Debret and Gê Viana are placed side by side. Joaquim Tenreiro's 1948 compositions are in tension with the works of Moisés Patrício, Tiago Sant'Ana and Ayrson Heráclito that are close to them. With each painting, we search the walls for dates and names of the artists and, sometimes, a smile forms in the corner of the mouth when noticing the war of narratives that is woven through the expography. It was this reaction that Lilia Schwarcz sought when designing the curatorship of various 22, on display at the Arte132 gallery, in São Paulo. Bringing together 80 works – among works from the house’s collection and from 10 other galleries and independent artists – the exhibition invites us to reflect on rooted ideas and to question the hegemonic and Eurocentric imaginary that still permeates Brazil.
The title, various 22, spells out a year that does not go unnoticed. As Lilia points out in the exhibition catalogue: “Three dates that contradict each other are mixed: the week that projects the future; the bicentennial, the past; the death of Lima, the symbolic death of a Republic that promised inclusion, but delivered social exclusion”. The curator refers, respectively, to the centenary of the Week of Modern Art, to the 200th anniversary of the Independence of Brazil and to the death of the writer Lima Barreto – a modernist not invited to the São Paulo week that we celebrate today as a national symbol, a black man who suffered from racism that still permeates our relationships today. “There is also another milestone that opens 2022: the 10 years of the quota policy in Brazil, which has been changing the structure of our country, despite the results being unsatisfactory in terms of reparação and equality”, adds Lilia.
The ephemeris meet with the elections and the World Cup, which take place in the same year. They seem, then, to have their unfolding even more present in the reflections that are traced between past and future, achievements obtained, historical absences and possibilities in the future. “This is how I understand 2022, a war of narratives”, says the curator in an interview with arte!brasileiros. It was along this path that she drew various 22.
The invitation for Lilia to curate the exhibition at Art132 came from founder and director Telmo Porto. The initial idea was to start from the gallery's collection – the result of the collection built by Telmo himself in recent decades -, which contains a wide range of sculptures, paintings and drawings from the 19th and 20th centuries. “I told Telmo that I would have problems of having such a colonial exhibition”, says Lilia. The researcher felt an urgency to launch a contemporary look at the works. “I've been reflecting on this year 2022, it's not just about tearing down monuments; it is about contrasting, dialoguing, making us think about what was there, what was missing, what are the tensions that still exist, what are the great contradictions.” Thus, she proposed something different: putting the Arte132 collection in dialogue with other works and worldviews, inviting artists and galleries to exhibit together in the space. “So we put together this puzzle, which was to make colonial works gain another meaning from a more contemporary view”, says the curator, who in choosing artists and works also sought the intersection of several markers – such as race, gender, region, generation, etc.
Today, artists without a gallery and works from private collections participate in this conversation, such as Daniel Lannes, Denilson Baniwa, Jaider Esbell and Jean-Baptiste Debret; and the Casa Triângulo, Estação, HOA, Janaína Torres, Leme, Millan, Nara Roesler, Portas Vilaseca, Sé and Superfície galleries. In some cases, the works on display are for sale; in others, they are just a loan from galleries or collections, driven exclusively by the curatorial motto.
Nation is narrative
Perhaps a key point of this year and of the show is the narrative dispute in the construction of an idea of Brazil. “We know that the concept of nation is an imaginary projection. To form this community of citizens who are collectively moved, there are some strong elements: portraiture, landscape and national emblems”. And it was from these canon divisions of the academy that Lilia started to think about the three nuclei of the exhibition. “I really like to show how the present is full of the past, always starting from classic themes of art history – art history that is an arm of imperialism – and dismantling from the inside, dismantling the logic of these classifications, [showing] that none classification is naive.”
Nor is this decision naive in the expography. By opting for a division into portraiture, landscapes and national emblems, Lilia allows us to see side by side Aurélio Figueiredo, an artist from the end of the 19th century, David Almeida, a contemporary artist legitimized by the arts market, and José Antonio da Silva, said to be popular. “As much as it may seem disrespectful to some, a lack of hierarchy; for me, it is a deep respect, because you show the limits, but also the actuality of this work”, she explains.
And it is in this disposition – mixing generations, identities, artistic languages, and blurring the distinctions between 'literate art' and 'popular art' – that the tensions become so perceptible to the public. “I have little empathy for the hierarchy. I think we should, somehow, get rid of these evolutionary criteria constructed by the history of art, because we don't think only evolutionarily either”, shares Lilia. And she adds: “So I wanted to promote this kind of dialogue. Because it's a conversation. If we did something 'evolutionary', we could also disrespect and disrespect the most renowned artists, the modernist artists. I think it's the opposite, we give these works actuality, not leaving them in that immaculate place”.
In the main room, a scene takes place between the sculptures. In opposite corners of the room Indian with bow and arrow, by Ottone Zorlini, and The glorious return of those who were never here, by Flavio Cerqueira. At one extreme, the work features the representation of an imaginary indigenous warrior, painted by an Italian-Brazilian white man born at the end of the 19th century; in the other, an indigenous man wearing Hawaiian sandals and a slingshot in his pocket, made in 2016, “brings in his body the contradictions and noises of the urbanization process”, explains Lilia in the catalogue. Zorlini's sculpture seems to have in its sights the work of Andrey Zignatto, foundation 1 (2020), which shows us an indigenous ceramic kneaded by a concrete block – a block that the artist himself defines as an allegory of 'civilization'. On the diagonal of the work, we see a work from the series Bandeirantes by Jaime Lauriano, who brings us a miniature of one of these historical characters, cast in brass and ammunition cartridges used by the Military Police and Brazilian Armed Forces.
“This game of the sculptural object was very important to me, because sculpture was the place of projection of political, economic and social elites”, highlights Lilia. It is possible to think something similar in relation to the large number of portraits of non-white people – painted by non-white artists – that we find in the gallery. “Portrait was born to elevate, it's an extension of European historiography, right?”, so what happens when we change the subjects portrayed?
However, it is necessary to remember that this dispute of narratives in the art world (and in Brazil as a whole) goes beyond the paintings on the walls and the sculptures in dialogue in galleries and museums. The historical absences in the already narrated Brazils and the presences in the possible Brazils – both highlighted in various 22– sometimes they are also perceived in the audiences of the shows and echo after the exit of this and other exhibitions.
WHERE: Arte132 | Av. Juriti, 132, Moema, Sao Paulo
WHEN: March 19 to May 21
VISITATION: Monday to Friday, from 14 pm to 19 pm; Saturdays, from 11 am to 17 pm. Free entrance