Brasil: Comemorative Exhibitions or:

Notes on the presence of Brazilian Modernists in

International Exhibitions

Aracy Amaral

Universidade de São Paulo

The attendance of Brazilian modernists in international exhibitions began in inconsistent manner, as they showed next to other artists, some of whom were academics, others transitional. Even so, their appearance revealed that show organizers also acknowledged their significance. Beginning in the 1950s, the works of selected Brazilian modernists have been shown at international exhibitions as a way to present the precursors of contemporary art in our country.

1) Here I refer to exhibitions held since 1923 (such as Maison de l'Amérique Latine, in Paris, in which Tarsila showed her work); one year later in March 1924 there was an exhibition entitled Exposition D'Art Américain-Latin, in Paris, Musée Galliéra. Among others participated Curatella Manes, Emilio Pettoruti, and Xul Solar, from Argentina. And from Brasil: Angelina Agostini, Anita Malfatti and Victor Brecheret.

2) I also refer to the anthological show (The First Representative Collection of Paintings by Contemporary Brazilian Artists) held at the Roerich Museum, of Nova York, in October of 1930. This show was organized by Frances R. Grant, who traveled to Brazil to select the participating artists (Christian Brinton wrote the preface for the catalog). The Brazilian modernists in this exhibition included Tarsila, Di Cavalcanti, Anita Malfatti, Cícero Dias, Ismael Nery, Guignard, and Antonio Gomide, as well as artists viewed as less significant in terms of artistic renovation. These academic or transitional artists included Almeida Júnior, Teodoro Braga, Georgina and Lucilio de Albuquerque, Edson Motta, and Quirino da Silva, among many others; 3) Also in 1930, Vicente do Rego Monteiro showed in the inaugural show of the Groupe d'Artistes Latino-Américains de Paris.

4) Shrouded in pre-World War II atmosphere, the first editions of so-called Latin American art shows, as for example at the Riverside Museum, of New York, were organized concurrently with the 1939 New York World Fair. But, without a doubt, the star Brazilian attraction at the event was the ultra modern pavilion designed by Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, and decorated with artistic panels and sculptures (the bust of Brazilian president Getulio Vargas, for one). These creations proudly showed off Brazil’s program of image projection in foreign countries, which was definitively linked to Vargas’ dictatorial Estado Novo regime.

5) During World War II, at the same time that Brazil hosted two major French exhibitions, in 1940 and 1945, and an American art show, in 1944, a group of Brazilian artists that included several modernists showed their works at London’s Royal College of Arts, in November-December 1944. Sacheverell Sitwell wrote the preface and Brazilian critic Rubem Navarra presented this exhibition held as a Royal Air Force benefit. On the occasion, an annoyed Mário de Andrade reported on the reaction of British critics, who referred to the Brazilian production on display as "second rate" and dependent upon the Parisian creation. In other words, according to Mário de Andrade, foreigners – and, in that specific case, the British – always expect Brazilians to present an "exotic art", whereas in Brazil we made a point of presenting a "white man’s" art.
"The things we have to put up with," Andrade wrote. Contrarily to what is expected from Brazilian art in foreign countries, to date this stands as the forever unresolved issue or yet the desire for self-assertion of Brazilian artists.

6) In South America, in 1945, writer Marques Rebelo organized a major exhibition of great significance to Brazil that was shown in Buenos Aires, La Plata, and Montevideo. A co-founder of museums such as those of Rezende and Florianopolis, for example, Rebelo curated this exhibition titled "Veinte Artistas Brasileños" (Twenty Brazilian Artists). Argentine Cubist artist and Museu de La Plata director Pettoruti, who had visited Brazil in 1928 and was a friend of Guignard, wrote the presentation for the catalogue. He was also one of the first artists to render the Cubist art language in his country. Those were tranquil days, when the exhibition was the subject of two books published in that same year, one by Argentine critic Jorge Romero Brest, (1) and the other by critic Cipriano Vitureira, of Montevideo.

7) A year later, in October and November of 1946, critic Berco Udler was to organize another traveling exhibition, "Exposición Contemporánea Brasileña" (Brazilian Contemporary Exhibition), at the Instituto de Extensión de Artes Plásticas, in Santiago and Valparaiso (Chile). Here again, a number of modernists were among the selected artists.

