Maurício Nogueira Lima. "Don't go left", 1964, metal and synthetic enamel on chipboard, 99,2 x 59,6 cm. MAM SP.

Maurício Nogueira Lima. “Don't enter on the left”, 1964, metal and synthetic enamel on chipboard, 99,2 x 59,6 cm. MAM SP.

don't go left, 1964, by Maurício Nogueira Lima (Col. MAM SP) could be framed as a work for domestic spaces and not exactly for a museum. Closer to a signpost, it obeys a formal structure linked to the concrete movement, of which Nogueira was part[1]: the support is divided in half by a vertical that, appearing at the bottom, disappears to reappear in the representation of the traffic sign, disappearing afterwards. Parallel to this vertical, two more are indicated, on the right and on the left. Nine horizontals, together with the verticals, establish a virtual grid at the base, whose stability is compromised by the curve formed by the word “no”, on top of the painting. Another important kinship of don't go left it is with the visual poetry that was then produced in São Paulo.

This hybridism – a mixture of signboard, visual poetry and concrete painting – gains greater complexity, due both to the inclusion of two small pieces of metal on the painting and to the traffic sign and the inscribed words. The two pieces may suggest the artist's interest in giving materiality to the abstraction of that succinct “map”. They are and at the same time represent the “gear” that moves São Paulo.


The words inscribed in the work can be divided into two groups. The first follows the objectivity of a signpost with easy-to-understand phrases for those who master the Portuguese language. They say: “Do not enter to the left”, “Keep to the right”. These reinforce the traffic sign – the main element of the work. The third, although intelligible, brings a noise. The phrase “Entre through the pipe” will only make sense when combined with other information inscribed in the work.

The second group of words – concentrated at the base of the work – despite alluding to certain toponyms of the city, are inscribed in such a way as not to follow the topography of São Paulo.


During Cubism (but not only), the use of letters, words and even phrases was strategic for several artists to underline the two-dimensionality of painting, and also – or at the same time – to give it a more ingrained character in everyday life or vice versa. The same can be said about the Cubists also using scraps of paper in the production of their paintings.[2].

Tarsila do Amaral. “São Paulo (Gazo)”, 1924, oil on canvas, 50 x 60 cm. Private Collection.

If this strategy is visible in the production of some Cubists and among other strands of international modernism, here in Brazil letters, words or phrases had a more parsimonious use: examples of works that used these devices before the 1960s are rare. from the XNUMXth century, Tarsila do Amaral's painting, Sao Paulo (Gazo) (Col. Particular), from 1924, and some works by the São Paulo artist Mick Carnicelli as rare examples of this type of procedure. In the case of Tarsila's painting, the use of the word “Gazo” testifies to her adherence to Cubism, while at the same time confirming the modernity of São Paulo (potentiated by the inclusion of the word), coexisting with indices of its still provincial character. In Carnicelli, the word appears in some of his paintings as another element that composes the urban scenery of the city of São Paulo, captured by procedures anchored in a tradition of naturalistic features.

Mick Carnicelli. Untitled, 1944, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm. Private Collection, SP.

what makes it unique don't go left this is how Nogueira Lima uses this strategy to give new meanings to the city. He uses objective traffic guidance phrases alongside an ironic phrase – “Enter the pipe” – and also the names of some neighborhoods in the city to reposition them out of the order that one would expect from a traffic sign. Sao Paulo. All motivated by a conjunctural and traumatic event: the civil-military coup of 1964.

