The return of Lina Bo Bardi’s radical crystal easels to the display of the collection presents a selection of 119 artworks drawn from the museum’s diverse holdings, spanning from the 4th century BC to 2008. The easels were first presented at the opening of the museum’s current venue in 1968, and withdrawn in 1996.
The return of the easels is not a fetishistic or nostalgic gesture in regard to what has become an iconic exhibition display device, but should rather be understood as part of a programmatic revision of Bo Bardi’s spatial and conceptual contributions to museum practice. The political dimension of her proposals is suggested byÂ the open, transparent, fluid, and permeable picture gallery, which offers multiple possibilities for access and reading, eliminates hierarchies and predetermined paths, and challenges canonical art-historical narratives. The gesture of taking the paintings off the wall and placing them on the easels implies their desacralization, renderingÂ them more familiar to the public. Moreover, the placement of the labels on their backs allows for an initial direct encounter with the work, free from an interpretive framework. InÂ this context, the museum experience becomes more human, plural, and democratic
In the original configuration of the easels, Lina Bo Bardi and Pietro Maria Bardi organized the works by artistic schools or regions. Now they will be placed in strict chronological order, laid out in a meandering path. This organization does not coincide with the chronology of art history, with its schools and movements, nor does it oblige the public to follow its course. The spatial transparency of the open floor plan and the easels invites visitors to construct their own path, enabling unexpected juxtapositions and dialogues between Asian, African, Brazilian, and European art.Â Furthermore,Â Picture Gallery in TransformationÂ is aÂ semi-permanentÂ collection display, as it will remain open to frequent changes, adjustments and modifications, already planned for early 2016. In this sense, the exhibition avoids the typical ossification and sedimentation of permanent collection displays.
The exhibition’s focus on figurative art reflects the history of the collection and the interests of Bo Bardi and Bardi, who resisted the hegemony of the abstract tradition in Brazil in the 1940s and 1950s. They were both wary of abstraction’s potentially depoliticizing effects, in the context of the promotion of geometric abstraction by the US through its Good Neighbor policy during the Cold War. The current display also includes works by artists traditionally considered outside of the Brazilian art-historical canon â€“ such as Agostinho Batista de Freitas, Djanira, JosĂ© AntĂ´nio da Silva, and Maria Auxiliadora â€“ highlighting MASP’s commitment to diversity and multiplicity. The only contemporary work in the display, Marcelo Cidade’s Tempo suspenso de um estado provisĂłrio[Suspended Time of a Provisory State], 2008, turns the glass easel into an object of institutional reflection. Its presence also signals the museum’s desire to resume its dialogue with contemporary art in the picture gallery.
“Every child is a law in himâ€‰â€”â€‰or herself”â€‰â€”Â MarioÂ Pedrosa
HistĂłrias da infĂ˘nciaÂ [Histories of Childhood] features multiple and diverse representations of childhood from different periods, territories and schools, from the art of Africa and Asia to that of Brazil, Cusco and Europe, including sacred, baroque, academic, modern, contemporary and the so-called popular art, as well as drawings made by children.
The exhibition is part of a project by MASP to juxtapose different collections, disregarding hierarchies and territories that would otherwise segregate them. In thisÂ sense, the histories inÂ HistĂłrias da infĂ˘nciaÂ are also decolonizing histories and take onÂ a political meaningâ€‰â€”â€‰there is an understanding that the histories that we can tell areÂ not only those of dominant classes, or of European culture and its visual conventions.Â Thus,Â HistĂłrias da infĂ˘nciaÂ is part of a larger program of exhibitions concerning different (multiple, diverse and plural)histories, beyond the traditional narrativesâ€‰â€”â€‰HistĂłriasÂ da loucuraÂ [Histories of Madness] andÂ HistĂłrias feministasÂ [Feminist Histories] (begunÂ in 2015),Â HistĂłrias da sexualidade[Histories of Sexuality] (in 2017) andÂ HistĂłriasÂ da escravidĂŁoÂ [Histories of Slavery] (in 2018). They are other histories, which include groups, voices and images that were repressed or marginalized, in which children and their way of seeing the world are inserted. Here, not by chance, the average heightÂ of the works on display was lowered about 30 cm in relation to the conventional eye level in museums, seeking a relationship closer to the gaze and body of the child.
