Tarsila do Amaral (Capivari/SP, 1886 – São Paulo/SP, 1973) Portrait of Mário de Andrade, 1922 Oil on canvas, 53,5 x 46,5 cm Artistic-Cultural Collection of the Government Palaces of State of São Paulo Photo: Eduardo Ortega


Plink to the show Mário de Andrade. Two lives Having been conceived based on the works collected by the critic, when I went down to the MASP basement to visit it, I was eager to see some of the pieces that had belonged to Mário and even see others that had never been exhibited¹. Among the various works that make up it, the collection brings together one of the most important sets of art of Brazilian modernism, with works by practically all the artists of the movement: from Anita Malfatti and Di Cavalcanti to Candido Portinari and others. But the exhibition is not confined just to Brazilian modernists. It also brings some examples of Mário's set of colonial pieces and a series of photographs produced by him during his travels to the North and Northeast of Brazil, during the second half of the 1920s. 

Works from diverse origins, what unites them is the fact that they were collected by one of the most important Brazilian intellectuals of the last century. But what does Mário's collection do in this year's series of exhibitions at MASP, dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ issue? 

Now, Mário de Andrade was homosexual. 

In fact, it is difficult to categorically affirm the intellectual's homosexuality because, firstly, to my knowledge, any love affair that Mário may have had with other subjects is not public. Specifically, what always existed were the comments that his opponents spread in conversations and even in newspapers and other types of publications. In fact, your enemies and ex friends (Oswald de Andrade, for example), were masters at trying to disqualify him, both because of his African origin (that is, because he had phenotypic indices of a black man), and because of his supposed affectations and interest in men.

All these insinuations were just that, insinuations. Even in his most reserved statements in letters to friends, such as Manuel Bandeira and Oneyda Alvarenga – considered revealing of his sexuality – the author is evasive, announcing his homosexuality (in the case of the letter to Bandeira) and then avoiding the issue² .

Although I knew one or another of his literary works in which homoeroticism was discreetly alluded to, the truth is that, when, in the mid-1990s, I researched his production as an art critic for my doctorate, the question of Mário's sexuality was not on the agenda. day order. During research for the thesis, the only index that, in fact, caught my attention in relation to Mário's sexuality was that excerpt from the review he wrote about Portinari's figures, mentioned in the first part of this article. There it seemed evident to me that something was emerging in the description of those “rude males” as opposed to the “good women like my mother”. And that's it.


Returning to the exhibition, it is interesting that the works that make up it, in addition to having belonged to the critic, have only one other aspect in common: they all represent male figures. 

This aspect would demonstrate the dimension queer from Mario?

Flávio de Carvalho (Barra Mansa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1899—1973, Valinhos, São Paulo, Brazil). Man, 1933. Watercolor and pen ink on paper, 37,5 × 29,7 cm

If Bacon's works, there on the first floor of the museum, signaled a homoerotic, torn sexuality - and which, as I stated, transcended this issue and directed itself to a reflection on the human condition itself -, in the exhibition of Mário's collection there was no none of that. In fact, what is presented there is not the critic's collection, but a section of it, rescuing only works in which men are represented. Now, in itself, the exhibition of just this segment does not highlight the collector's homosexuality, and, to reach a more effective conclusion on the issue, the right thing would have been to quantitatively compare how many works in the collection represent men and how many represent women, androgynous beings and children.

But of course this measurement wouldn't help determine Mário's sexuality either. Thus, the exhibition ends up being worth the interest of the works displayed and not the general content of the exhibition.


A few days after visiting the two exhibitions, I started reading the very interesting catalog of Mário de Andrade. Two lives, which contains important texts to expand our understanding of the dimension queer of Mario's personality. Thus, more than ever the catalog assumed a unique importance in ensuring the objective and, therefore, also the interest of the exhibition. For these reasons I will comment on two articles published there. 

The first of them has the same title as the exhibition, signed by Regina T. Barros who, right at the beginning, pays attention to the main purpose of the exhibition: reviewing Mário de Andrade's art collection “from the perspective of a gay sensitivity”. That is, due to the fact that it is also part of the museum's group of LGBTQIA+ exhibitions, the exhibition has purposes similar to that dedicated to Bacon: adapting the plurality and scope of the works presented there to a single direction.

As I continued reading, I came across an excerpt from a letter that Mário addressed to a friend, recalling the trip he took through the Amazon – where he had contact with the poorest population of the place, including photographing them. The excerpt reminded me of Mário's criticism of the men portrayed by Portinari:

It was a true feeling of rendez-vous [encounter], the meticulous affection with which I awaited every night the roar of howler monkeys in the forest. And those third-class conversations with beings of an astonishing rudimentary nature, beings for that very reason perfectly free, in that vehement, contagious smell, of moistened firewood, oxen and half-naked bodies, can't you imagine, Osório, I was that, half vegetable, half still water, I don't know³

(The drive that emanates from this paragraph seems even greater to me than that present in the article about Portinari, demonstrating that often – and like the other poet –, Mário never quite knew where to place his desire).

The curator cited the letter to affirm the presence, in Mário's subjectivity, of attraction, of sexual desire between social classes (cross-class desire) – a concept that would help to understand the intellectual's interest in photographing the underprivileged men of the North of the country. And it goes further: Regina T. de Barros states, in the sequence, that, concomitantly with this interclass attraction experienced by the critic (where, I say I, a power relationship was inserted, in which Mário was the strongest), there was also an identification between him and his models, as the intellectual, in many self-portraits he produced during the trip, repeated the poses of his subjects – yet another given to help penetrate the complex dimension of the critic's subjectivity.