From that fateful date – March 31, 1964 – São Paulo came to be seen by Nogueira Lima as a territory divided into two blocks: the one that supported the military coup (on the “right”) and the one that opposed it ( to the left"). Reorganizing the city in this way, Nogueira Lima joins the names of the neighborhoods that form a specific territory for him: “Liberdade”, “Paraíso” and “Bela Vista”. In other words, to the left of the citizen who hypothetically comes across that kind of sign in front of him, there is in São Paulo a territory of freedom, peace, harmony and beauty. On the other side, on the right, there is another organization, bringing together neighborhoods whose names have, in addition to the strict sense, specific meanings understood only by São Paulo residents: “Consolação”, “Casa Verde” and “Carandiru”. “Consolação” refers to the homonymous neighborhood where the cemetery that gave it its name is located; “Carandirú”, in turn, refers to the neighborhood that grew up next to a penitentiary. And “Casa Verde” refers to another neighborhood that also housed an old prison.

Despite all the Manichaeism of don't go left – understandable, by the way, if we do not forget the impact of the aforementioned coup on those who had other expectations for Brazil –, there is no doubt that the artist undertook an operation of blunt poetic invocation by proposing another possibility to register his revolt in the face of the situation of city ​​(and country) by reorganizing its map. What is important to point out is that perhaps for the first time an artist made use of the subversion of the standardized representation codes of a Brazilian city to propose a new map, a new representation, in this case, of São Paulo: a map moved by the revolting attitude towards the the fact that you have seen them undermine your country project? Undoubtedly. However, there is no way not to recognize the charge of affection for the city mixed with that revolt. An affection that leads him to seek to understand the new reality of the country from the rearticulation and repositioning of some toponyms of São Paulo, in their most immediate and objective representation: a signpost, a kind of leaner map.


By reinventing a new map for the city on the painting plane, Nogueira Lima brings to the scope of local contemporary art a desire to intervene in the stratified configuration of São Paulo, providing it with another configuration, expanding his awareness of the city and the circumstance that she and all her inhabitants lived.


São Paulo did not have its physiognomy captured by drawing, watercolor, painting and even engraving with the same intensity with which other Brazilian cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, were portrayed. Even so, from the XNUMXth century onwards it was recorded by artists such as Thomas Ender, Eduard Hildebrandt and others. However, no known painter or engraver has managed to point out the process of the city's transformation with as much perspicacity as Militão Azevedo, with the photographs that make up his Comparative Album of the City of São Paulo. By juxtaposing images of the city captured in 1862 with others of the same places produced in 1887, Azevedo managed – within the limits of photography of his time – to underline the transformations that already characterized São Paulo as a continuum of becoming.

Works by artists such as Benedito Calixto, Oscar Pereira da Silva and Antonio Ferrigno, among others, present peaceful scenes of the city, always interpreted with a naturalistic bias, revealing an interior and peaceful placidity.

Tarsila do Amaral. “São Paulo”, 1924, oil on canvas, 67 x 90 cm Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.

Even within the scope of the modernism of the 1920s and beyond, the São Paulo that appears – and when it appears – is a city devoid of dynamism, of any index of its transforming aspects. The city that emerges in Tarsila do Amaral's canvases, for example, shows few signs of transformation. both in São Paulo (Pinacoteca) as in the aforementioned Sao Paulo (Gazo), both from 1924, the city – perhaps too subjugated by the post-Cubist rigors of a purist lineage – appears austere and crystallized by the concepts of “balance, construction, sobriety”[3].

Perhaps the only modernist who captured the potential metropolis that was São Paulo in the first decades of the last century was Flávio de Carvalho, in his Santa Ifigenia Viaduct at night, (1934, Particular Col.). Carvalho's São Paulo at night, even with the crowd absent, presents itself powerfully, with the viaduct and the buildings indicating its growth and modernity. This painting does not depict a peaceful city, held in torpor. It is the representation of a metropolis that rests, at the same time that it reveals its strength, from horizontal and curved lines, full of hollows that interpose themselves to proud vertical forms.

Flavio de Carvalho. “Santa Ifigênia Viaduct at night”, 1934, oil on canvas, 38×48 cm, Col. Private.