8) More than ten years later, in 1957, Buenos Aires was to host another show of Brazilian art,"Arte moderno en Brasil"(Modern Art in Brazil). Brazilian ambassador João Carlos Muniz supported the event presented by Romero Brest (2) and critic Carlos Flexa Ribeiro at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

9) In fact, the first carefully organized exhibit on Modernism in Brazil to be shown in foreign countries was the great and anthological show "Art of Latin America Since Independence," curated by Terence Grieder and Stanton Catlin, in 1966. The exhibition was held at Yale University, University of Texas at Austin, San Francisco La Jolla Museum, and Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, in New Orleans.

10) If I am not mistaken, part of the collection shown at Yale and Austin was presented at the Inter American Art Center, (the former Center for Inter American Relations) of New York, in September of 1967, under the title "Precursors of Modernism in Latin America."

Segments on Modernism or Special exhibitions focusing Modernism

What did Modernism bring as implications for Latin America, except a desire for the renewal of artistic language combined with a quest for self-assertion or for the assertion of national art (be it in Mexico, or in Brazil, in Uruguay – Torres Garcia, and even Figari, for example –, and in the Andean region with the emergence of the indigenous muralism?) The upshot, however, was that the commemorations of centennials of independence of all Latin American countries had brought up the questions, "Who are we?" and "What is our identity?", which echoed not only in the realm of art, but also in music and literature. Even Jorge Luis Borges did not escape these issues in his writings of the 1920s.

11) In the second half of the eighties, the Indianapolis Museum of Art presented, by initiative of its director Hollister Sturges, the show Art of the Fantastic / Latin America, 1920-1987 organized by Holliday Day. I believe that this exhibition not only granted substantial exposure to the Modernism of the Americas, but also was seen as a revelation in the United States.

12) Brazilian Modernism was given a remarkable similar exposure at the retrospective show Art Brésilien du XXe. Siècle (Brazilian Art of the 20th Century) held at the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris, from December 1987 to February 1988. This show was a counterpart to the exhibition Contrastes de Formas (Contrast of Forms) based on Léger’s namesake series that had visited Museu de Arte de São Paulo – MASP in Brazil, at an earlier date. As far as I know, this was the first time that an international show presented at the Modern Art Musem in Paris was organized jointly by na European museum curator, Marie Odile Briot, and foreign curators, the Brazilian critics Frederico Moraes, Roberto Pontual, and myself.

13) Two years later (1989), British art historian Dawn Ades, of Essex University, which has assembled today a collection of art from Latin America, organized a major exhibition titled "Art in Latin America." Unprecedented in England, the show presented at The South Bank Centre, in London, an anthological view of art produced in Hispanic America and Portuguese America. (3)

14) On the wake of the Paris event, other centers became interested in showing the modern and contemporary art produced in Brazil. For example, in 1992, the grandiose exhibition "Brasilien" was organized in Zurich that presented in different venues throughout the city the works of modernist and contemporary Brazilian artists. (4)

15) In several countries in Latin America, the news was received with surprise and misgivings: Spain had entrusted to U.S. curator Waldo Rasmussen, of MOMA’s International Department, in New York, the organization of the show of Latin American art that commemorated the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. This attitude mirrored the desire for internationalism that Spanish museum institutions had so coveted since the late eighties, and that was also manifested when Thomas Messer, former director of Guggenheim, in New York, was appointed "La Caixa" director. After the inaugural show held in Seville, the exhibition proceeded to Paris, where it was partially shown, then to Cologne, and finally New York, where it arrived the next year (1993) with a work selection that was no longer the original presented at the beginning of the tour. The catalogs published for the different editions of this exhibition titled Latin American Artists of the XXth Century, however, featured different prefaces and presentations authored by critics and historians from the host cities, or from Latin America, next to writings by Waldo Rasmussen and art historian Edward Sullivan, both from the United States.

16) As part of the 1992 commemorations of the fifth centennial of the Discovery of America, other countries meant to pay tribute to Latin American art, beginning with Modernism. One example is the exhibition Voces de Ultramar/Arte en América Latina y Canarias (1910-1962) shown on Grand Canary Island.

