tarsila do amaral
The closer to the centenary of the 1922 Modern Art Week, the more Tarsila is in evidence. (Photo: Reproduction)

One of the most renowned Brazilian artists worldwide, Tarsila do Amaral is the subject of a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA).

From the 11th of February to the 3rd of June, the 120 works will be exhibited in the modernist's first solo show at MoMA.

Gathered in collections in Europe, Latin America and the United States, Tarsila's indispensable works, such as Anthropophagy and abaporu, are part of the exhibition, which also features photographs, drawings, historical documents and sketches.

Curated by Luis Pérez-Oramas, of MoMA, and Stephanie D'Alessandro, of the Art Institute of Chicago, where it was first presented, the exhibition highlights the artist's production between the 1920s and 1930s.

The closer to the centenary of the 1922 Modern Art Week, the more Tarsila is in evidence. Also planned for this year is the recording of a film, a partnership between Brazil and England, about the artist's life. The French actress Marion Cotillard is the most quoted to play the painter in the cinema.

Read an analysis of Tarsila do Amaral's work published by the historian and art critic Francisco Alambert in the July 9, 2011 issue of the magazine ARTE!Brasileiros:

Tarsila and the Brazil of the Modernists

By Francisco Alambert*

“A work doesn't stay just because it reflects the sensitivity of its historical moment. But it gets even less if you don't reflect it”, Sérgio Milliet, the first Brazilian modern art critic and also the first great interpreter of Tarsila do Amaral, once wrote. The phrase fits perfectly for the artist, who reflected (both in the sense of mirroring and in the sense of thought) her time, the first Brazilian modernism, in her search for a modern and original form – with all its achievements and ambiguities.

In Tarsila’s work, part of it now exhibited at Casa Fiat de Cultura, in Minas, especially in her drawings, one of the visible marks of abstraction typical of Brazilian modernism is defined: an adaptation of avant-garde language to a touch of naturalism and primitivism that is affectedly local. This is where the “brazilwood” vocabulary and “anthropophagous” art are built, with its wide and sinuous lines inspired by the movement of Brazilian nature and popular forms that, like Niemeyer's architectural trait, will be what best represents a certain modern Brazilian visuality.

This generous and bold art is as ambiguous as Brazil's own modernizing process. If there is an entire art that refers to the memory of childhood and its freedom of imagination, there is also an ingrained feeling of the agrarian and pre-industrial world, typical of an elite that saw its world disappear, but still its power to perpetuate itself.

It is in the strength of these contradictions, in their explicit or unconscious recognition, that the greatness of Brazilian modernism and the work of Tarsila resides, in particular, this woman who was everything: landowner aristocrat, rentier, Parisian coquette, diligent student of Léger, communist, scandalous companion of Oswald de Andrade, wife of a man much younger than she, delicate chronicler, etc.

I believe the screen the black (1923) is his most emblematic work, certainly one of the high points of early modernism. It is the most anti-academic of his paintings, as, for the first time, the imperial form of academic painting is confronted in its conniving representation of slavery. The black woman in the painting is, rather, an immense monochromatic field, a seductive, maternal and at the same time inert and passive feminine power, placed in front of a geometric background that she ignores. A simultaneity, but presented in two planes.

The symbolic weight and the presence of the look of the black slave, with her feet welcomed by the earth's floor – which sees us and reveals to us when revealing herself – is replicated in Tarsila's most famous and controversial canvas, the abaporu (1928), in which the geometric background disappears, giving way to a warm and very particular color, which will be even stronger in powerful sun (canvas from 1929, for which Drummond’s definition perfectly fits: “the bright yellow, the violet pink, the pure blue, the singing green”). In Anthropophagy (1929) it all comes together: the naked breast of the black woman and the feet strongly connected to the land of the small-headed Brazilian being – but illuminated by the sun and singing colors – intertwine in the synthesis of the nationalist and critical optimism of the first modernism.

These inventions alone would be enough to understand Tarsila as a significant force of our most generous utopias and also of our atavistic horrors. Perhaps that is why his works are perpetuated as references for the present.

In the late 1990s, Carmela Gross created a kind of sculpture or installation that she also called A Negra. Composed of layers of black veils, installed on wheels, this giant and faceless figure was set to walk, like the negative of a ghost of children's stories, along Avenida Paulista – the cradle of the former palaces of the empire's rich and current empire's footbridge. of capital.
More recently, when the first woman (white) was elected president of Brazil, artist Gustavo Rosa decided to put the president's face on a replica of the abaporu. Tarsila still lives in our time, for better or for worse.

Historian and art critic. Text originally published in issue 9 of the magazine ARTE!Brasileiros


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