It is possible to imagine how much has been written about São Paulo's modernism since 1922. An incalculable number of newspaper and magazine articles, memoirs, books, dissertations and theses, as well as exhibitions, catalogs, lectures and courses. It is precisely this set of reflections that made São Paulo’s modernism – and its crucial point, the 1922 Modern Art Week – over time become a myth, a symbol of the renewal of Brazilian art and culture, a continuous process of renewal. .
However, if much has been written about the importance (or not) of the Modern Art Week and about the effects of modernism on the field of literature in the country, it seems to me that the issue of visual arts was less problematized.
I do not want to say that, compared to the role of São Paulo modernism in literature, there are fewer studies in the field of visual arts. This may actually be the case, but that's not really the problem. What is important to underline is: if the history of literary modernism in São Paulo is full of analyzes that re-elaborate or put into perspective the most canonical views that were built on the phenomenon, the same does not occur with the visual arts. The narrative created about them is appeased, its presuppositions already naturalized. We study Anita Malfatti, we study Candido Portinari, among others, but studies that problematize what is conventionally understood about São Paulo modernism in the visual arts are rare.
But, after all, what is conventionally understood as modernism in the visual arts? Suppressing some events that are also considered important, here we go:
1917/1918 – Malfatti exhibition in São Paulo and Monteiro Lobato's criticism “against” the artist;
1919 – The “discovery” of Victor Brecheret by Menotti Del Picchia, Helios Seelinger and others;
1920 – The sculptor’s first model for the Monument to the flags;
1922 – Between the 13th and 17th of February, the Modern Art Week, with an exhibition at the Municipal Theater of São Paulo, “presenting” to the public works by Malfatti, Brecheret and Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, among others. The exhibition – like the entire event – would have been met with scandal;
1924 – Pau-Brasil Manifesto;
1924 – Tarsila's first solo exhibition in Paris;
1928 – Launch of the Anthropophagic Movement in São Paulo;
1929 – Tarsila's first solo exhibition in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro);
1932 – Creation of the Sociedade Pró-Arte Moderna and the Clube dos Artistas Modernos, in São Paulo.
It would be possible to continue adding dates to this list until we reach a kind of apotheosis, in the creation of art museums in the city of São Paulo, the Masp, in 1947 and the MAM-SP, in 1948, after which we could add 1951 , opening date of the I International Biennial of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo.
If in the history of modernist literature the supremacy of modernism has been questioned many times, in the case of the visual arts it has crystallized for decades as a narrative born from a purely individual concern - read Anita Malfatti -, until it became a collective need and action – the creation of art museums in São Paulo. This triumphant account had an architect: the intellectual Paulo Mendes de Almeida, author of the work From Anita to the Museum which, before being released in book form, was published as a series of articles in the São Paulo press during the 1950s.
Of course From Anita to the Museum was not the only element that contributed to the construction of this vision – now naturalized – that, in the field of visual arts, modernism would have developed without cracks. Although I consider that Almeida's book became the backbone of this process of mythologizing modernism, other factors also contributed to the construction of the myth.
Thus, it would be interesting to pay attention to certain moments of that ideal history in which she collided with concrete situations that – if they had been taken into account – would have removed any possibility of thinking that the visual arts, from Anita to the museums, developed in São Paulo. without cracks, in a cohesive process, well articulated and never interrupted.
Perhaps the fact that most compromises this idealized vision is still lost in some obscure publication or in a poorly publicized memoir, or even in a diary forgotten in any drawer. However, it is almost unbelievable that one of the main testimonies of splits within São Paulo's modernism is documented in one of the most important publications of the period, the Anthropophagy Journal, launched in São Paulo in 1928 and circulated until the middle of the following year.
In fact, no one seems to have paid due attention to what that publication demonstrates in relation to the visual arts in São Paulo.
It was on the pages of Anthropophagy Journal in which an article divided into five parts by the intellectual Oswaldo Costa was published.
Today a name practically forgotten in the cultural debate, Oswaldo Costa was one of the important professionals of cultural and art criticism in the second half of the 1920s, in São Paulo.
