Detail of a work by Minas Gerais artist Sonia Gomes, present at the 35th São Paulo Biennial. Photo: Eduardo Simões
Detail of a work by Minas Gerais artist Sonia Gomes, present at the 35th São Paulo Biennial. Photo: Eduardo Simões

SI miss talking in person. While we don't, and because I'm tired of messages in WhatsApp groups, I decided to write these poorly written ones to you, okay?

In your last message, you asked me if I had already read the article that Rafael Cardoso published in Folha, on the 15th. Yes, I read and liked the text because it touches on a worrying point in our artistic environment: the lack of consistency that characterizes it today, motivated, in large part – but not only – by the avalanche of debatable works that plague it.

When I read the article, the first question that came to me was: did the newspaper decide to publish the text as the beginning of a mea culpa process? After all, Folha is one of the newspapers responsible, in the country, for disseminating texts based on gallery releases, promoting artists and/or exhibitions with no concrete meaning for art and culture. By acting like this, in my opinion, she ends up acting as an agent for the implementation of everything Cardoso writes.

But I think our friend's article is not the beginning of anything. For Folha, I mean. Even after its publication, we will continue to see a type of hurried text printed on its pages every week, produced to be released on the eve or the day of the inauguration of one of these events. Reviews with consistent criticism of the exhibitions, for example? No way!

The exhibition and/or the artist are seen by the newspaper as products that – endorsed by dealers and/or by one or more collectors – the next day become cards out of the deck, to be replaced by others the next week.

Another fact that I realized after reading the text was the following: the general climate he described certainly has its origins in the recent history of the visual arts. Read it and then answer me, telling me what you think about the question I am going to raise now:

From the end of the Second World War, when modern artistic trends began to become institutionalized – taking over large museums and important private collections –, at the same time the expansion/dispersion of the very concept of visual arts began.

Remember that, even during the modern period, this field was fundamentally limited to traditional modalities – painting, drawing, engraving, sculpture. As the visual arts opened their doors to the neo-avant-garde, it also opened to a series of other modalities composed of photography and author's cinema (or video), as well as performance, installation, etc. . Thus, the field of visual arts gradually ceased to be focused on subjects only concerning its traditional universe, and opened up to other areas of human activity. The artist-craftsman – specialized in painting or sculpture, etc. –, he began to coexist with the artist-anthropologist, the artist-botanist and the artist-sociologist, among many others.

Thus, at the same time that we witnessed the apotheosis of the institutionalization of the modern, we also experienced the undermining of this process through works or actions that, ultimately, called into question the aesthetic and artistic assumptions expanded by triumphant modernism. This situation introduced questions that were previously unknown to modern art.

I don't know what you think about it, but for me this opening brought a benefit to the field of art. Many works, now fundamental to our awareness of the contemporary world, only emerged because the horizons of visual arts were expanded. But these very important changes did not mean that these new formulations of the concept of visual arts changed the art system. On the contrary, despite all the radicalism assumed by some proposals, it is well known that they were all duly swallowed up by institutionalization. If they emerged as an alternative or denial of the art system, it, from the beginning, opened itself up to the alternative to embrace it and, consequently, neutralize it.

Anyway, what I want to tell you is that, within this situation, the awareness was gaining strength that the artistic and aesthetic parameters that had dominated the historical avant-gardes were now losing their hegemony, just as, before, traditional art had also lost itss. Contemporary art was not modern art.

I even remember a text by Ronaldo Brito that, in my opinion, still sums up this situation well. He wrote – not without irony, of course – that, if at that time, someone was scandalized in front of a work of contemporary art and cried out: – But is this art?! The work would respond: – No. This is what art is.

I keep thinking: what did Brito want to awaken in his readers with this kind of parable? For me, he wanted to draw attention to the fact that the work of contemporary art is based – or should be based – on its own premises and that, therefore, it can only be analyzed based on these assumptions, and not others. Do you understand me, Patricia?

Well, the problem is that all this happened at a time when the circuit, supposedly seeking to “democratize” art, mistakenly elevated to the ultimate power another statement that also appeared (or resurfaced) at that time: “Every human being is or could be be an artist”, a maxim uttered by some artists (among them, Beuys, but also, and in his own way, Warhol, among others). What did many, mistakenly, conclude from this phrase? That if everyone was an artist, everything could be art. So no one was an artist and art didn't exist.

As in other moments when the death of art was announced, we know that in this case too, art and the artist did not end. On the contrary, creators and creatures have proliferated and proliferated prodigiously during these last decades, resonating a new situation, typical of the last five or six decades: the expansion of the number of art schools, students, collectors, and the public for exhibitions in new and old galleries, new and old museums, old and new biennials (Hal Foster has an interesting text about this, Patricia).

“Open” and “democratic” (I write these words in quotation marks because we know that there is nothing open and democratic about the circuit), the artistic environment opened up to all the new possibilities that art offered or began to offer, as well as – and This is what I would like to draw your attention to – he also remained open to conventional artistic modalities.

To complicate things even further, the latter – produced in the remote or recent past – already had their largest and best examples properly confined, in public or private collections, and were increasingly worth more. It is impossible for the vast majority of collectors who have emerged in recent decades in Brazil, for example, to buy a Hélio Oiticica or a Lygia Clark.

No matter how renowned these artists are, no matter how represented they are in the best museums and in the most important private collections, these average collectors – with or without a lot of money, but all without much culture either – are, in fact, not willing to spend a lot of money. money so they can “hang a bunch of sewn fabric from the ceiling” – like the work of Sonia Gomes –, or spread metal wires across the floor, like some construction work. Tongue. They're not really willing.

And that's where I come to my point, Patricia:

It will be precisely at this moment of helplessness among art buyers – without the support of a real debate – that the market will emerge to “save” this collector eager to buy, but without having exactly what to buy because, either they don’t have the money, or they don’t have it. real patience with “this contemporary art thing”?

Taking advantage of that permissiveness and relativism that I mentioned above, the market will provide a series of new products to offer for sale, products preferably linked to traditional artistic modalities. For the average collector who can no longer buy a Volpi, a Portinari, a Sérgio Camargo or a Maria Martins, it would be ok to place another conventional work of art on the wall – as long as it is “new” and authored by the newspaper reporter – a piece that goes well with the sofa and the living room rug (so that, who knows, one day it will appear on the pages of decoration magazines).

I think that the circuit purposefully forgot that, if the rules of tradition and modern art were overcome, others were put in their place. Tunga and Sonia Gomes are important because they are faithful to the issues that their respective works determine. Just for that reason, and not because they are the front page of the culture section of this or that newspaper.

Understanding contemporary art as a kind of “no man’s land”, as a territory devoid of rules, the market imposes its own, of course. It’s not exactly that “everything is art”, no. In the current cultural indigence in which we live, what is in the gallery is art, what is produced for rapid consumption, incensed by the press.

Flawless works from a formal point of view or works with a strong political appeal? It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter if the work is completed with quality or not. Anything goes in this market, as long as it can be placed on the wall or on a small pedestal in the room. In other words: art is what is in the gallery and behaves like a “real” work of art and for a reasonable price.

The shame is that, as Cardoso's text says, a large part of these works that invade the circuit and, from there, go to public and private collections – before passing through biennials and other major exhibitions –, cannot be “this”. that it should be.

You ask me what to do to change this situation, Patricia? I don't know, but I believe that this situation could start to change if other sectors of the art and culture circuit started to feel uncomfortable with this absolute precession of the market in everything that concerns art.

Patricia, that's more or less what came to mind after reading Rafael's text.

I'll stay here. Longing kiss,


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