john graz
Untitled, 1935, by John Graz, graphite and gouache on paper. Photo: Disclosure

*By Maria Hirszman and Marcos Grinspum Ferraz

In addition to the traditional exaltation that usually marks the celebrations of major dates, the movement around the centenary of the 1922 Modern Art Week – which promises to shake up the calendar for next year – seems to stimulate the expansion and deepening of studies and investigations into modernity. in Brazil. At least that's what the various exhibitions recently opened in different museums, such as the Pinacoteca do Estado, the Museum of Modern Art (MAM-SP) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC USP) indicate. In addition to their particular characteristics, the exhibitions held by these three institutions together make up an interesting panel, which as a whole reaffirms issues, often kept in the background: the role of the decorative arts in the constitution of this modern thought; the fundamental importance of less consecrated but no less relevant artists, such as John Graz and the Gomide brothers; the need to pay attention to precious information present in less valued materials, such as drawings, studies and correspondence, with a significant and growing presence in museum collections.

“Our interest is precisely to look at other matrices and configurations of modernity and the modern that historiography has not paid much attention to. He didn’t lean in as he should”, says Fernanda Pitta, curator of the exhibition John Graz: tropical and modern idyll, on display at Estação Pinacoteca. “A lot has been said about artists like Di Cavalcanti, Tarsila do Amaral, Anita Malfatti and Lasar Segall – who were consecrated with an even international repercussion -, while John Graz, Regina Gomide Graz and Antonio Gomide were a bit stunned. Because it took a long time to understand that they worked with a branch of art that is extremely important for modernity itself, which has to do with the way of living and the way of living”, adds Maria Alice Milliet, responsible for the exhibition. Challenges of modernity – Gomide-Graz family in the 1920s and 1930s, on display until last August at MAM-SP.

"India" by Cassio M'Boy
“India”, by Cássio M'Boy, 1930s. Photo: Publicity

A similar movement, of deeper investigation of the motivations and productions developed by different authors in these key years of modernism in the country, guides the investigation carried out in the exhibition Projects for a Modern Daily Life in Brazil: 1920-1960, which can be viewed until July 2022 on MAC. Fruit of a project developed within the scope of the CNPq research project 20th Century Art Narratives, the exhibition brings together a selection of works belonging to the museum's collection. And that deserved a more systematic look. In fact, the important presence of this expanded modernism in the museum's collection is due to the active action of Walter Zanini. “Everyone talks about Zanini as an art historian, who dedicated himself to this new key of researching new contemporary practices, the procedural practices of the 1960s and 1970s, but he played a very important role in rescuing certain names of Brazilian modernism ”, recalls Ana Magalhães, MAC director and coordinator of the exhibition's curation team.

“What matters is precisely this broader vision, of a project that is not only concerned with modernist forms, with art with a capital A, but that involved the engagement of these artists with several other fronts, such as illustrators, graphic artists, decorators, designers, architects and set designers”, explains Ana. “In other words, this is also part, it is a value for this modernist project, that these things are part of people’s daily lives”, he adds, pointing out that the exhibition includes menus and fans for carnival balls designed by Gomide to drawings by Flávio de Carvalho for ballet The Cangaceira.

"Indians", by Regina Gomide Graz
“Indians”, by Regina Gomide Graz, 1930s, fabric. Photo: Disclosure

Some of the highlights of the selection currently on display, such as the living room set designed by Graz (who was also present at the MAM exhibition) is a separate cause for celebration for the museum, as it represents one of the most important recent donations received by the museum. MAC: the one from the Fulvia and Adolpho Leirner Collection of Art Deco in Brazil. “From the point of view of MAC's institutional history, I have no doubt that this is – after the collection that Ciccillo created for the creation of MAM-SP, which was transferred to MAC, and perhaps the Theon Spanudis donation – the most important donation that the museum has received in recent times. Especially because it is more difficult for the museum today to find collectors who are willing to donate works of this quality and importance”, says the curator.

“Universities are durable institutions. This collection will be studied, conserved and disseminated in an academic environment. Furthermore, normally the university does not have the money to buy rare and unique works”, says Adolpho Leirner when explaining why he and Fulvia decided to bequeath the works to the museum. According to him, the exhibition Projects for a Modern Everyday Life already signals this interest. In addition to the furniture from Graz and the furniture set from the Casa Modernista by Gregori Warchavchik, a series of other gems from this collection, mined over the decades, are added to the museum's collection. Among them, it is possible to mention the sculpture India, by Cássio M´Boi, a plaster relief by Antelo Del Debbio (found by chance by the couple in a demolition house on Av. Rebouças), two chairs by Flávio de Carvalho and the study for a poster of Tarsila do Amaral's exhibition in Moscow. The donation also includes the data file of all this material, which constitutes important research material and which served as the basis for the book Art Deco in Brazil – Fulvia and Adolpho Leirner Collection, launched last year by Editora Olhares.

abstraction 2
“Abstraction 2”, by Antônio Gomide. Photo: Disclosure

This greater openness to the study and exhibition of design and applied arts is celebrated by Leirner, who underlines the importance – including historical – of the collection he has assembled over the last half century. the panneau woman with greyhound by Regina Gomide Graz was, for example, in the exhibition organized by Pietro Maria Bardi in 1972 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Week of Modern Art and is now part of an event around the centenary of the event. In fact, it was from Bardi's hands that the couple acquired the piece.

a complete artist

Unlike the MAC show, which brings together works by a larger number of artists, the exhibitions John Graz: tropical and modern idyll, until January at Estação Pinacoteca, and Challenges of modernity – Gomide-Graz family in the 1920s and 1930s (which was on display at MAM) are more specifically dedicated to the artistic group formed by the Gomide brothers and John Graz, with special emphasis on the latter. It is worth mentioning that the three are also present in the wide Modern where? Modern when? The Week of 22 as motivation, curated by Aracy Amaral and Regina Teixeira de Barros, on display at MAM.

