Facade of the Trianon, where the 1st Bienal of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo was inaugurated. Photo: Reproduction of the Bienal de São Paulo website

Interesting how, once again, the Brazilian belletrist tradition puts the visual arts and its circuit to the side, when it comes to reflecting on art and culture in the country. The most recent index of the permanence of this practice was the article “The official vanguard”, published by the journalist Ruy Castro at Illustríssima, from Folha de S.Paulo, on February 6th of this year.

Its interest is to demonstrate how the process of construction of the Week begins as a founding myth of modernity/modernism in the country, locating the beginning of this phenomenon in the middle of the civil-military dictatorship, more precisely in 1972, when the 1922 Week completed 50 years.

If there was a vote among those who study the Week – its antecedents and supposed developments – to know if, when talking about that festival, they talk about something mythologized, my tendency would be to agree, at least in part.

Without falling into the trap of entering the silly dispute to decide whether modern art was born in São Paulo or in Rio (we can notice this question already present in texts by Menotti Del Picchia, published in 1924, refuting an alleged attempt by Rio to take from São Paulo the primacy of creation of modernism – that is, an almost centenary blah blah blah![1]), my objective here will be to displace the issue of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Week and the disqualification of Oswald de Andrade as an intellectual (what a pity he was not born in Rio, right?) and turn to the visual arts circuit in the country which, in the late 1940s, gained another dimension, with the creation of the São Paulo Museum of Art, the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art and the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Modern Art. My objective is to draw attention to the fact that it was there, inside those two museums in São Paulo, that the process of mythologizing the Week and the modernists gained its first and greatest impetus.

What was always in focus in those two São Paulo institutions was to project art as one of the possible achievements of Brazilian and São Paulo society, in particular, after the various disasters that occurred, from the beginning of the 1930s until 1945, with the end of the Second World War. world. Confident in the future of Brazil and São Paulo, both Masp and Mam-SP will dedicate themselves to holding large exhibitions of modern art, produced abroad and in the country.

The immediate corollary of this intention will be, in 1951, with the inauguration of the I Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo – yes, the Bienal, at first, was a kind of department of Mam – to place Brazilian art in an international context. It was not for nothing that, in the words of its artistic director, Lourival Gomes Machado, the Bienal aimed to put Brazilian art “in living contact” with international art.[2]

However, in order to reach this goal, it seems that, both at Mam-SP and at Masp, there has always been an awareness that, in order to project contemporary Brazilian art, it was necessary to seek a historical basis for it, a platform that would sustain it for so long. big push. And, as this foundation did not seem to exist, at least in an already settled form, it had to be architected.

This question is detailed in another article I published it's been almost two decades[3], even so, I will try here to point out the indices that demonstrate that the institutionalization of the 1922 Modern Art Week and of São Paulo modernism began at least two decades before that date proposed in the article by Ruy Castro.


When studying the history of Masp and Mam-SP, it is noted that from the beginning both were determined to build a narrative that would support and, ultimately, justify the existence and activities of the two institutions. It is in this sense that the need to recover and honor the artists linked to São Paulo's modernism is perceived. In 1950, Mam organizes a retrospective of Tarsila do Amaral. In the following year, during the 1922st Bienal of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, two artists were awarded who had effectively participated in the XNUMX Week (Emiliano Di Cavalcanti and Victor Brecheret), one who would also have participated in the event – ​​despite some controversies (Oswaldo Goeldi) –, and four other artists linked to the later “development” of 1922 modernism: Lívio Abramo, Candido Portinari, Bruno Giorgi and Lasar Segall.

In 1952, Mam-SP held the exhibition 1922 Modern Art Week. Commemorative Exhibition, a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the Week. Menotti Del Picchia – poet and one of the members of the Week – states in the text for the catalog that the then President of the Republic – Getúlio Vargas –, in an official document, positively blamed the Week for having provoked a “visceral revolution” in the country, reaching , in addition to aesthetics, “the economy, politics and the Brazilian social structure itself” – which demonstrates that the process of consolidating the Week as the “founding landmark” of modernity in Brazil, was already a fact for the official Brazilian sectors, as early as 1952.

Photo from 1924, at Hotel Terminus, at lunch in honor of Paulo Prado, which brought together writers and artists participating in the Semana de 22. Photo: Reproduction

Despite this exhibition, it is noted that in the edition of the Bienal, which took place between 1952 and 1953, that narrative is still under construction, gaining contributions that seemed to question the gradual hegemony of the Semana (and of São Paulo) as a founding element of modernity in the Brazil. That edition featured, among others, two important exhibitions that sought, in some way, to move the emergence of modern art among us to a past before 1922. I am referring to Eliseu Visconti's retrospective and the panorama dedicated to the Brazilian landscape.

In the first one – organized by José Simeão Leal -, Visconti was presented as the artist who “begins Brazilian modern art, breaking with a sterile academicism in its artificiality”[4]. As can be seen, the dispute between Rio and São Paulo to claim to be the “cradle” of modernism is expressed again in the middle of the II Bienal.

