O What makes the sculptures of the Bahian Agnaldo dos Santos (1926-1962) more prestigious in the art system than the frowns of his fellow countryman – and acknowledged reference in his artistic training – Master Guarany (1884-1985)? Or even the production of the Pernambuco painter Lúcia Suanê (1922-2020), abysmally less valued than the works of Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988), with whom she maintains poetic and language approximations?
at the exhibition Reversos e Tranversos: off-axis artists (and friends) at the biennials, on display in Station Gallery, the artist and curator Ayrson Heraclitus investigates how issues of race or gender, among others, are probably at the basis of the gradual segregation that occurred between the so-called popular artists and those considered erudite, in a process consolidated over seven decades by the biennials.
“Volpi, this Italian immigrant artist, who had been a house painter, was elected by a group as a great master, of great formal intelligence, which removed him from a limbo of a primitive artist, without elaboration. Almost a contemporary of Volpi, Lucia was not as lucky. Was it a gender issue?” asks Heráclito, in an interview with arte!brasileiros. “Both, as artists, were close, but today there is a great distance of legitimacy. So, in this show, we build a bridge between the artists to highlight the abyss that exists between these productions in terms of recognition by the Brazilian art system. Volpi is not aesthetically superior to Lucia; both are very important in their constructions and complexities. But they are not seen in this horizontality”.
Reverse and Transverse began to be conceived last year, after Vilma Eid, gallerist in charge of the Station, saw the exhibition Yoruba, in which Heráclito brought together almost 40 years of my artistic production at Pinacoteca de São Paulo. Eid was already familiar with his work as a curator at the exhibition Afro-Atlantic Stories, presented in 2018 by Masp. Heráclito, in turn, considers himself a “great visitor” to the Station, “a gallery that has a very diverse collection, especially of Afro-Brazilian artists and, more recently, more and more indigenous artists”.
Invitation accepted, the curator, who is also one of the artists selected for the 35th Bienal de São Paulo, initially thought of holding individual shows at the gallery, “names that I thought were important to present to the gallery and to present, mainly, to the São Paulo art system. Paul," he says. “As our conversations progressed, the idea of doing something in the context of the 35th Bienal came up. Then came the idea of thinking about many artists, who are in the gallery, and had a history in the legitimation of the biennials, especially those in São Paulo, at the Bienal Latinoamericana, at Naïf and at the Mostra do Reescobrimento: Brasil+500”.
The exhibition brings together works made with different techniques and media, by 42 artists from different generations, creations mostly belonging to the Station's collection. Placed side by side, the works speak for themselves: sometimes aesthetically, formally or thematically similar, they ask why some artists were recognized and others were not. In addition to the examples cited above, Heráclito mentions Antonio Poteiro (1925-2010) in contrast to Djanira, Marepe (1970) and Alcides Pereira dos Santos (1932-2007) and also an emblematic case:
“In 1951, at the first Bienal de São Paulo, there were many of these artists [regarded as popular] in the selection for the show. And Heitor dos Prazeres [1898-1966], who is this great multimedia artist, who is being very celebrated today, with a large CCBB exhibition, and parallel shows in private galleries, won a silver medal, with the canvas Milling, reminds the healer. “Heitor is a very important artist for thinking precisely about this turning point from modern art to, let's say, pop art. Then, we watch these artists being turned away, in a way, or not invited to participate in the biennials”.
Heráclito tells that in his researches for Reverse and Transverse managed to identify “some very tense moments, at the same time reflective”, when, for example, at the Bienal de São Paulo, pop art enters Brazil, with artists such as Andy Wahrol, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. “With their arrival at this very important institution worldwide, which creates an art system, the so-called popular artists leave, they are not invited, because they lose space. And at that moment, a harmful idea was articulated that Brazilian contemporary art could not be understood based on those popular references”, he says.
The curator points out that artists such as J. Cunha (1948), Aurelino dos Santos (1942) and even Heitor dos Prazeres establish relationships “with pop, with this mass culture, from the perspective of large urban centers, large cities” . Even so, they are excluded from the art system. Among the contemporaries also present at the exhibition, Heráclito mentions Xadalu Tupã Jekupé, selected for the 1st Biennial of the Amazons, and Dalton Paula (1982), for him an “example of overcoming obstacles”.
“When he started producing, Dalton was much closer to the Bienal Naïf – a term that I find very prejudiced, because it takes knowledge and wisdom away from the artist; it is as if knowledge were something only academic or bookish – rather than the Bienal de São Paulo. Today he is one of the few contemporary Brazilian artists who are in major museums around the world such as MoMA. Precisely because the world is changing. The concepts are being transformed, as well as the historiography of art, not only in Brazil, but worldwide”.
MODERNISTS, LINA E ABDIAS
Heráclito considers that the “clash of popular art as an identity art in Brazil” would have been inaugurated, in a way, by the modernists. “There were two modernist projects that stood out in that period: the southeastern one, around Mário de Andrade, anthropophagy, etc., and the northeastern one, around Gilberto Freyre, with the regionalist movement”, he recalls. “These two projects are very different, but they had something in common, which was to think of popular culture as the identity of Brazilian art, since in the XNUMXth century all Brazilian art production was a copy of Europe. But the modernists were still going to establish a dichotomy between the art of the people, primitive, self-taught, and the art of the elite, academic or more avant-garde art”.
According to the curator, between these two modernist poles, Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992) and Abdias do Nascimento (1914-2011) were fundamental in his struggle “to dismantle, dissolve this dichotomy between the erudite and the popular”, something that seeks to reverberate in Reverse and Transverse. For Heráclito, Lina was very important because she began to think about the exhibition spaces in an immersive way and to reflect, above all, on the Afro question, the indigenous question and the formation of Brazilian culture itself.
“And this is a culture that is built from dialogues, from negotiations between all this diversity that is Brazil. But Lina starts to build all this sense in a non-hierarchical way, she puts everything on the same level. A sculpture of Aleijadinho with an iron from a saint maker, like José Adário (1947). A frown by Mestre Guarany with a painting by Portinari (1903-1962) or Djanira (1914-1979)”, she says.
Abdias do Nascimento, on the other hand, emphasizes the curator, promoted an important reflection in his training: those popular artists, said to be primitive, were treated that way because they were black. “He also taught me that within the history of Brazilian art there is structural racism. And thinking about this structural racism, misogyny, gender and social issues is fundamental for me to design the new paths of the history of Brazilian art ”, he argues.
“What we are doing with this exhibition is trying to write a chapter, an article, on these themes. That's why the texts [presented at the exhibition] are very important to accompany not only what is being exhibited. They are a discourse, a political and ideological position on issues that are very important”, he says. “And this period of the Bienal is a more than perfect moment, because there is a very big confluence. It is no wonder that the Bienal de São Paulo, in this edition, is more black, made not only by artists, but also by black curators”.