This exhibition features seventy-four paintings executed in the period spanning from the 1950s to the 1990s, including ve canvases recently donated to MASP, adding the work of Agostinho Batista de Freitas (1927-1997) to the Museumâs holdings, thereby correcting what was previously a historical gap in the collection.
The focus here is on depictions of the city of SÃ£o Paulo, a subject that occupied Batista de Freitas throughout his career. What is evident is not only the extraordinary quantity of paintings about the city, something singular for SÃ£o Paulo, but also the quality and variety of these works, with a surprising diversity of compositions, colorings, points of view, and framings.
The show sheds light on Batista de Freitasâs relation with the city through various groupings of works, organized in rows, which span from depictions of the Museumâs building, on Avenida Paulista, to aerial views of downtown SÃ£o Paulo, while also including scenes of daily life in the cityâs north zone, where the artist lived, along with a range of different collective situations that include the subjects of travel, festivals, amusements, and religious manifestations.
Displayed within the frank and direct architecture designed by Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992), with its transparencies and openings to the cityscape, the paintings by Batista de Freitas encourage the viewer to take an active look at SÃ£o Paulo, with its complex urban dynamics, histories, and social differences.
Agostinho Batista de Freitas, SÃ£o Paulo is part of a major wide-scope program developed by MASPâs artistic direction, aimed at questioning the concepts of high and low art and culture, dedicating shows to self-taught artists, often reclusive or from a humble background, operating outside the traditional circuits of the art system. These strategies are now also giving rise to the restaging of the exhibition A mÃ£o do povo brasileiro[The Hand of the Brazilian People], one of the most celebrated and controversial exhibitions ever held by the Museum, as well as organizing shows such as Portinari popular, which foster the reading of popular themes in Brazilian modernism. The idea is to construct an open, multiple, and plural Museum which is permeable to different cultures.
The biography of Batista de Freitas is intertwined with the history of MASP. It was the Museumâs founding director, Pietro Maria Bardi (1900-1999), who introduced the artistâs work into the art circuit by organizing his rst solo show, in 1952. Batista de Freitas was then just twenty- ve years old and living in Imirim District, in SÃ£o Pauloâs north zone, painting and showing his works in the streets of downtown SÃ£o Paulo, where Bardi met him.
An essential part of this project is the publication of an extensive catalog, with reproductions of all the artworks in the exhibition, rare documents, and period photographs, as well as six previously unpublished essays by curators and critics especially commissioned to produce new re ections about an artist marginalized by the of cial art history up until now. FERNANDO OLIVA, CURATOR, MASPRODRIGO MOURA,ADJUNCT CURATOR OF BRAZILIAN ART, MASP
The art of the poor frightens the generals
Bruno Zevi, LâEspresso, Roma,14.3.1965
The Hand of the Brazilian People was the inaugural temporary exhibition at MASP on Avenida Paulista in 1969, presenting a vast panorama of the rich material culture of Brazilâaround a thousand objects, including figureheads, votive figures, textiles, garments, furniture, tools, utensils, machinery, musical instruments, ornaments, toys, religious objects, paintings, and sculptures. Conceived by Lina Bo Bardi, with the director of the museum Pietro Maria Bardi, filmmaker Glauber Rocha, and theater director Martim GonÃ§alves, the exhibition was an unfolding of others organized by the architect of MASP in SÃ£o Paulo (1959), Salvador (1963), and Rome (1965), the latter closed down upon orders of the Brazilian military government, prompting an article by architect Bruno Zevi entitled Lâarte dei poveri fa paura ai generali.
To give value to a production frequently marginalized by the museum and art history, MASP, known for its collection of European masterpieces, engaged in a radical gesture of decolonization. To decolonize the museum meant to rethink it from a bottom-up perspective, presenting art as work. In this sense, a painting by Brazilian modernist Candido Portinari and a hoe were both considered workâa notion that transcended the distinctions between art, artifact, and craft.
In its new phase, MASP seeks to re-establish and deepen its relation to this production, taking as a point of departure the restaging of one of its most iconic exhibitions. The Hand of the Brazilian People is inscribed in a lineage of many other exhibitions at MASP (including the pioneering Popular Art from Pernambuco, in 1949); here, it is taken as an object of study and an exemplary precedent of a decolonizing museum practice.
Furthermore, it is an opportunity to present this production to the public, and to stimulate reflection and debate on its status in the context of the museum and art history, as well as on the contested notions of âpopular artâ and âpopular culture.â The central question posed by the exhibition (and a possibly subversive one to the eyes of the generals of taste) is: in which way can the histories of art and culture in Brazil be reconstructed, recollected, and reconfigured beyond the mores, tastes, and protocols of the dominant classes? A perfect reconstruction of The Hand of the Brazilian People is impossible. We opted to follow the spirit of the original curatorial proposal, making some adjustments. We did not find a complete list of works, rather lists of collectors and museums, which we approached once again, gathering similar works and respecting object typologies. Likewise, its architecture follows that of 1969, but also with adaptions. We decided not to update the time frame of the exhibitionâto our knowledge, the objects gathered here were made before 1970âyet have articulated dialogues around work and the popular with solo presentations of artists from different generations: Candido Portinari, Jonathas de Andrade, Lygia Pape, and Thiago HonÃ³rio. Our interest here is to understand the significance of that inaugural and historical moment of the museum, in order to find new paths and strengthen the presence of the hand of the people at MASP.