Born in Pará in 1900, he moved to Rio de Janeiro in the early 1920s to study law and, by the end of the decade, was in São Paulo working on the Paulista Post Office and later also in Anthropophagy Journal. In the newspaper, in some of his texts, he signed with the pseudonym Antônio Raposo (which he also used in the Magazine), curiously a name that referred to Antônio Raposo Tavares, a pioneer active in Brazil between the 16th and 17th centuries.
It was on Mail that Costa published articles on some modernists, among them Gregori Warchavchik and Tarsila do Amaral. About the latter, Costa, as far as is known, would publish two texts: the first, on September 21, 1929, the author did not sign the article; the following day, however, using the same arguments and signing as Antônio Raposo, the critic places Tarsila as the most significant name in Brazilian painting at the time, and Cartãthe postcard, as his main work.
Some of his texts published in Anthropophagy Journal, make it clear that, for cannibals, the modernism of 1922 had foundered in a sea of cronyism and lack of creativity. And this, not only in the field of literature, but also – or above all – in the field of visual arts.
Before bringing some data to the question, it is important not to forget that Oswaldo Costa did not go unnoticed, either by the critic and researcher Aracy Amaral or by the intellectual and poet Augusto de Campos. The author, in the book she published about Tarsila do Amaral, attentive to the critical position of Oswaldo Costa in relation to Tarsila, visible in the two cited articles. However, Amaral leaves no clues for the reader to become familiar with Costa's writing, discovering that, for him, modern painting in Brazil would have started with Tarsila (and not with Anita, or Di or Lasar Segall or any other artist connected to the week of 1922).
Augusto de Campos, in the introduction to the facsimile edition of Anthropophagy Journal, stresses the importance of the intellectual within the Anthropophagic Movement. Although, arguably, he treats Costa as a “duplicateé of Oswald (even in name)”. In any case, the poet considers him the only intellectual who, in Magazine, “fully identified with the revolutionary ideas of the Manifesto” conceived by Oswald de Andrade, and published in the first issue of Magazine.
Although Campos emphasizes that, for cannibals, São Paulo’s modernism would have been “a transitional phase, a simple reconnaissance operation and nothing more”, the author does not deepen the climate of division that existed in Oswaldo Costa’s texts, which, At one point, he even asks: “in the seven years that resulted from the Modern Art Week for us?”
I believe that the question should be asked here: why did Aracy Amaral and Augusto de Campos, such astute intellectuals, not deepen the elements of split in relation to the modernism of 22, made explicit in Costa's text? If Amaral says nothing about this, the maximum that Campos allows himself is the following consideration:
If they are not exclusively concerned with literature, they do not stop the “anthropophages” from making the internal critique of modernism and the corpus delicti of all those who, first-time followers of the movement, have drifted towards a moderate or reactionary attitude. Oswaldo Costa is systematically in charge of this…
Oswaldo Costa's criticism of Modernism was not “internal”. When giving an opinion on the supposedly shy modernism of Mario de Andrade and others, Costa placed himself outside that movement, understanding himself and the other “anthropophagous” as the overcoming of the Modernism of 22, and not its continuity.
But this way of thinking about São Paulo modernism as a tree that, after the Semana de Arte Moderna, would have borne many and diverse fruits, as is well known, is not only found in Augusto de Campos. Other authors persisted and persist in this grandiose understanding of São Paulo's modernism and its hegemonic influence on the country's art and culture.
When reading Oswald de Andrade's recently released diary – Diáconfessional river – it is clear how, even for the main name of the Anthropophagic Movement, it was difficult to think of 1928, the date of the Anthropophagous Manifesto, as a fundamental split with the Modernism of 1922.
In a certain part of his notes on the 30 years of the Modern Art Week, hitherto unpublished, he seems to be positioning himself as a supporter of the break between the Anthropophagous Movement and Modernism: “[…] overflow and compromise [sic] politics in which the new Brazil would be forged. It was there that the watershed that emerged in 22. Antropofagia, through its magazine, brought together those who would later go with me to Marxism and to jail.” But for him, the division didn't mean breakup either. So much so that, later on, he continues his reflection on the Anthropophagic Movement as a “divider of waters that sprouted in 22”:
[…] The watershed of 28 had provoked a manifestation of content that separated the modernists into four groups, forcing them to display, after all, a political identification.
