The episode involving the bankruptcy estate of Banco Santos, owned by former banker Edemar Cid Ferreira, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo (MAC USP), brings new data to the history of the USP museum and teaches us about how the relations between segments of the São Paulo bourgeoisie (and its employees) and the State changed. For those who don't know the story, a summary: in 2005 MAC USP was appointed by the Judiciary as responsible for the provisional custody of the former banker's art collection. Although under this non-permanent guard, from the beginning there was the expectation, along with some sectors of the university and of São Paulo society, that the collection would end up being definitively delivered to the museum. This hope, encouraged by some sectors involved in the process, ended up frustrated. This year, the collection that for almost a decade and a half was not only kept by the museum, but also conserved, studied and exhibited, was removed from the institution to be auctioned, with the aim of repaying the Bank's creditors.
This text reflects the case, having as a parameter the initial history of MAC USP itself, paying attention to how history, when it repeats itself, does it as a farce.
The origin of MAC USP is linked to the history of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (the former MAM-SP), an institution that, founded in 1948 by a segment of São Paulo's economic elite, was instrumentalized by it until the beginning of the 1960s. In 1963, when it ceased to serve the interests of the leader of that segment, MAM-SP was transferred to the University of São Paulo (USP), and its name changed to MAC USP.
The creation of the former MAM-SP can be understood as the fulfillment of the desire of a member of the São Paulo elite to vent, in wholesale, his entrepreneurial bias, similarly to his North American counterparts; in retail, he intended to further shine his figure as a successful industrialist focused on the field of culture. His name was Ciccillo Matarazzo, a man from a wealthy family of Italian immigrants. Another fact in Ciccillo's life that also served to expand his symbolic capital was that he was married to one of the strongholds of the traditional São Paulo “aristo”, Yolanda Penteado.
The importance of Ciccillo for the art of the country is unavoidable, from the creation of the former MAM-SP. With the institution, he offered the public, in addition to living with a rich collection of works of art, other activities that deepened the cultural life of the country. In its early years, the former MAM-SP seemed to signify a long-term civilizing project, fostered by an industrialist concerned with the future of the community.
Among the activities undertaken by the former MAM, the most important was the establishment of its International Biennials, whose first edition took place in 1951. The reader will agree with how important the biennials were for art in Brazil, as it was in the clash it created between the local and international productions that many Brazilian artists started their respective poetics, raising the art produced here to a level, in fact, international.
But there was also the expansion of the MAM-SP collection, through both the regulatory awards of the Bienals and the acquisition awards, which took place in its first editions, which was another important contribution of the museum to the community. As much as one can discuss the limits of a project to expand the collection linked to awards, it was through them that works by artists such as Max Bill, Maria Martins, Barbara Hepworth, Karel Appel, Fritz Winter and Lygia Clark entered the old museum. , among others.
It can be seen today that Ciccillo Matarazzo, at the end of the 1950s, found himself torn between the two strategies he had used until then to expand his symbolic capital: continuing to lead the MAM-SP – aiming at the uninterrupted process of artistic-cultural improvement of the community – or dedicate themselves only to the biennials, whose recognition and prestige they brought seemed more immediate. Be that as it may, the fact is that, between the MAM in São Paulo and the museum's biennials, Ciccillo chose to go ahead with the biennials, separating them from the parent institution and creating the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo. However, before devoting himself only to the foundation, what to do with the museum, its collection of works of art and its other properties?
In an attitude that still resembled those of American millionaires, Ciccillo donates “his” MAM-SP to USP. In other words, wanting to get rid of a heritage that began to seem an obstacle to the full exercise of his activity as president of the Bienal, Ciccillo chooses to act again as patron, donating the museum's collection to the University. The entrepreneur, therefore, gets rid of what has become a hindrance, but, in doing so, acts differently from those who, later on, will transfer the Banco Santos Collection to the same USP (but not definitively, of course ).
One day, details will be studied that will explain the reasons that led USP – also having the North American experience as a parameter – to accept Ciccillo's offer and to fight for it. A struggle that, in fact, “forgot” that, among its various units, none of them was linked to the training of artists, art historians and other specialists in the area. If in most North American universities the art museum was created as the culmination of a policy of encouraging and training artists and other professionals linked to the arts, the new USP museum has become the icing on a non-existent cake .