There seem to be two São Paulos in the period between the two world wars, and even after 1945:

The first, that of the photographers, captures the city in its hitherto inconceivable growth. Hildegard Rosenthal, Hans Gunter Flieg, Peter Scheier, Alice Brill, Georg Paulus Waschinski, among others, captured the noise of the streets, factories and avenues, the power of concrete buildings being erected, the crowd, the merchandise taking over. For these immigrant photographers, the references, the places, the São Paulo represented in the photograph are different. Now, the brand is the acceleration of time, of time as a commodity.

Georg Paulus Waschinski. “Nylotex Tecelagem e Confecção SA”, 1954, photograph.

In an album analyzed by researchers Solange F. de Lima and Vânia C. de Carvalho[4], the photo Nylotex Tecelagem e Confection SA, by Georg Paulus Waschinski, clarifies the fusion between man and machine, between time and money. The foreground – in which workers are confused with machines and wires – moves to the back of the scene, in a continuum highlighted by the verticals of the factory columns on the left. The diagonals produced by the machines take up most of the field of photography. In the background, an intense light coming from the glass windows contrasts with the dark ceiling of the factory.

Hans Gunter Flieg. “Pirelli Tires”, São Paulo, SD

If Waschinski underlines the fusion between man and machine with the factory itself represented within a formal mechanics that accentuates the overwhelming process of industrial production, a considerable part of Flieg's production already has another objective: to transform the product, the merchandise out of that universe into object of greed. In Pirelli tires, sd, Flieg transforms product qualities into consumer seduction elements[5].

Waschinski and Flieg's photos do not show the exterior indices of São Paulo. In them, it is as if the city presents its entrails or, to follow the factory metaphor, its gears. contextualized[6], they had the function of underlining the power of São Paulo, paying attention to the fact that new places and objects could map other signifiers and meanings for the metropolis.

Alice Brill. “Viaduto do Chá”, São Paulo, 1954. Pirelli-MASP Collection.

Viaduct do Chá, Sao Paulo, 1954, by Alice Brill reviews a traditional place in the city, but captures there a moment in which, immersed in delimited spaces of light and shadow, the chaos of the city is belied by the almost martial order of the components of the photo: the crowd, the fleet of cars, the avenue, the windows in the background, the viaduct, nothing diverges from the system engendered by the artist's lens. Except, perhaps, for the car out of focus, (and about to leave the frame), passing over the inscriptions on the asphalt that covers the old Anhangabaú, summoning everyone to the celebrations of the First of May.

Hildegard Rosenthal. “Rua Direita, São Paulo”. 1939 Pirelli-MASP Collection.

If order prevails in Brill's photo, in Rua Direita, Sao Paulo, 1939, by Hildegard Rosenthal, emerges, empty of horizon, another piece of downtown. The buildings close the scene, making the space claustrophobic, the passers-by walking in and out of the brighter area look like actors from a Beckett play. However, as in the staging of the Irish playwright, there is an order established there, given by the lines that lead the crowd to and fro. An order, however, of a different nature from that presented in Brill's image. If in this the wide space, cut by crossed lines, implants a feeling of expansion and becoming, in Rosenthal's photo the underlying order seems to be of the nature of the circle or deformed ellipse, suggesting no possibility of reversal.


The second São Paulo, that of the painters, is immune to any uneasiness, to any noise of the modern. In the last century, few artists left the remote outskirts, the far reaches of São Paulo. Few brought to the field of painting the vigorous center of the metropolis. And when they did, they preferred to immortalize it in the slumber of Sunday mornings, or in the brief moments when the metropolis is silent, as if it were suddenly exhausted by the continuous noise.

In the first case, we have Francisco Rebolo. In your Sao Paulo surroundings, 1938 (Col. MAM SP), the metropolis is evoked only in the title and denied in its reality. The outskirts of the city is everything it is not: calm, silent, where light is the only beneficial noise, let's say, fertilizing, with the worker in the foreground, the bountiful land.