In 22, there had been a unity proclaimed by the leadership of São Paulo [...] but, with the transformations of the world in the 20's, it was urgent that everyone put on their ideological shirt.
Although this passage may suggest that Oswald understood that, in 1928, this division of waters could mean an effective break with the modernist past, a little later he expresses himself, without ceremony, about the “maturity of the Week”, demonstrating, then, that for him there would have been no rupture between 1922 and 1928 (to stick to these symbolic dates):
The maturity of the Semana has already produced three figures of exceptional confidence and importance: one unknown, that of the young São Paulo critic Mário da Silva Brito […] The two others are those of the novelist Gustavo Corção and the poet Cassiano Ricardo. There are three derivatives of the Week and in them the triumph of our concerns and research from 22.
Another fact to emphasize is that, in this balance, Andrade will show even more concern with the literature and poetry of Brazil, dedicating little to the visual arts. In any case, he recognizes the importance of “historical” Modernist artists such as Di Cavalcanti and Victor Brecheret..
In a certain paragraph, even, Oswald demonstrates an unequivocal satisfaction in recognizing how Modernism was institutionalized among the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro elites, receiving the support of the President of the Republic himself:
Today, when the most civilized people in Brazil, Ciccillo and Yolanda Matarazzo, in São Paulo, Niomar and Paulo Bittencourt, in Rio, direct the triumphal advance of modernism, when Mr. Getúlio Vargas makes the Week official, forcing well-known pachyderms to publicly pronounce confused adesista nonsense, as well as the Brazilian Academy to bend the rheumatic knee before us, when Juscelino Kubitschek, the man who many years ago called Oscar Niemeyer and Guignard to give aesthetic continuity to the great Minas dos Inconfidentes and Aleijadinho, it's difficult to be a pastime.
Interestingly, in Oswald's triumphalist vision of the country's artistic and cultural phenomenon, from 1917 to 1952, he is closer to Paulo Mendes de Almeida than his anthropophagous partner, Oswaldo Costa.
It is interesting to know and reflect on how Oswaldo Costa referred to both the production of Victor Brecheret and that of Anita Malfatti.
Em Moquem II - hors d'artwork, noting the growing decadence of Modernism, Costa explains his point of view on Brecheret's career:
… That's why the Brecheret of Eva, capable of giving us an interesting work – only interesting, in my opinion, because I don't believe in mr. Brecheret – was exchanged for the unbearably mediocre Brecheret of Mestrovic's pastiches, fake, decadent, expressionless, superficial, boring, bourgeois art
By this comment that disqualified the sculptor's trajectory after his first European internship, it is clear that the critic had some intimacy with the sculptor's production, and that he was attentive to the adhesion of the then young artist to the formulations of Ivan Mestrovic, a Croatian sculptor with important presence in the rest of Europe, engaged in the constitution of a corpus sculptural at the same time distanced from the canons of verista sculpture – so strong in Italy at the beginning of the last century –, and committed to a moderately synthetic language, with a measured adherence to the modernity of the period.
In the April 24 issue of Magazine, continuing the article, Oswaldo Costa displaces Mário de Andrade as an intellectual and critic (the only Andrade production that Costa seemed to respect was macunaíma). He once again displaces Brecheret and, with the intention of continuing the attack on Mário de Andrade, involves a work by Anita Malfatti, more specifically a painting that the artist had produced in Paris and that had the support of Mário de Andrade so that the State of São Paulo to buy it: the resurrectedtion of therescrub: “Well, who drools over the cretin pastiches of Brecheret – art of Saint Sulpice, as Fosca said so well. The one who highlights in Anita's exhibition what was bad about her, Lázaro”.
In March 1929, Helios (pseudonym of one of the 1922 modernists, Menotti Del Picchia), published in Paulista Post Office, in the “Social Chronicle” section, the article “Crisis in Modernism”. The poet begins the text by stating that the “aesthetic modernism” of São Paulo was experiencing a crisis from which, perhaps, he could not escape. Ironically, he states that perhaps the Anthropophagy “of Oswald d'Andrade” had awakened in the “vanguard artists”, a gluttony that would make them eat each other.
