, he participated in six editions of Panorama de Pintura, winning an award in 1973. In 1978, MAM-SP also hosted a retrospective of his work. , with more than 160 of his creations, in an exhibition that received the best of the year award from the Brazilian Association of Art Critics (ABCA).

With almost 100 works, Ianelli 100 years old presents from the initial phase of the artist's career, with more academic paintings, to his immersion in abstraction. When conceiving the course of the show, the architecture of MAM – a volume that tapers off from the entrance – ended up defining a lot how curator Denise Mattar would build her path through the painter's trajectory, a path that does not exactly follow a chronology. 

“I think an exhibition is a visual essay, which tries to communicate with the place where it will be mounted. As Ianelli's production starts from small to large, and I wanted the public to see his different phases, one in the other, I thought of a somewhat retroactive path, starting with the larger works, made up to 2000, in which he explores fields of color, until returning to the figurative, from the beginning of her career", explains Denise, to arte!brasileiros.


Denise Mattar says that she had closer contact with Ianelli at the MAM itself, where the painter was a regular visitor, between 1987 and 1989, a period in which she worked as the institution's technical director. Made in early 2020, shortly before the pandemic, the invitation for Denise to curate the show came from the artist's children, Kátia and Rubens. Once the research started, Denise had access to the family's vast documentary material – Ianelli himself, it is worth mentioning, had a very systematic organization of his production – and also made use of publications from the museum's own library. From the beginning, the curator's proposal was to present news about the painter's work to the public.

“One thing I discovered was the fact that [the critic and writer] Mário Pedrosa (1900-1981) had exhibited Ianelli's work for the first time in an institution, at MAM-SP itself, at the turn of 1960 to 1961, the year when the show went to MAM Rio,” says Denise. What most caught the curator's attention was a passage from Pedrosa's text, for the exhibition, in which he emphasized that there was 'a vibration, a crystalline liquidity' in the artist's canvases, something that seemed to anticipate Ianelli's production in the series Vibrations (1999-2000).

Another find by Denise was a poem by Ferreira Gullar (1930-2016) in Spanish, which she found in the catalog of the exhibition made by Ianelli at the 3rd Bienal Internacional de Pintura de Cuenca, in 1991. The curator not only located the original version, in portuguese, in lightning, the poet's book published in 2004, as he identified that there was an extra passage. At MAM-SP, the poem is shown in full. In one passage, Gullar described Ianelli's painting this way:

Painting, for Arcangelo Ianelli is now
trigger the emergence of color.
Be silent and let it (the color) soak in
in it - from the core of it - dense, luminous.
Coming from the bottom of the shadow, the color
[…] To paint for Ianelli now is to show color as pure duration

In her research, Denise Mattar also found a text by Gian Carlo Argan (1909-1992) from 1966. In 1964, Ianelli had won the prize for traveling abroad at the National Salon of Modern Art (SNAM), spending two years afterwards ( 1965-1967) in Europe. In his analysis, carried out on the occasion of an exhibition by Ianelli at the Consulate of Brazil in Munich (Germany), the Italian art theorist made considerations that seemed to anticipate the recurring comparisons of the Brazilian's color research with the production of Mark Rothko (1903- 1970), an American painter of Latvian origin, pointing out how their respective practices were close and distant. Argan wrote:

“In Rothko's painting, Ianelli recognizes rightly, and absolutely frankly, the point of
arrival of the historical development of the representation of space through
qualitative and quantitative coloristic relationships. […] In the case of Ianelli, the dominant factor is an evident speculation about proportional values: this is what distances him considerably from Rothko's dimension of expansive and overflowing spatiality and takes him away from the consideration of metric and tonal relations between color fields, to a geometric delimitation of the colored areas and their assumption as formal nuclei in relation to background distances.

In 2002, when the Pinacoteca held a retrospective of Ianelli's career – the painter, then 80 years old, did not attend the opening because he had a stroke – the analogy with Rothko surfaced again, in a review by Olívio Tavares de Araújo, published in the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo. Araújo writes that “in some phases, spots and floating bands can remind us of Mark Rothko's painting”. But he mused:

[..]. it is enough to look closely at the internal evolution of Ianelli's painting to realize that he didn't go drinking on Mark Rothko. Both arrived at solutions of the same nature because they have similar sensibilities. They are lyrical temperaments that hold their own lyricism, lovers of an unshakably Apollonian order. They drank from the same fountains. They are brothers, not descendants of each other.