In the context of The Hand of the Brazilian People, 1969/2016 MASP is presenting a short documentary film by Lygia Pape entitled The Hand of the People. Made in 1974, the film focuses on the disappearance of popular artisanal traditions, a concern also shared by MASPâs 1969 exhibition.
As a major figure affiliated to the concrete and neoconcrete groups in the 1950s, working within the constructive tradition and the language of geometric abstraction, Pape was drawn to the visual and formal vocabulary of the popular. This interest was first made apparent in her Tecelares woodcut prints (1955-1959), and would intensify in the 1960s.
After the dissolution of the neoconcrete group in 1963, Pape turned her attention to film and the then-nascentCinema Novo movement. She collaborated with filmmakers designing posters and/or film credit sequences for films such as Vidas secas (Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1963), Ganga Zumba (Carlos Diegues, 1963), Maioria absoluta (Leon Hirszman, 1964), Deus e o diabo na terra do sol (Glauber Rocha, 1964), MemÃ³ria do cangaÃ§o(Paulo Gil Soares, 1965), among others. Many of them dealt with social issues such as poverty, illiteracy, exploitation, against the backdrop of the arid backlands of northeast Brazil.
Pape produced and directed her own experimental films such as Wampirou (1974), Eat me (1975), andCatiti-Catiti: na terra dos brasis (1978), born out of her engagement with what she called cinema marginal, âa revolutionary act of invention, a new reality, the world as change, error as adventure, and the discovery of freedom: films lasting ten, twenty secondsâââanti-films.â In 1974 she directed The Hand of the People, which attests to her commitment to the material culture of the Brazilian people. This is an important issue that she addressed in her 1980 masters thesis entitled Catiti-Catiti: na terra dos brasis, where she points to âmisery as a common denominator that triggers the creative processâ but also identifies a constructive impulse in the production of the Brazilian people: âwe recognize a constructive tropism in Brazilian art that easily refers to indigenous and African origins in the recycled objects of the Northeast, in the permanence of geometric elements of carnival, in the patchwork quilts of Minas Gerais, in popular ceramics, in the spontaneous seaside architecture.â
Made five years after the exhibition The Hand of the Brazilian People, Papeâs film bears a close title and concern, evidencing her inscription within a wider discussion on popular culture that was taking place in Brazil in the 1960s and 1970s; a framework that also included the pioneering work developed by Lina Bo Bardi through MASPâs 1969 exhibition now restaged on the first floor.
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, JosÃ© AntÃ´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 provisÃ³rio[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.
Trabalho [Work] (2013/16) arose based on a set of professional, personal and affective relationships between Thiago HonÃ³rio and a group of civil construction workers. The artist negotiated with cement workers and construction foremen to either barter or donate their work instruments or tools that now make up this installation. They are shovels, chisels, ladders, pickaxes, hoes, mauls, trowels, saws, sickles, paint rollers, brushes, spatulas and other tools that were used in the restoration of an old supply station that belonged to the electrical power company by the name of Light, a building built in the 1920s at Bandeira Square in downtown SÃ£o Paulo, now transformed into the Red Bull Station cultural center.
Begun in the context of an artistâs residency, Thiago HonÃ³rioâs work shuffles the places and meanings of art: transiting through the hands of workers, in the operation of displacement brought about by the artist, in the restoration made with the tools, and finally in the architecture of the space where it is now installed. From an ethical point of view, the artist understood that the receipt of what he calls âgifts,â from the workers, could only result in a donation of Trabalho to a museum, and that is how it arrived at MASP. The rough, raw and cold appearance of the tools-elements of Trabalho contrasts with the traditional perception of the âfine arts,â but is also aligned with the characteristics of the museum buildingâs brutalist architecture with its apparent, uncovered structural elements and lack of luxury finishings (while also contrasting with the refined architecture of traditional fine arts museums).
There is a complex metalinguistic operation underway â the workersâ tools refer to those of the sculptor, except that here they themselves have become sculptures. On the other hand, tools displayed standing up assume an anthropomorphic verticality (referring to the form of the human body), which winds up representing, metonymically, the workers who once possessed them (metonymy is a figure of speech that substitutes a subject or object by something closely related to it). We are therefore observing a lineup of workersâ portraits, which becomes particularly relevant when we remember that the ground-level plaza under MASPâs clear span has hosted all sorts of manifestations and protests by workers of every sort.
The presence of Thiago HonÃ³rioâs work has everything to do with the current concerns of the museumâs programming, in regard to the critical revision of not only artists, but also of techniques, languages and modes of production that were left aside, eclipsed by the hegemonic narratives of the history of art, frequently for not being associated with the tastes, protocols and styles of the dominant classes. These questions are clearly present in the reenactement of A mÃ£o do povo brasileiro [The Hand of the Brazilian People] â the historical exhibition curated by Lina Bo Bardi in 1969, which will occupy the museumâs first floor beginning on September 1, 2016. Instead of art or artifact, Lina proposed the notion of work [trabalho] to apply to a painting by Candido Portinari just as much as to a tool, insofar as both are products of a human labor, hence the relevance of this Trabalho.