by Mario Gioia

With the opening of the Pavilhão das Culturas Brasileiras, in São Paulo, the recovery of pieces collected by Lina Bo Bardi in Bahia in the 1960s, and brought together again at Solar do Ferrão, in Salvador, and the visibility that the Acre-based artist Hélio Melo had in At the 27th Bienal de São Paulo, popular art resumes a more effective role in the Brazilian visual arts scene.

For Roberto Rugiero, one of the most prestigious specialists in the field in the country and owner of Brazilian Gallery, located in a townhouse in the neighborhood of Pinheiros, in São Paulo, the moment does not deserve to be celebrated so much. “Working with popular art in Brazil is still very unstable. We have lived through much worse times, but the market is not very broad and prejudice exists. It's like a class struggle. Part of the elite cannot see genius in popular authors”, says the dealer cautiously.

And geniuses, for Rugiero, are not lacking in this field. Ranchinho, Antonio Poteiro, José Antônio da Silva, GTO, Fernando Diniz, Agnaldo, Artur Pereira. Names known by few critics, curators and art historians, with extensive work and open to multiple readings and analyses, still insufficient in the current phase of Brazilian art. “When scholars like Mário de Andrade insisted on the search for a Brazilian identity, there was a closer and more detailed analysis of popular art, by names like Mário Pedrosa and Ferreira Gullar, for example. Today, there is a vacuum, since in the 1970s, New York and the international market became the only beacons of criticism”, says Rugiero. “It's the age of 'globanalization'.”

General view of the gallery. Featured dolls by artist Marliete.

Rugiero believes that the terminology “popular art” is the most appropriate to encompass “spontaneous art”. But it's such a rich segment that it doesn't fit in a single name. However, the gallery owner is opposed to classifying less erudite artists as “naïf art”. “It is hateful terminology, an unclassifiable Gallicism. The name came up only to qualify a supposedly naive art water with sugar. It only serves to be sold to unsuspecting gringos.”

The gallery owner and scholar of the genre goes back to Colonial Brazil to remember the origins of popular art. “Until the XNUMXth century, Brazilian art par excellence was the Baroque, which spans different periods and whose influence is still felt today. As the literate population was always a minority until industrial Brazil – the great artists of a less elite art, generally linked to religiosity, were self-taught and of humbler origins”, he explains. “The Baroque pieces still remained. But a lot of quality was lost, such as the publicity of popular commerce in cities like Olinda. There are no copies of this type of art left, even to compare with what has been done more recently.” For him, painting in a popular tone is even more difficult to be studied historiographically and with variety, because it is undervalued and has less consumption in the regions of origin. “Three-dimensional production is easier to sell. The paintings, in addition to the difficulty in their commercialization, need much more study and experience for a real reading. For this reason, many so-called naive painters do not have a quality work, which ends up being incensed initially, but which is no longer sustainable in the long term.”Years 1940

After the Folklore Research Mission, undertaken by Mário de Andrade in lesser-known regions of the North and Northeast of the country, in 1938, Rugiero observes that the following decade will have initiatives that will put popular art back in the spotlight.

Zezinha's mannerist realism with her female figures

“José Claudino da Nóbrega (1909-1995) goes to Cuiabá and brings up the Baroque of Cuiabá, which was not seen or studied at that time. Afterwards, he goes to the São Francisco region and discovers Mestre Guarany (1884-1985), a genius of sculpture, with his frowns. In the same decade, Mestre Vitalino (1909-1963) was also discovered in Caruaru by Augusto Rodrigues and became a celebrity, after an article in the magazine The Cruise. And, in the interior of São Paulo, José Antônio da Silva (1909-1996) also has his work recognized.” According to the gallery owner, the 60s will be another important time for popular art, especially due to the performance of Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992) at the head of the creation of a popular museum at Solar do Unhão, in Salvador, closed by the military regime and which today hosts the Bahia MAM.

For Rugiero, the most recent milestone in the appreciation of popular art is the Exhibition of Rediscovery, which took place in 2000 and which, in a segment organized by Emanoel Araújo, highlighted works made by inmates of psychiatric establishments, ex-votos and a variety of pieces created in several less erudite sources and that, for decades, passed on the fringes of the art system. “The market has reawakened itself to popular art”, he considers.

The gallery owner believes that artists valued in the contemporary scene, such as Efrain Almeida, already confirmed for the 29th Bienal de São Paulo, an exhibition that begins in September, and Farnese de Andrade (1926-1996), have a strong bearing on the popular, which makes make the power of your work more noticeable. “And there are older cases of established artists in the history of Brazilian art, such as Tarsila do Amaral, Anita Malfatti and Di Cavalcanti, strongly influenced by this spontaneous art.”

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