Born in Switzerland in 1891, Graz studied at the School of Fine Arts in Geneva, where he met Brazilians Regina and Antonio Gomide. In addition to attending a course that covered design, decoration and architecture, Graz soon began to make advertising posters and stained glass windows, perfecting his techniques during a period in the city of Munich, Germany, and on trips to France and Spain. According to Maria Alice Milliet, the artist therefore had “a very complete training”, based on an idea of ​​“total art”. “And, throughout his life, he is impressed by the quality with which he does all this: the painting, the drawing, or the design of the floor, the ceiling, the wall, even the object, the sink, the locks, furniture, the rug. , the lamp, the plaster panels, stained glass windows… nothing escaped Graz's design. It is a total conception of space.”

living room furniture
Living room furniture designed by John Graz. Photo: Disclosure

Shortly after arriving in Brazil in 1920, where he marries Regina and settles for the rest of his life, Graz exhibits at the Salão do Cinema Central in São Paulo. It is said that there Oswald de Andrade was enchanted by his work and bought one of his paintings, offering for the transaction a plot of land in Pinheiros – where later Graz would build his house. It was also Oswald who invited him, two years later, to participate in the Modern Art Week, where Graz would present seven canvases. Despite approaching the movement of modernist artists in this period – he still collaborates with the famous Klaxon magazine - Graz quickly began to dedicate himself more to applied arts and interior architecture.

If he was inspired by the rationalist ideas of the Bauhaus, it was especially in the international explosion of Art Deco – which allowed ornamentation and decorations rejected by the German school – that Graz was inspired. He is considered, therefore, one of the main names to bring the European style to Brazil, notably after visiting, alongside Regina, in Paris, the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, in 1925. His dedication to this universe resulted in the opening of the John Graz Decorações store in 1930, with which he decorated houses designed by famous modern architects such as Warchavchik and Rino Levi. But it is from this performance, too, that a certain rejection of his name – and that of the Gomide brothers – in the pantheon of the country's great modernist artists derives.

Regina Gomide Graz
Composition with figures, Regina Gomide Graz, 1925, silk, felt and wool panneau

“There was a misunderstanding of the artistic class itself. John Graz creates absolutely modern environments, but that falls into the 'decor' category, it's not art. They did not understand the importance of this union between intellectual creation and industry, the production of objects for everyday use. They were still very much linked to traditional art genres: painting, sculpture, engraving, drawing”, says Milliet. Fernanda Pitta follows the same line: “Both at that moment and in the historiography that comes later, there is a tendency to reduce the experimental and transforming aspect of Art Deco, without realizing the character of rupture and experimentation that this school presented in that historical context”.

The fact of looking at the European matrices of Art Deco and Bauhaus did not prevent Graz from entering the Brazilian cultural universe, for which he soon became enchanted, even though his vision is sometimes considered idealized or idyllic. If the exhibition by the Gomide-Graz at Mam-SP highlighted this decorative production by the three artists, the exhibition at the Pinacoteca, which includes 42 works recently donated by the John Graz Institute to the museum, highlights a series of drawings and paintings in which Graz portrays indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and aspects of Brazilian popular culture – Carnival or Bumba meu boi parties, fishermen on rafts or Bahian women carrying fruit.

John Graz painting
Painting by John Graz exhibited in “Tropical and modern idyll”, at the Pinacoteca. Photo: Marcos Ferraz

“It is necessary to understand that it is part of a broader process that dialogues with what other modern artists have also done, of appropriation and of a distant, sometimes romanticized relationship with Afro-descendant and indigenous cultures in Brazil”, says Pitta, about this apparent paradox. “It's not just a limitation of Graz. And we have to recognize that in this process of valorization there is also an appropriation and an erasure of these agents.”

With exhibitions, critical analyzes and even the rediscovery of lost works by Graz and the Gomide brothers, what is celebrated is the expansion of a debate that could have already been held and that “refines and complexifies”, in Pitta's words, the understanding about modern art in Brazil. Also because, as Milliet says, “São Paulo is a city that does not keep memory, it is a voracious city. So much of what was inside the houses, when Art Deco became fashionable, was discarded by families. In addition, many of these houses were demolished, and in them there were plaster panels, paintings and stained glass windows from Graz. That's why this performance by Adolpho and Fulvia Leirner is so important, to rescue that. And with this recognition, many things have appeared, sometimes from people who remember works and furniture that were from their grandparents and were lost out there”.

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