The fact is that Brecheret – the formidable sculptor of Eva, who with Anita Malfatti represented in plastic art, the cry for renewal – begins to be considered past-life… For me, the Cyclopean creator of so many admirable things, despite having entered a dangerous, intellectual and mannered art alley, continues to be one of the greatest artists born in Brazil
About Anita Malfatti, Helios says:
Anita takes the same ramp, in the concept of those who push art down the abysmal slope of all “isms”… Anita too, like Brecheret, needs to go backwards and go back to those healthy and strong expressions of personal art and admirable that he already knew how to document with beautiful canvases. But Anita is still, like Brecheret, a saint of my highest cult. Great talent, great sensitivity, great culture.
As seen, the author reinforces the impression that Malfatti's painting had regressed in quality, but he does not fail to record that it, like Brecheret, was in high regard at his altar.
These statements about the two artists – by the way – clearly portray how much Menotti Del Picchia strove, in his articles and chronicles, to attenuate the criticisms he might have in relation to the production of an artist or a man of letters, seeking a balance between appreciating and not appreciating, between respect for the author's (or author's) individuality and adherence to certain schools, etc..
The article goes on to emphasize that the verdamarelismo had also been attacked, as well as “macunaismo”, that is, Mário de Andrade.
Moving towards the end of the article, Helios draws attention to a fundamental fact for him: while the crisis he had alluded to at the beginning was unleashed, “pastism enters the golden age”. Faced with such danger, he ends the text, in a conciliatory way, exhorting the modernists to review their positions:
Faced with such a serious crisis, I propose a general armistice on the front wing: a solidarity, fraternal reaction, forming a single front. Sus! At the stake, the verdamarelos, cannibals, macunaimos, free snipers, Frondists of all colors, rebels of all creeds!
Sus! I acted before in our squares some other bronze monster is articulated and our galleries are inflamed with some other chrome, similar to the poster of Dr. Richard […]
A few days later, Helios would publish the article letter to the anthropologistphages, in which, not without irony, he describes the lunch that those responsible for Magazine made in honor of the clown Piolim. The author draws attention to the predictable character of the meal. He seemed to expect a more original encounter, since it was an event formulated by cannibals!
There, Helios also pays attention to something that reinforces the dimension of rupture between the cannibals and the leaders of other active strands in São Paulo. Note the absence, at lunch, of the “Macunaíma group” – read Mário de Andrade and followers. For the chronicler, Piolim seemed to be above any quarrel between groups. He also draws attention to the absence of Plínio Salgado, Cassiano Ricardo, Candido Motta Filho and Alfredo Ellis Jr.. When asking himself the reason for the absence of these companions, he mentions Oswaldo Costa for the first and only time:
Because? Have they ever been eaten by cannibals? Will Bopp have devoured Plínio? Would Oswald d'Andrade have roasted Cassiano? And the skinny, nervous, bone and muscle Motta who would have dared to papa him? And would Ellis […] be, like Jonas, struggling in Oswaldo Costa's womb?
Mysteries… The fact is that the tribes are at war
Menotti ends the article regretfully with the cooling situation between the groups, addressing the cannibals also in a conciliatory way:
I am for peace. On the sidelines, quiet, taking notes, I drag the sadness of an old father who sees his family disunited...
My dear Cunhambebes: I greet you from the bottom of my heart and I prepare my pipe so that we can always exchange the puffs of the smoke of friendship.
Yours always for new agapes.
Despite Menotti Del Picchia's proposals for an armistice, the divisions between São Paulo's cannibals and their former comrades will tend to worsen. From that end of the decade onwards, each of those groups (and, in a way, each of the individuals who formed them) will begin to walk separately, alone, or in smaller groups, in opposite directions.
Thus, the myth of a triumphant modernism, as already mentioned, would only be constituted with the creation of the São Paulo Museum of Art and the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art, which transformed the 1922 Modern Art Week into a splendid birthplace of modern art not only from São Paulo, but from all over Brazil.