When Rebolo paints downtown São Paulo, his faded, delicate tones seem to aim more at what comes after the foreground, in which the urban indices are demarcated with simplicity and a lot of parsimony. In Clovis Square, 1944 (Col. Particular), for example, the São Paulo described there is still situated between the metropolis that insinuates itself through the concrete building, the bus in the very foreground, and the indices of yesterday still present: the church, the low houses that elongate and fray until they get lost in the countryside, between one or another discreet chimney, which also alludes to the modern that is approaching more and more.


Mick Carnicelli was one of the few painters who systematically registered São Paulo until the early 1960s. With a Venetian training, and internships in London and Paris, the artist returned and settled in São Paulo in the early 1920s. With the city he will maintain a peculiar relationship, choosing to portray it through less explored clippings, using these images of São Paulo as subterfuges to express a distrustful vision not only of the metropolis, but of life itself. Adhering to a naturalism revived by the appreciation for some post-impressionists (Cézanne among them), Carnicelli, however, did not usually gather his easel and other paraphernalia and go hunting for places that caught his attention, either for light or for other picturesque aspects. . Reserved, tending to seclusion, the painter acted as a spectator who saw São Paulo from his window, the patio or the backyard of his studio or house. It was from these privileged observation posts, and apart from the direct confrontation with the city and with the high art, that he investigated it himself.

Although, from the beginning, he had São Paulo as one of the stimuli for his painting, what is interesting to emphasize here is his production from the 1950s, when Carnicelli settles in his parents' residence, on Avenida Paulista. It is from that vantage point that the painter notes the rapid growth of the advancing modern city.


Nelson Leirner. “You are part II”, 1964. Wood, chrome steel and mirror, 111,3X111,3X10,2cm. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo, São Paulo.

In the most recent article published here[7], I wrote about the work of Nelson Leirner, You are part II that how don't go left, by Maurício Nogueira Lima, was produced in 1964. I draw attention to this coincidence: two works that represented significant deviations in the field of contemporary art – contributing to its introduction among us –, were produced in such a fateful year for our history. If Leirner's work can be understood as a critique of the coup and as an introduction to institutional criticism among us, don't go left demonstrates how the city can be thought and re-elaborated as an image, outside the scope of the most predictable iconography.


[1] – A concretism now semantized, but, even so, concretism.
[2] – In this sense, the metal pieces placed in the painting by Nogueira can also be thought of.
[3] – These would be the focuses that, according to Mario de Andrade, Tarsila should pursue. Excerpt from a letter from the critic to the artist: “(…) I believe you will not fall into Cubism. Just take advantage of his teachings. Balance, Construction, Sobriety. Beware of the abstract (...). Letter of June 16, 1923, from Mario de Andrade to Tarsila do Amaral. In, AMARAL, Aracy. Tarsila, her work and her time. On the relationship between Brazilian modernism and “post-cubism with a purist lineage”, see: CHIARELLI, Tadeu. Painting is not just beauty. The art criticism of Mário de Andrade. Florianópolis: Contemporary Letters, 2007.
[4] – LIMA, Solange F. de/CARVALHO, Vânia C. de. Photography and city. From urban reason to consumption logic. São Paulo albums (1887-1954)🇧🇷 Campinas: Mercado de Letras, 1997.
[5] – In a more recent photo, the artist maintains the same standard of objectivity, resorting, however, to another expedient: Logos 270 Calculator, Olivetti, Guarulhos, from 1970, presents not only the product with its effective, objective design, but also the result of all this efficiency: it contrasts in a tasty way in the image, the coldness with which the calculator is captured and the sensuality (accentuated by the sophisticated and sinuous game of light and shadow) of the paper tape coming out of the small machine, marked by the corporate accounting records.
[6] – As seen, the photo of Wichinsk was produced for an album about São Paulo and the photos of Flieg for the catalog of the industries mentioned in the titles of the photos he authored. In time: these photos now belong to Instituto Moreira Salles.
[7] – “To Nelson or the Perils of Interpretive Fury”, September 23, 2020.


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