Mário de Andrade (São Paulo, Brazil, 1893—1945) Bet of Ridiculous in Tefé, 12.6.1927 [June 12, 1927]
Digital print on paper, 6,1 × 3,7 cm

Among a series of other issues, Regina pays attention to something that would help to understand the reason for the exhibition: the private relationship that Mário established with his collection of drawings⁴: “Drawing amateurs keep theirs in folders. Drawings are for us to leaf through, they are to be read like poetry”, said the intellectual. And Regina adds:

Male nudes, muscular backs (…) blacks, mulattoes, indigenous people, workers, intellectuals, sailors, street cleaners, police officers, players (…); men at the bar, men resting: a selection of drawings collected by Mário theming male figures (…) and which, in themselves, have little or nothing erotic (…)

And then the cat leap:

However, when understood as a set of images consumed privately, away from the eyes of Catholic, moralistic and heteronormative censorship, they can be read from a perspective of gay reception, even if a posteriori (…)

And then, the curator quotes the scholar Rudi Bleys, for whom the intention of a given work may not have been homoerotic in its conception, but “it is not entirely wrong to recognize certain 'gay' content only by virtue of contextualization”.⁵ Or In other words, individually the works that make up Mário de Andrade's collection may not have been conceived with any objective linked to homosexuality, but the whole in which they are part – the collection itself.

But the question remains: is what we see in the MASP exhibition Mário's collection? Wouldn't the critic have collected figures of women, children, androgynous beings, only figures of men? 

The question will be answered later, in The charm that comes from serene adorations, by Ivo Mesquita, text also published in the catalogue:

Mário de Andrade's art collection was not just made up of works chosen by him. Many pieces were gifts from friends, artists or not, but he invested a lot of money at the time, helping a number of professionals, something remarkable in a person who always lived off his salary. It brings together Brazilian and foreign artists and there is nothing predominant in this meeting between figures, portraits, landscapes and still lifes (…) Nor can it be said that it contains an erotic theme, as we are looking for. There are many scenes of couples (…), brothels (…). Nothing exciting. But there are some female nudes, scenes of intimacy between women, quite sexy, like those of Carlos Leão (…), Enrico Bianco (…) and Marie Laurencin (…). Consistent with the collection of an elegant gentleman in those days⁶.

What the text presents is that, for its purposes, it doesn't matter how many figures of men or women Mário collected. What interests him is to demonstrate as the critic looked at the male images accumulated over the years. And, to this end, Ivo incorporates Mário's perspective with the aim of translating to the reader the dimension queer that look. And so, acting as a kind of guide, he transforms us into tourists learning a complex subjectivity like Mário's, not to “understand” it, but just to enjoy it.

(From the beginning Ivo has been concerned with the “experience of looking” and its importance in approaching art).

The author incorporates Mário's perspective, it is true, but he does not submit to it, on the contrary. It is notable how in the text there is, so to speak, a critical acceptance of what Mário perceived in the works of art he chose or that, by chance, came to him.


A strange meeting between Mário and Bacon at MASP. Two different nature exhibitions coexisting in the same place, shown in the same period because they focus on different perspectives of the universe queer: the one present in the work of one of the most important painters of the second half of the 20th century, and the other closed in the collection of one of the most prolific Brazilian intellectuals of the first half of the last century.

When Mário passed away in 1945, Bacon, still young, was taking off his career.

Did the critic have time to contemplate at least some photographic reproduction of the painter's production? Would you feel horny watching such images? Impossible to know the answer. But Mário, without a doubt, would understand that the production of that then young Bacon, although totally committed to the personal drives that gave rise to him, went far beyond them.

PS As readers noticed, in addition to visiting the two exhibitions, reading the corresponding catalogs was essential for this review. If MASP deserves all the praise for the two exhibitions, it also deserves at least one repair: as they say on social media, it is impossible to establish itself as a diverse, inclusive and plural institution, charging R$ 35,00 (half price), R $179,00 for the exhibition catalog dedicated to Bacon and R$139,00 for the exhibition catalog dedicated to the Mário de Andrade collection. What kind of inclusion is this?

¹ The majority of the exhibition, curated by Regina T. de Barros, presents works belonging to the collection of the Institute of Brazilian Studies at USP, the institution that houses Mário's art collection, as well as his archive and library. The exhibition will be on display until June 9th.

² In the catalogue, pay attention to two texts that deal with the subject. The first, “Mário de Andrade: two lives”, by Regina Teixeira de Barros, (p. 14 et seq.) deals, among other aspects, with the author's evasiveness regarding his sexuality. The author also refers to the prejudices suffered by Mário. The second, “The same extra-literary insults are repeated tirelessly: homophobia and prejudice in the reception of Mário de Andrade”, (p. 94 et seq.) by Jorge Vergara, makes an interesting study of the prejudices suffered by Mário de Andrade. BARROS, Regina T. de Mário de Andrade: two lives. São Paulo: MASP, 2024.

³ Letter to José Osório de Oliveira. São Paulo. August 1, 1934. Apud BARROS, Regina Teixeira de. Op. cit. P. 26.

⁴ Actually a collection of papers: drawings, but also engravings and photos.

⁵ BARROS, Regina Teixeira de. Op. cit. P. 26. P. 29/30.

⁶ MOSQUE, Ivo. “The charm that arises from serene adorations”. In BARROS, Regina Teixeira de. Op. cit, p. 54.

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