This retreat in search of the “roots” of Brazilian modernism prior to the Week did not develop in the editions following the II Bienal. On the contrary, marked by special rooms dedicated to Segall (which had four special rooms at the Bienal during the 1950s), as well as Candido Portinari (which had three) and Brecheret (which had one), these editions were marked by the need to build another narrative, also important: which artist was the most modern, better representing local modernism: Segall or Portinari?[5]

The recovery of the Week as a launching pad for modernism in Brazil continued when, in the 1963 edition – that is, when the Week had already completed 40 years the previous year – special rooms were produced in honor of Di Cavalcanti and Anita Malfatti – “pioneers ” of São Paulo and supposedly Brazilian modernism –, and of those that emerged immediately after the Semana, continuing its “revolutionary” stamp: Tarsila do Amaral and Flávio de Carvalho.

As I emphasized in the 2003 text mentioned here, during the 1960s it seems that those responsible for the biennial editions worked to sediment the myth that Brazilian contemporary art was derived from the modernism of the 1922 Week, linking the “past” of 22 to the “ present” of S. Paulo museums and biennials:

There is no doubt that this was an important strategy for the construction of a history of 20th century Brazilian art where the cuts, gaps and gaps were all obliterated in favor of a triumphalist fiction, which tells the story of São Paulo modernism as a happy saga. and without major mishaps, from Anita to the Museum.[6]

Of course, when writing this paragraph, I had in my mind the important book by Paulo Mendes de Almeida which, which appeared as a series of articles in the São Paulo press, was published in book form in 1961 – in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Semana, that would be celebrated the following year[7].

In this book, Almeida naturalizes all the comings and goings of the artistic environment of São Paulo, implying that, in the state capital, modern art gradually ceased to be an individual matter (of Anita Malfati) to become a collective necessity (the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art).

During the 1960s, there were several special rooms at the Bienals and retrospectives organized by museums in São Paulo in honor of all “historical” modernists, which gradually consolidated the narrative that, from 1917 to 1948 (again, “from Anita to the Museum”) Brazilian modern art was born, grew and flourished. In Sao Paulo.

Within this construction, it is important to remember the exhibitions commemorating the “round” anniversaries of the Week: the one that marked the 50th anniversary of the event, which took place in 1972 at Masp – Week of 22. Background and Consequences (quoted by Ruy Castro) – and, in 1982, From Modernism to the Biennale, presented at Mam-SP, a kind of spatialization of the scheme proposed by the aforementioned book by Paulo Mendes de Almeida.


The dissemination of the artists of the Week and their “descendants”, widely publicized by São Paulo museums and by the various editions of the Bienal, gradually removed the works from the artists’ studios and deposits, causing them to migrate to the walls of a few museums and to those of new collectors, especially those from São Paulo.

As a corollary of this process, I would highlight the work of the University of São Paulo, which, from the end of the 1960s, began to encourage the elaboration of a series of dissertations and thesis on São Paulo modernism and the artists who integrated it, enthroning the movement and its protagonists as “the” Brazilian modernism.


Based on the above considerations, I hope I have made it clear that I do not disagree with all the ideas set out in Castro's article for Ilustríssima. In fact, I just wanted to rescue one fact: the ideal narrative about the Week of 1922, in order to be better understood, must not do without issues related to the visual arts environment. It seems to me that the art circuit that was established in São Paulo from the 1940s/50s onwards – from museums to the university – is crucial to form a more complex view of the phenomenon that interests us here.[8].

If, after a century, the debate remains confined only to the discrediting strategy of some of its protagonists or to gossip, it will certainly take another hundred years to actually take a beautiful step forward.


[1] – For those interested, consult some articles by Menotti Del Picchia published in Paulista Post Office, between mid-June and July 1924.
[2] – Text by Lourival Gomes Machado, published in the catalog of the I Bienal: I Biennial of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, October to December 1951. 2nd São Paulo, Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, p. 18.
[3] – CHIARELLI, Thaddeus. “Art in São Paulo and the modernist core of the Collection”. In MILLIET, Maria Alice (editor coordinator) Nemirowaky Collection. Rio de Janeiro: MAM, 2003.
[4] – LEAL, José Simeão. “Elisha Visconti”. in General Catalog of the II Biennial of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo. São Paulo, Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, 1953, p.2.
[5] – This controversy had been going on since the 1930s, as can be studied in the production of the scholar Annateresa Fabris, Portinari amico my. Letters from Mário de Andrade to Candido Portinari. Campinas: Mercado de Letras, 1995.
[6] – Chiarelli, Thaddeus. 2003. Op. Cit. Page 90.
[7] - the book From Anita to the Museum – a fundamental item in the bibliography of São Paulo modernism – had a second edition in 1976, by Perspectiva, and an excellent new edition, in 2015, by Editora Terceiro Nome.
[8] – And of course it is also necessary not to forget that the most recent studies on music and Modernism increase the coefficient of complexity of the movement.

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