Since 2017 I study the Monument to the Flags, by Victor Brecheret, installed in 1953 at the entrance to Ibirapuera Park, in São Paulo. My interest is to study it from the first ideas that emerged in the city to erect a monument dedicated to the pioneers, the choice of Brecheret's project, in 1936 its inauguration and the reception of the work by the population and artists of the city, in these 70 years of implantation. .
Of course, I'm not alone in this endeavor. By my side, I have the researcher Thiago Virava and two supervisees: Eliane Pinheiro, who is developing a doctorate on the work, and Kelly Oliveira, a graduate student. In addition to the production of texts on the subject, Virava and I have already been responsible for two disciplines within the Graduate Program in Visual Arts at ECA USP, dedicated to the study of the Monument.
In this process, I have read many chronicles and criticisms produced by writers, poets and journalists from São Paulo. During these readings, I have contacted for the first time, or reread, important texts on São Paulo, by authors such as Mário de Andrade, Oswaldo, Guilherme de Almeida, Plínio Salgado and Menotti Del Picchia.
Exactly, you understood well: in this study I am interested in getting to know the “B Side” of São Paulo’s modernism better – Menotti Del Picchia, Salgado and others – since, behind the choice of Brecheret’s monument, these intellectuals were very active. But it's not about any of their texts that I decided to write today.
Within this search for considerations about São Paulo, I was lucky enough to come across the book around town, an anthology of chronicles written by Guilherme de Almeida, between 1927 and 1928. These texts were signed by the poet under the pseudonym “Urbano” and published in the National Gazette. In them, Almeida reveals himself to be a delicate chronicler, with a unique view of the city in constant metamorphosis.
Under the strong sun or under the fine and cold drizzle – and already in a hurry and with the chaotic traffic –, the São Paulo of the poet’s chronicles still has spaces of sociability that resisted (not for long, unfortunately) all that vertiginous growth.
For me – who pay attention to everything related to monuments – two chronicles there caught my attention: “O Mistério da Várzea”, published on March 24, 1928 and, a little over a month later, “Monumento da Várzea”, published on March XNUMX, XNUMX, ”, a sort of continuation of the first. These two chronicles interested me because they did not just talk about a particular monument, but because both helped me to understand the very logic of sculptural monuments, at the same time they explained how the poet understood the city in which he lived, based on his relationships of love and hate with the monuments that also inhabited it.
As we know, all monuments are great allegories: sets of metaphors interrelated in an arbitrary way and that, if deprived of this guiding thread that gives them a unified meaning, completely lose the symbology conceived by the artist.
Guilherme de Almeida, in “The mystery of the Várzea” , describes his estrangement and that of other users of the Park in the face of the presence of some “bronze metaphors” caught in Parque D. Pedro II, still disaggregated from the thread that would give them the expected meaning, stating that for some time people passing by in front of the Palácio das Indústrias (located in Parque D. Pedro II) they were surprised to see there “a wooden frame covered with stretched white cloth, veiling an important pedestal of pink granite”. Everyone knew that a monument would emerge from there, but they could not say which one:
There are, by the way, guesses, bets, arguments, prophecies, polemics and even fights. I, for my part, confess that I am disconcerted. I can't have the slightest idea what's going on there. I have observed, in that place, certain things that only serve to disorient and disturb me. Huge wooden coffins arrive there almost daily: they are opened, large pieces of bronze are taken out of them, which are immediately hoisted behind the intriguing sailboat. From the disconnected parts which I have so far managed to understand with great difficulty, I am incapable of imagining the whole..
It was because he was so intrigued that Guilherme de Almeida drew attention to that mysterious situation in Várzea. This is how he ends the text:
[…] I don't know how to play either puzzle: I don't have the patience to, putting together arbitrary pieces of a cut-out drawing, reconstruct the complete print […] I don't see any relationship between them. The first piece that caught my eye was the statue of a classical Vestal. Some time later, I saw a cog wheel being carried up there. Then an Assyrian King, very dignified and very bearded. Then a national Indian. And, after all, yesterday, a big bronze goat.
