BY Fabio Cypriano in Reviews | 05 MAY 08
Featured in
Issue 115


Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, Brazil

BY Fabio Cypriano in Reviews | 05 MAY 08

Brazil is currently in a state of financial euphoria, thanks to the country’s economic and political stability, stimulated by the staggering growth in the Chinese economy and an almost unmatched abundance of natural resources. This positive outlook, however, is not shared by Moacir dos Anjos, curator of the exhibition ‘Contradictory’, the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo’s 30th Biennial Panorama of Brazilian Art.

Established in 1969 and transformed into a biennial in 1995, the exhibition seeks to present an interpretation of contemporary Brazilian art work; previous organizers have included the current curator of the Biennial of São Paulo, Ivo Mesquita (in 1995), and the Cuban Gerardo Mosquera (in 2003), whose exhibition also included non-Brazilian artists. For ‘Contradictory’ Dos Anjos selected works with themes such as silence, communication difficulties, improvisation and maladjustment, demonstrating the large number of contemporary Brazilian artists who bring a critical interpretation to bear on their context.

This approach is not new, however. Within Brazilian art there is a long tradition of critical interpretation, dating back to the late Modernist era and reaching its peak in the 1960s and ’70s, in the work of artists who sought to provide a counterpoint to the military dictatorship that governed the country at that time: not least the Neo-Concrete movement, led by Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, which tried to break down the boundaries between art and life. Establishing themselves as proposers, these artists saw their work as the stimulus for the construction of a new society, inasmuch as their critical vision was channelled into an attempt to create, here and now, new forms of perception and action. Repressed by the dictatorship, the radical nature of this generation’s offerings – whose ideals were shared by the theatre of José Celso Martinez Correa, the cinema of Glauber Rocha and the Tropicalia music of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil – has never been recaptured.

In the Brazil of recent decades, with rare exceptions such as the artist Cildo Meireles, there has been far more emphasis on integration into the global arts establishment, while internally the emphasis has been on the assimilation of ‘new activists’ such as Chinese or African artists, representing new styles. ‘Contradictory’ seemed to be proof that the effects of this movement are tangible in the work of contemporary artists such as Vik Muniz, Adriana Varejão and Ernesto Neto. Instead of inventing a new approach to life, as the Neo-Concretists attempted to do, the contemporary critical approach, according to the exhibition, tends to be ironic and melancholy. Take the works of Marilá Dardot, for example. Terceira Margem (Third Border, 2007) consists of two books with their pages joined together so they cannot be opened. Puzzling Over (2007) is a blank puzzle, which does not form an image. Dardot provides an interesting contrast to the offerings of the 1960s’ generation: whereas at that time interaction and spectator participation were the order of the day, today’s young artists are returning to the traditional concept of the artistic object, which obstinately refuses to be redefined or manipulated. The same approach is visible in Isolante (Isolating, 2007) by Marcius Galan, which comprises three broken chairs isolated by a yellow ribbon, and also in his Duas paralelas que não se encontram no infinito (Two Parallels Which Do Not Meet In Infinity, 2007), two pieces of wood that could possibly support something but which are broken. There were also a number of works in which technology is used to construct meaningless displays and in which objects are deprived of their primary function. Such was the case with On-Off Poltergeist (2007) by the Chelpa Ferro group, in which several television sets were displayed with out of synch programs and soundtracks, Paul Nenflídio’s Totem (2007), a pile of radios that made noises whenever anyone approached it, or even Marcelo Silveira’s Rua da usina (Factory Street, 2007), advertisements as blank shining white panels that have nothing left to say.

The exhibition continued at this melancholic, low-key pace throughout. While it is true that Dos Anjos managed to construct a vivid picture of Brazil’s contemporary artistic output, the result of such a relentless focus was that works were reduced to mere illustrations of their theme, with no room for diversity of interpretation. A salutary antidote to Brazil’s current state of economic euphoria, perhaps, but hardly ‘contradictory’.