HistĂłrias da infĂ˘nciaÂ is organized around permeable thematic clusters. On the first sublevel, we find the themes of nativity and motherhood; on the first floor, there are individual and family portraits, pictures of the world of education and games, of artist-children, of angel-children and, finally, of death. Iconic works in MASP’s collectionâ€‰â€”Â likeThe Schoolboy, by Van Gogh,Â Pink and Blue, by Renoir,Â Portrait of AugusteÂ Gabriel Godefroy,by Chardin, andÂ CrianĂ§a mortaÂ [Dead Child] by Portinariâ€‰â€”â€‰appearÂ in new, transversal and contemporary contexts, in juxtaposition to works from all eras.Â The exhibition design with hanging panels that do not form closed rooms allows for anarticulation between the various clusters and artworks. The exhibition establishes linksÂ withPlaygrounds 2016â€‰â€”â€‰being held on the second sublevel and in the street-level plazaÂ under the building’s clear spanâ€‰â€”â€‰dialoguing with it through reference to playfulness, and though a program of drawing workshops, begun in January 2016 and extendingÂ until the end of the exhibition. During the curatorial process, MASP’s Mediation Department also developed an experimental project by gathering histories about someÂ artworks in the museum’s collection told by children from two schools in SĂŁo Paulo, Escola Municipal de Ensino Fundamental Desembargador Amorim Lima andÂ ColĂ©gio SĂŁo Domingos, with a view toward a future audio guide for the collectionÂ (the audio files are available atÂ bit.ly/maspmuseu). In this way, the exhibitionÂ acknowledges and includes the histories told by the children themselves: presented on equal standing with the other works, are drawings in the museum’s collectionÂ made by children in the 1970s, the 2000s, and most recently in 2016. There is muchÂ to learn from these drawings, exchanges and histories.
I sought, at the Museu de Arte de SĂŁo Paulo, to resume certain positions. I sought (and hope it happens) to re-create an “environment” at Trianon. And I would like the public to go there, to see exhibitions in the open air and to discuss, listen to music, watch films. I would like children to play in the morning and afternoon sun. â€” LINA BO BARDI, 1967
Playgrounds 2016 presents six new works by artists that consider the public’s engagement in the museum and its surroundings. CĂ©line Condorelli (France/ United Kingdom), Ernesto Neto (Brazil), Grupo ContrafilĂ© (Brazil), O Grupo Inteiro (Brazil), Rasheed Araeen (Pakistan/ United Kingdom) and Yto Barrada (Morocco) are artists whose practices involve playfulness, participation, the public sphere and collective shared experience, which is why they were invited to conceive proposals thatÂ recapture the spirit ofÂ Playgrounds, a solo show by artist Nelson Leirner held at MASP.
At Leirner’s show, in 1969, the year that MASP was opened to the public on Avenida Paulista, the artist occupied the ground-level plaza beneath the building’s clear span â€” a hybrid, borderline space of transition, since it is under the museum’s building but administered by the city government.Â PlaygroundsÂ (1969) included a series of participative works set up in the open air, activating the street and the urban space, blurring the borders between art and life, the museum and its exterior.
The word “playground” is also used in Portuguese to denote an area in a city, at a school, or in a building that has recreational equipment for children to play on. In English, the word “play” includes the senses of playing a role, a musical instrument or a video, while “ground” can denote an area (“grounds”) or the earth itself. Understanding the space of art as a playground requires us to considerÂ all of these senses, articulating and opening them up to others. In this context,Â Playgrounds 2016Â seeks to recover the dimension of engagement and experienceÂ with art in an enlarged and liberating way, allowing for the manifestation of collective life in the city and in the museum. This aspect is also present in the idea of the museum through Lina Bo Bardi’s architecture. In one of her drawings for the museum,Â Esculturas praticĂˇveis do Belvedere, Museu Arte TrianonÂ [Practical Sculptures for the Belvedere, Museu Arte Trianon], the artist portrays the area under the clearÂ span as a playground for children. With this proposal, the museum would become a living, dynamic organism, where the children (as well as adults) could accessÂ it and get to know its collection with curiosity and autonomy.
Playgrounds 2016, held in the public square under MASP’s clear span, as well
as in the second basement level and on the mezzanine of the first basement level, unites the museum’s mediation and exhibition programs while also dialoguing with the exhibitionÂ HistĂłrias da infĂ˘nciaÂ [Stories of Childhood], beginning April 7. Through art, playfulness and games it is possible to imagine new ways of living together and learning. Education takes place throughout the museum, understood as also being an environment of exchange and transformation of everyone and everything involved: artists, artworks, the museum and its publics.