Born in the capital of São Paulo, Arcangelo Ianelli (1922-2009) began drawing as a teenager, as a self-taught artist. In 1940, he joined the Associação Paulista de Belas Artes and, at the beginning of that decade, attended the studio of artists such as Waldemar da Costa (1904-1982) and Maria Leontina (1917-1984). Throughout the 1950s, he was part of the Guanabara Group, alongside Manabu Mabe (1924-1997) and Jorge Mori (1932), among others. In his artistic trajectory, he went from figurative representation, at the beginning of his career, in the 1950s, to abstractionism and research into color fields, also passing through experiments with geometric shapes, paintings on wood and marble sculptures.

According to Denise Mattar, Ianelli himself agreed that his career had phases and that he “developed them to exhaustion, until he moved on to another”. In a text, recalls the curator, the critic Paulo Mendes de Almeida also saw “almost watertight” cycles in the painter's practice. But Denise does not perceive the artist's production in the same way. To exemplify this, in the exhibition catalogue, she isolated part of a figurative work, from the 1950s, which already hinted at what the painter would do in the following decades, namely, “an entire reduction of form until reaching the fields of color”, according to the curator.

“What I wanted to show in the exhibition is that Ianelli's path wasn't exactly like that, stagnant. In fact, you see an interpenetration in your production”, says Denise. “Even in the totally figurative work, of his first works, when looking at a window you see nuances of light and color that have everything to do with his later production, for example, in the series Vibrations, from the 1990s, so named by the critic Paulo Mendes de Almeida. There is an inner process, of extreme coherence, that is present in the exhibition”.

Reproduction of the exhibition catalog "Ianelli 100 years - The essential artist", with a still life from 1960 and, on the left, a detail of the work
Reproduction of the exhibition catalog “Ianelli 100 years – The essential artist”, with a still life from 1960 and, on the left, a detail of the work

Still on those works, which open the exhibition and are compared to the works of Mark Rohtko, Denise recalls that so-called immersive exhibitions are in fashion, but that they are nothing more than projections. “While Ianelli provides a dip in the color itself. The public is attracted by the pigment, which really takes them into the painting. And he uses these extraordinary dimensions to precisely make people feel that way,” she says.

As part of the research on Ianelli's career, Denise visited the homes of Rubens and Kátia Ianelli, which house her father's collection. From them, she got the idea of ​​showing a little of the backstage of the painter's production. Three showcases bring to the exhibition something from Ianelli's daily life in his studio, material never before seen by the public. One of them displays part of his library – books about colleagues in the trade, such as Samson Flexor, Flavio-Shiró, Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, or the photographer JR Duran – share the space of two shelves with countless brushes and some paints, as well as reproductions of several phrases, one of them attributed to the French writer André Malraux, who says: “The order is the pleasure of reason; disorder is the delight of the imagination.” Between the shelves, an easel with the painter's works.

In another showcase, there are experiments that Ianelli carried out in parallel with his painting practice, aimed at the production of sculptures, in the 2000s. The artist first made a paper model, then moved on to cardboard, a sheet of metal, wood and painted wood, exploring possibilities, with minor changes. Two of the sculptures, whose stages of creation are shown in this showcase, are present in the exhibition.

“The interesting thing about this material is that many people wonder how a painter as painterly as Ianelli, at a certain point, decided to make sculptures. Seeing this studio helps to better understand his obsession in the search for the essence of form”, emphasizes the curator. “The public perceives that Ianelli is a process artist, at a time in the arts when the process was valued. Nowadays, we have a certain contempt for that, everyone is focused on the unprecedented result, on something that has never been done”.


Ianelli 100 years: the essential artist
Until May 14
Curator: Denise Mattar
Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (MAM-SP) – Ibirapuera Park – Av. Pedro Álvares Cabral, s/nº – Gates 1 and 3
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 18 pm (last entry at 17:30 pm)
Tickets: R$25,00 full and R$12,50 half price; on sundays, admission is free

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