MUSEU DE ARTE DE SĂO PAULO - Assis Chateaubriand


Nicolas Poussin, Transvested Hymenaeus Watchinga Dance in Honor of Priapus, 1634-38, MASP Collection, Purchase, 1958

Histories of sexuality

Sex is an integral part of our lives. Without it, we would not even exist. Therefore, sexuality has been occupying a central place in the collective imaginary and the artistic production since forever. The exhibition Histories of Sexuality presents an encompassing and diverse approach of these productions. Our aim is to stimulate a debate – urgent nowadays – by crossing different temporalities, geographies, and media. Recent episodes in Brazil and the world have brought forth issues related to sexuality and the limits between individual rights and freedom of speech, through public clashes, protests, and violent manifestations on social media. The MASP, a diverse, inclusive, and plural museum, bears as its mission to establish, in a critical and creative way, dialogues between the past and the present, cultures and territories, through the visual arts. This is the meaning of the program of exhibitions, seminars, courses, workshops, and publications surrounding several histories – those of childhood, of sexuality, of madness, of women, of the Afro-Atlantic, as well as the feminist ones, among many others.

Conceived in 2015, this exhibition is the offspring of a long and intense work, being preceded by two international seminars held in September 2016 and May 2017. It is part of the MASP’s full year dedicated to the histories of sexuality, which in 2017 included the solo exhibitions of Teresinha Soares, Wanda Pimentel, Miguel Rio Branco, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Tracey Moffatt, Pedro Correia de Araújo, Guerrilla Girls, and Tunga. There are more than 300 works by 126 artists gathered around nine thematic, non-chronological themes – Naked bodies, Totemisms, Religiosities, Gender performativities, Sexual games, Sexual markets, Languages, and Voyeurisms on the first-floor gallery, and Activisms and politics of the body on the first basement floor. The display also includes a video room in the third basement floor, as part of the voyeurisms branch. Some works of artists central to our collection – such as Edgar Degas, Maria Auxiliadora da Silva, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Suzanne Valadon, and Victor Meirelles – are now exhibited in new contexts, finding other possibilities of reading and understanding. Along with them, a selection of works of different formats, periods, and territories compose truly multiple histories, defying the hierarchies and boundaries between typologies and categories of traditional art history– from Pre-Columbian to modern art, from the so-called popular art to contemporary art, from sacred art to conceptual art, including art from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas in paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, photocopies, videos, documents, publications, and others.

In these histories, there are no absolute or definitive truths. The boundaries of what is morally acceptable shift from time to time. Classical sculptures, now icons of art history, not seldom had their genitals covered. Customs also vary between different cultures and civilizations. In several European countries and indigenous tribes, nudity exposed in public spaces is something natural; polygamy is accepted in some Islamic countries; prostitution is a legal practice in some states, while condemned in others; there are countries where abortion is free, and others where it is forbidden. Even the concept of child has changed over time, just as its understanding in terms of age.

The only absolute principle, which we cannot relinquish, is the respect for the other, for difference, and for artistic freedom. Consequently, it is necessary to reaffirm the need and the space for dialogue, allowing it to create conditions for all of us – each one of us with our own beliefs, practices, political and sexual orientations – to live together in harmony.

Pedro Correia de AraĂşjo, Purity, 1938, Sandra Penna Collection

Pedro Correia de AraĂşjo: erotica

Pedro Correia de Araújo (1881–1955) is an artist between two times, two geographies, two schools: between the 19th and 20th centuries, France and Brazil, the academic and the modern. Maybe that’s the reason why he was marginalized by Brazilian art history, a matter that this exhibition tries to roll back. Although his family was from the northeastern state of Pernambuco, he was born in Paris. There, in the1910s, he studied in an alternative art school, learning to use geometry in his works, as seen in Pureza [Purity] (1938), a painting in which the woman’s body is built upon circles, squares, triangles and hexagons, intentionally left in sight. It is not by accident that the eroticism in his works is manifested as rational, mathematic. It is not limited to a mere attempt of personal expression—which the artist rejected— but is part of a broad and ambitious plan. In his works, the eroticism is not concealed in an effort to make the world and the objects more aesthetic—unlike in the work of his fellow artist Di Cavalcanti (1897–1976), with its decorative and prop-like mulatas—but is integrated with a geometric grid that makes up the structure of his figures, as proven by the horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines left in the open in some of his drawings and paintings.