A reflection on the relations between MAC USP and the higher levels of the university would prove the hypothesis that the initial interest of the university leadership in the museum waned over the years, until reaching a protocol relationship, with brief episodes of confluence. It is true that the various university directors, since 1963, have never neglected their obligations regarding the maintenance of the museum's team of specialized professionals, providing the bases for it not to fail to fulfill all the demands related to custody, conservation, restoration, research and exhibition of works. However, one point in this relationship demonstrates the lack of effective interest on the part of the university towards MAC USP: at no time in the museum's history was a policy of acquisition of works for the collection established - a fact that distances the University of São Paulo even further. of their North American counterparts.
This situation does not mean, however, that MAC USP has persisted until the present with only the collections it inherited from the former MAM-SP. Due to the diligence of some of its directors, its curators and the artists who have always believed in its importance, MAC USP considerably expanded the collection that gave rise to it, becoming one of the main art museums of the XNUMXth and XNUMXst century in the hemisphere. South. However, despite these efforts, many strands and artists remained unrepresented in the MAC USP collection, creating gaps in its interior and in some cases making it difficult to carry out studies and exhibitions that would bring to the public new interpretations of the art of the period covered by the museum.
It was because of this situation, still far from ideal in terms of the scope of the collection, that the designation of MAC USP as responsible for the provisional custody of the Banco Santos Collection was partly welcomed by the museum team, despite the problems that it, from the beginning, had brought to the institution. Even provisionally, receiving a collection of almost 1600 paintings of different dimensions and techniques, sculptures and objects of different materials, photographs from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXst century, tapestries and various other types of art objects, is an enormous complexity and responsibility. A responsibility so great that it should have led the university to, from the beginning, condition the receipt of the collection to a budget that would make it possible to hire professionals to work with those already present at the Institution.
But USP accepted sending the collection without requiring any counterpart. Neither money to contribute to the maintenance of the set of works, nor reimbursement for works in the collection, so that MAC USP would not only serve as a qualified deposit, paid with public money, to temporarily store the former banker's collection. This very serious matter was treated by USP as just another legal-bureaucratic action, a way of complying with a determination of the Legal Power, without reflecting on the burden that such acceptance would cause on the museum's budget or on what the university could do with. gain from guarding the collection, as a public institution.
Again, after just over forty years, segments of the São Paulo bourgeoisie, now through their employees, transferred to the University – that is, to the State – a set of works of art that had become an obstacle to be preserved. . But, as seen – and contrary to the experience with Ciccillo – this transfer would not be definitive. Unlike the early 1960s, today it is believed that, for the State, nothing should be donated, only withdrawn. The university that would take care of the works for this segment of the São Paulo elite while the embroglio all of Banco Santos. Resolved, the works would return to pay the creditors' bills. And they came back.
There was, of course, the siren song, stating that, perhaps, who knows, that collection could remain in the museum, as happened with the collection of the former MAM-SP. Of course, this possibility was non-existent if firmer stances were not taken.
From the beginning, there was a suspicion that, given the lack of effective attitudes on the part of the university to reverse the situation, the museum was, in fact, at risk of seeing that Collection go away. In this sense, all the Institution's work and expenses with it would only have served to increase its prestige, making its items even more precious to avid collectors. The awareness of this danger over the years became so present that, in 2011 – when he was director of MAC USP (from 2010 to 2014) – when writing the institutional text of the museum for the exhibition Photographers of the Contemporary Scene, curated by Helouise Costa from the Banco Santos Collection, I expressed the problem as follows:
“By giving visibility to these works, the museum also intends to raise an alert. This heritage runs the risk of being dispersed, and it is up to society to express itself on the importance of its permanence in a public institution, in an environment like ours, so lacking in representative collections of the contemporary photographic experience”.
Despite this and other warnings, nothing concrete has been done to reverse the situation. When, after a few more years, its current governing body finally became aware of the humiliating situation in which the institution had been placed since the beginning of this process, it was too late.
Finally, I would add that this sad episode involving the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo and the Banco Santos Collection should, at least, serve as a lesson for public museum institutions in the country: establish concrete conditions for reimbursement when the possibility of receiving of collections or part of collections through lending or temporary custody. Every public institution needs to ensure that, at the end of these provisional custody processes, it does not leave without some dividend of interest to the community. It is not possible for public institutions such as the University of São Paulo – one of the high points of knowledge production in all areas, in Brazil – to be used only as a repository.
Read more from Tadeu Chiarelli's column, click here.