I'm getting scared
A little over a month later, Guilherme de Almeida writes again about “mystério da Várzea” in another chronicle, with the title Monument. There we are informed that the mysterious monument was a gift that “the intelligent and hardworking Syrian colony, domiciled here, has just offered the city”. Interestingly, although he praises the sculptural group, Guilherme de Almeida does not bother to decline the title of the monument or its author. Why such disinterest? Why declare that there was the inauguration of the monument the day before and, soon after, start talking, as we will see, about the series of monuments in the city, without naming the work in question or its author?
Despite having seen the result with good eyes, in the recently inaugurated monument, nothing attracts Guilherme de Almeida’s special attention, or, at least, not in the same way that its disconnected pieces did, when they still did not configure a set with content or “meaning”. pre-established by the Italian sculptor Ettore Ximenes, author of both this work and the Independence Monument, installed in front of the Paulista Museum. Before, those pieces of bronze were “signifiers” with no apparent “meanings” and, therefore, pulsed with mystery. Loose and anonymous, they were much more attractive and seductive than when fitted together forming an allegory that gave them an arbitrary meaning – a Syrian-Lebanese homage to Brazil. This direct identification took away from them any possibility of just stressing the real, without explaining it.
After briefly praising it, Guilherme de Almeida integrates the work of Ettore Ximenes into the set of monuments that, from the commemorations of the centenary of the Independence of Brazil, in 1922, began to ornament the city of São Paulo. He claims:
After the passage of the first centenary of our political emancipation, six years ago, São Paulo received a lot of gifts. Some good, dignified, presentable ones, which we put right away in the living room or in the living-room; others, embarrassing, defamatory, compromising, that we put in the pantry, among strings of onions and cans of beans, in the impossibility of “passing on”, of offering to a noble enemy, on his birthday. In our hall are: the monument of Ipiranga, that of Carlos Gomes, this one from the Syrian colony, the Indian Fisherman, “Eu sou Ubirajara”, “Eva”, by Brecheret… Cidade, Bilac, Feijó, Bonifácio, Verdi, Garibaldi in Jardim da Luz, the Monumental Fountain on Avenida São João… and others knickknacks, other pastries, other wedding cakes, other pumpkins that people are stumbling over, our good taste and our dignity […]
Interesting as in the text, now having São Paulo as the setting and place where the aforementioned monuments are installed, Guilherme de Almeida also perceives them as metaphors, as the loose pieces that formed the Monument to Syrian-Lebanese Friendship, before its completion.
The São Paulo monuments mentioned by the poet are seen as watertight sets of metaphors, whose general meaning would only be achieved if the city were thought of as a great monument and they were its integral parts. Guilherme de Almeida understands São Paulo as a residence that should always be very tidy, in which the knickknacks of questionable taste should be hidden from visitors and the most beautiful and significant ones, displayed to everyone.
Without wanting to be anachronistic, I think it would be appropriate to ask what other elements of the city would the poet like to hide? In fact, the city had been removing everything that could obscure (and the word here is not gratuitous) and not match an idea of a European city implanted in South America. If the sculptural monuments of good taste would be in the living rooms and the badly arranged knickknacks in the pantry, where would they be, where would the precise indices of an unequal society like that of São Paulo in the 1920s be sent?
In 1928 – the year of the chronicles –, at least for the poet, São Paulo was perceived as an immense house, a great allegory of western civilization below the equator. A house that, despite being incomplete, seemed to aspire to one day reach the moment of fulfillment when it would be complete.
Today, in 2022, the Monument to Syrian-Lebanese Friendship turned into a public urinal, covered in fences and stench. In turn, São Paulo seems to have lost any condition of maintaining itself as an allegory of a house (for anyone), of a place and a unified meaning, since, almost a hundred years later, all its expansion proved to be the production of fragments – shattered body, with no possible totality, a non-monument.