The selection of works focuses on the latent sensuality that runs through the artist’s production in his Brazilian phase, from1929 to1955, highlighting the presence of the erotic, which is not limited to his nudes or more sexually explicit drawings, but is also seen in the remaining segments, formed by portraits of caboclas, Indians, black and mulato women, as well as Brazilian folk dances, as seen in Jongo (undated), the most unique and extraordinary of his works. In Mulheres na Lapa [Women in Lapa] (undated) the body strength of the feminine figures in the foreground is haunted by the presence of imminent death, embodied by a skeleton that watches them from the window in the background to the left. The idea of finite life and body, present in the history of art, is also revealed in Nu feminino (Mulata e são Sebastião) [Female Nude (Mulatto Woman and Saint Sebastian)] (undated) through a still life represented in the left lower corner of the canvas.

Despite his many nudes and paintings of prostitutes, the artist never yielded to the possibility of trivial voyeurism, and made his women as complex figures, full of character, true representations of strength and confidence, features that can be seen in Moça com flor [Girl with Flower] (1937), Mulata e os arcos [Mulatto Woman and the Arches] (1939), Cabocla (undated) and other works shown in this exhibition.

This exhibition was conceived in the midst of a year dedicated to the histories of sexuality at MASP. It is placed in dialogue with other exhibitions—or in friction, in the case of the collective Guerrilla Girls, whose exhibition opens on 22.9.2017 on the mezzanine. In one of their works, the collective denounces the predominance of female nudes over male ones in museum collections, revealing the perspective of masculine power in art and its histories, na issue which MASP has opened up for debate.

CURATOR Fernando Oliva, MASP

Guerrilla Girls no Abrons Art Center, em Nova York, 2015

Guerrilla Girls: gráfica 1985–2017

The Guerrilla Girls define themselves as a feminist activist group “using facts, humor and outrageous visuals to expose gender and ethnic bias as well as corruption in politics, art, film, and pop culture.” The group of anonymous activists well known for wearing gorilla masks in public appearances was formed in 1985 in the aftermath of protests in response to an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1984. Titled An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, curated by Kynaston McShine, it included 165 artists, only 13 of them women.

MASP presents a full retrospective of 116 works, including two new Brazilian ones, based on Guerrilla Girls most well known posters. They both speak about the difficulties of being a woman artist in a male dominated art world/history: The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist (1988, 2017) and Do Women Have to be Naked to Get into the Met. Museum? (1989) and now into the MASP (2017). The latter plays with the contrast between the small number of female artists in comparison to the high number of female nudes in the collection display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (5% and 85% in 1989, 4% and 76% in 2011) and at the MASP (6% and 60% in 2017). Although MASP does rather well in comparison to the Met., the story would be very different if we were to take into account the large number of female nudes by Brazilian modernist Pedro Correia de Araujo on view in the gallery down below until November 18.

The discourse that arises from the posters over 32 years can be framed within the discourse around identity politics and multiculturalism at the end of the 1980s, particularly in the United States. The concern for a fairer balance of female and male artists in modern and contemporary art has become an art world norm. In museums and in art history, much of the renewed interest we see in women artists, artists of color, or artists working outside Euroamerica echoes the discourse of the Guerrilla Girls. In Brazil, we feel enormously privileged to possess an art history that is dominated by female figures—from modernists Tarsila do Amaral and Anita Malfatti, to mid-century figures such as Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape and Mira Schendel, to name only a few that have entered definitely into the canon. Much work still needs to be done, particularly in terms of artists (and curators) of African and Amerindian descent, as well as those coming from less privileged backgrounds.

It is interesting to consider how the humorous discourse of the Guerrilla Girls comes into play with deeper questions concerning Eurocentrism, white privilege, heteronormativity, and male dominance. Despite the numerous and at times conflicting waves of feminism and LGBT politics, and the black and indigenous movements, it is important to work towards a multiple, diverse and plural alliance between minorities that are oppressed by white, male, heterosexual and privileged dominance. It is not a matter of turning these discourses into a single, homogenous one, but of developing a practice that carves out spaces and platforms for many to speak and express their ideas, needs, desires, and cultures. As well as to show their art.


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 by  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, rendering 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. In 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. Furthermore, Picture Gallery in Transformation is a semi-permanent 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 – such as Agostinho Batista de Freitas, Djanira, JosĂ© AntĂ´nio da Silva, and Maria Auxiliadora – 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.