Japanese Motif (1959), tempera on canvas. Credit: MAC USP Collection
Japanese Motif (1959), tempera on canvas. Credit: MAC USP Collection

CI discovered Eleonore Koch's work at the beginning of this century and, in the 2010s, the opportunity arose to organize an exhibition about her work and career, which ended up not happening. But, while that possibility lasted, she was thinking about a sober exhibition that, as far as possible, reviewed all of her poetics – one of the most unique I have seen.

Years later, the idea occurred to me that it would be of great interest to organize an exhibition that would bring together in a single space a significant portion of his works and some paintings by the two artists who served as a parameter for Koch until he created his own poetics. I am referring to the Italian-Brazilian Alfredo Volpi and the Englishman Patrick Caulfield.

Volpi's work could be defined as the result of the action of an artist who based his production on pictorial work itself, on the expressiveness of color itself. This does not mean that, for him, the history of painting was not important. We all know his appreciation for the painting of “primitive” Italians. However, such recognition did not mean that Volpi would have developed a “critical” absorption of that production. No, the painting of those artists from the beginning of the Renaissance in Volpi's production served as fuel for his own pictorial work which, although modern, did not exclude its origin or tradition.

In turn, Patrick Caulfield's painting could be characterized as being a reductionist and “cold” poetic, which reviewed the somewhat thuggish love that modern painting has always nurtured for the “low” visuality of mass culture. From Léger, and through many others – especially those pop (with which he did not like to be associated) –, Caulfield represented objects flat on the plane, with saturated colors and strongly outlined, bringing to the scope of erudite painting – and in his own way – the visual culture of the mass media.

It would have been interesting to compare Koch's production with those of the two other artists to investigate the reasons for the choices she made: how Koch thought of Caulfield in relation to Volpi and vice versa, how Koch thought of their production in relation to a new possibility for your poetics?

But of course this idea didn't come to fruition either. Holding an exhibition bringing together works by the three artists was – and continues to be – a practically impossible mission. However, fortunately for me, who have always appreciated Eleonore's work, and for all the interested public, on April 6th, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the MAC USP opened the exhibition Eleonore Koch: on the scene, organized by Fernanda Pitta, one of the institution's curators.


MAC USP, in the former headquarters of São Paulo's DETRAN, is a gift for the city's inhabitants and visitors. Where have you seen a place in Brazil that, in itself, is already a great work of 20th century architecture and that, on top of that, presents a collection of Brazilian and international works that are so characteristic of current production? São Paulo, when it wants to – and its cultural policies work – can be a mother. How can you not be thrilled when, as you browse through all those galleries full of works of art, you come across the exhibition dedicated to the work of Eleonore Koch, on display until July this year?


One of the issues that most mobilize me about Koch's work is the strategy used by the artist to translate aspects of the reality in which she was immersed into painting. In fact, what always interested me in her work was not exactly this translation, but as the artist produced it. Following the thread proposed by the curator, I reach the following conclusion: by being on stage in the spaces he recreates, Koch stages, with his works, painting itself; in this sense, she does not represent the real in painting, but, in her own way, performs the painting itself. And that's on each of her screens. And that's what makes her so close, and so different, from the two artists she took as a parameter when she was still maturing her work.

Grandiose and, at the same time, full of silence, this retrospective. During the visit, I wondered if Koch's determined personality was perhaps trying to hide his perplexity at the world or his fear of it.

Koch always painted paintings and, in this performance, he explored and renewed the eternal problem of this language in modernity. A problem opened above all by Paul Gauguin (did Eleonore like Gauguin?): the clash between figure and background and between them and the viewer's gaze. All of Koch's work does not discuss or represent this issue, it is this clash. In her canvases, the artist elaborates and re-elaborates this drama that defines painting, based on a melancholic objectivity that, ultimately, seems not to believe much in the world, but very much in painting itself.


In total, there are more than 90 paintings in the exhibition, in addition to the countless drawings and photographs that served as the basis for the artist's works. Works from MAC USP, but also from other museums and private collections are brought together not exactly, or not only, to celebrate the excellence of Eleonore Koch, but to offer the public the possibility, after visiting the exhibition, to reflect on the the becoming of painting itself, since a professional as sensitive as Koch, showed clear signs of (thinking) and performing pictorial language, not as an expression, but as a method.


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