Horizontal, color photo. Arthur Piza's studio
Arthur Piza's studio in downtown Paris, France. Photo: Hélio Campos Mello

Em conversation with Betina Zalcberg, art historian and one of the board members of the Bottom Arthur Luiz Piza (Fonds Arthur Luiz Piza, based in Paris), the arte!brasileiros had the opportunity to delve into the history of Piza and some other artists who settled between the 1960s and 1980s in the French capital, in a rich and conflicted time in the history of Brazil.

Arthur Pizza was born in São Paulo in 1928 and began his artistic training in 1943, studying painting and fresco with Antonio Gomide (1895-1967). After participating in the 1st São Paulo International Biennial, in 1951, he traveled to Europe and took up residence in Paris. He died in that city in 2017, aged 89. 

Betina Zalcberg has worked at Sotheby's, MAM – Ville de Paris and Center National des Monuments Historiques. Today, she sails between São Paulo and Paris. Read the interview below.

ARTE! - How did you meet Arthur Piza?

Betina Zalcberg – I'm going to start this story by pulling a thread far away – both for the pleasure of evoking a dear person and for the domino effect of friendships it represents. I am referring to Vera Pedrosa, who had met Arthur Luiz and Clelia Piza in 1953, when she accompanied her father – Mário Pedrosa, then a member of the Artistic Commission of the 2ª São Paulo Biennial with Flavio de Carvalho e Tarsila do Amaral – on his preparatory voyage for what would become known as the “Guernica Biennale”. Almost 30 years later, it was she, then following a career at Itamaraty, who introduced the artist Julio Villani to the couple. I entered the bond of affection then through it. [Julio and Betina have been partners ever since]

Having just arrived in Paris, Julio had received the same warm welcome from Piza and Clelia that was reserved for so many Brazilian artists in the 1980s. the anchors of a network of solidarity with Brazilian exiles, based in France after the 1960 coup.

L'ATTRAPE-REVÊ, work of Arthur Piza
“L'attrape-revê”, objects, galvanized wire, zinc painted in acrylic, 2011. Photo: Hélio Campos Mello

When the political situation began to unwind on the other side of the Atlantic, they dedicated themselves more specifically to the world of the arts. There are many young artists who have traveled to Paris – to study at the School of Fine Arts or simply for a walk – who can testify to the attention received by the couple. It was in fact on one of those visits – as Zerbini tells in the exhibition catalog Leonilson by Antonio Dias, Profile of a collection, held in Cultural Pinakotheke in 2019 – that Piza suggested to Leonilson, then 24, to meet Antonio in Rome. He had a feeling he'd give it a whirl. We know today that it was a meeting lined up in the stars!

While Piza received the visual artists, Clelia Pisa (thus, with an S all feminist, to trace her path independently of her husband) dedicated herself to the dissemination of Brazilian literature. The first edition of Carolina Mary of Jesus out of Brazil: Bitite Journal (Ed. AM Métailié), whose preface signs, and which is exposed in the exhibition about the author on display at IMS Paulista. By chance, the other current exhibition at the IMS also indirectly refers to Clelia's action in literary circles: legend has it that it was she who introduced Clarice Lispector to the Editions des Femmes in Paris. In any case, the preface to the first French edition of The passion according to GH, today one of the author's best-known novels.

Piza was particularly close to Sérgio Camargo, Sérvulo Esmeraldo, Samson Flexor, Lygia Clark, Rossini Perez, Flávio Shiró, from the Argentinians Julio Le Parc and Antonio Seguí, from the Chilean Roberto Matta (I'm certainly forgetting people…). In the midst of this intellectual effervescence and a certain political euphoria (election of Mitterrand in France, gradual opening of regimes in South America), Piza founds and animates – with Le Parc, Matta, Luis Tomasello, Garcia-Rossi, Rodolfo Krasno, Jack Vanarsky, followed by many others – the Latin American Space, defined as “a place of confrontation and dissemination of various aspects of current Latin American creativity”, but also a means of “making known the work of young French and European artists in Latin America”. [L'Espace latino-americain ran in Paris from 1980 to 1993].

Arthur Luiz Pizza
Atelier's library: Clélia's important collection of Brazilian literature flanks mementos of Piza. Photo: Hélio Campos Mello

ARTE!How did the Arthur Piza Fund come about?

When Piza died in 2017, the endowment fund took shape, according to the guidelines drawn up by the couple. Installed in the artist's studio, it aims to preserve and disseminate his work - including the elaboration of his catalog raisonne, to which the six members of the Board (three for Brazil and three for France: Marcelo Araújo, Maria Antonieta Dente, Catherine de Leobardy, Virginie Durval, Henri Helman and myself) actively dedicate themselves. We also continue the Piza Award, created by the couple in 2014.

ARTE! - What specifically does the prize consist of?

It is intended to perpetuate and expand the exchange between the French and Brazilian art scenes, in which both believed so much. The laureates – one a year, alternately French and Brazilian – are invited to spend a month in the “other” country. There is no production obligation, nor privileged plastic language. The idea is to offer a moment of contact, of beneficial curiosity, of discovery. Bridges are being built, almost naturally. On his visit to Brazil, the first laureate, the Parisian Jérôme Benitta, who practices a super material painting, met the second, the excellent printmaker Fabricio Lopez. When he went to Paris, the mayonnaise caught on: they made a series of works with four hands, and an exhibition that the Pizas had the pleasure of witnessing. The bridge sometimes leads further than the award’s artists: Jérôme has already returned to São Paulo for two residencies at Ateliê Fidalga, and is scheduled to be exhibited at CasaGaleria in August 2022.

Copper plate for engraving. Photo: Hélio Campos Mello

Because of the pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 awards will travel to 2022. This is Jeremy Chabaud, whose artistic practice including painting and sculpture has already earned him a residency award from the Albers Foundation in New York, but who also uses a huge dose of “to do together”, developing collaborative projects (no wonder, he is the current director of the association Jeune Creation in Paris); and Santídio Pereira, born in Piauí in 1991, who has been developing his own way of making engraving, with an increasing mastery of the technique at the service of those wonderful images that he carries within himself.

There will be no shortage of opportunities for them, Sophie Lambert (artist of refined figuration, Piza award 2016), Estela Sokol (who uses light and color as sculptural material, laureate 2017) and the next laureates, to continue weaving links between the two countries. It is the dominoes of friendships and affinities around the pizza(s) that continue to advance. ✱

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