17) In the sphere of commemorative events – particularly, the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil –, exhibitions were organized that included mega events as the 5th centennial show held at Ibirapuera Park, in São Paulo, in 2000. To date parts of this show are still visiting galleries in different parts of Brazil, Europe, and the United States, as for example "Brazil: Body and Soul" - Brasil: Corpo e Alma (featuring from baroque to contemporary art made in Brazil), which recently opened at the Guggenheim in New York. This exhibition featuring a collection of Brazilian modernism has been curated and sponsored by Brasil Connects, a private Brazilian organization stemmed from the São Paulo Biennial Foundation, rather than by the New York museum.

18) In 2000, the exhibition "Olhares Modernistas" (Modernist Gazes) was presented as a tribute to Brazilian Modernism at the Museu do Chiado, in Lisbon, concurrently with other commemorations of the discovery of Brazil. The show was organized by Tiago dos Reis Miranda, of Portugal, with the collaboration of University of São Paulo faculty members.

19) At about that same time another exhibition devoted to Modernism was organized by IVAM – Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, of Spain, under the title Brasil – de la Antropofagia a Brasília – (1920/1960) (Brazil: from anthropophagy to Brasilia, 1920-1960). From October 2000 to January 2001, the show curated by Jorge Schwartz presented the Brazilian literary and art production of that period.


Our intention with this swift and most certainly incomplete overview was to inventory the main international exhibitions that have shown in foreign countries the Brazilian Modernism as a special segment or as subject of different events in the realm of the visual arts.

Even smaller events, such as for example the show focusing Tarsila Frida Kahlo Amélia Peláez that Irma Arestizabal curated and presented at the foundation "La Caixa" of Madrid and Barcelona, in 1997, also deserve to be mentioned. (5)

Other international shows certainly included Brazilian artists among their special guests, despite being events that championed the dissemination of vanguard ideas. Here I refer to Concrete Kunst, the show organized by Max Bill, in Zurich, in 1960, and attended by Cordeiro, Sacilotto, Willys de Castro, and Ligia Clark, among others. Finally, to mention one more event, at a time when the art of Brazil was not yet disseminated abroad, the exhibition Information was held at MoMA, in New York in the summer of 1970. The show curated by Kynaston McShine presented works by Cildo Meirelles, Oiticica, Guilherme Magalhães Vaz, and Barrio.

It is not feasible to list all the recent shows of contemporary art (both in Europe and in the United States), other than Documenta or Biennial editions, that have featured works by Brazilian modernists. However, of paramount importance in this sense was Magiciens de la Terre, an exhibition curated by Jean Hubert Martin and shown in 1989, when it attained a remarkable repercussion internationally and leveraged the exposure of several participating Brazilian artists.

Yet, it was the reading and projection extended to Brazilian artists by the sensibility of Guy Brett that imparted visibility, in the European art scene, to the art production of an entire Brazilian experimental generation, beginning in the late sixties and early seventies (for example, Ligia Clark, Helio Oiticica, Mira Schendel, Camargo, Cildo Meirelles, etc.).

On the other hand, we must acknowledge the gaze on the Brazilian contemporary art produced as of the sixties in Latin America, which was presented at the Guggemheim Museum in New York (1966) on its own initiative. On that occasion, Thomas Messer curated the exhibition The Emergent Decade, and invited an outstanding photographer, Cornell Capa, to co-author the catalog. To this end, Capa traveled to all the represented countries and visited the studios of all artists included in Messer’s selection.


(1). Jorge Romero Brest, La pintura Brasileña Contemporánea, Bs.Aires, Editorial Poseidón, 1945.

(2). By that time an intensive artistic exchange had been taking place between the two countries that started with the implementation of the São Paulo Biennial and an exhibition at the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, in 1953, of works by Argentina’s Concrete artists.

(3). At times the allocation of artists in different segments may seem somewhat strange, as for example the inclusion of Torres Garcia in the space devoted to fantastic art.

(4). Important bilingual catalogues were published for all these exhibitions I have mentioned.

(5). At the same time, no Brazilian modernist was selected for the exhibition held in the Hirschorn Museum of Washington, D.C., in 1922, as a tribute to outstanding 20th-century artists, including Matta, Torres Garcia, Rivera, and Lam...