Olhares Modernistas in the Museu do Chiado (1)

    Tiago C. P. dos Reis Miranda

Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses

A Personal Account

I feel strangely honoured to have been invited to come to New Haven to take part on this conference. Being given the chance to address such a distinguished audience, and having a seat among some of the greatest worldwide specialists on the Iberian and Latin American Modernisms, is a highly prestigious experience, and quite an amazing surprise. Months ago, when David Jackson went to Lisbon and let me know he would like to visit Olhares Modernistas in the Museu do Chiado, coming to Yale, owing to that, did not cross my mind even slightly. To tell you the truth, right now, the most important feeling I am faced with is one of embarrassment. For, as a matter of fact, I am afraid you might be expecting to hear another kind of a scholar.

I am not and I do not intend to be an art historian, an art critic or a Brazilianist . If I am speaking here today, it is partly because, during my youth, I have lived more than thirteen years in the South East of Brazil and have succeeded to get a PhD in Social History at the University of São Paulo. Being a Portuguese away from his land, but bound to his roots, I did always managed to study Portugal’s past. And, still very early, I have tried to spend much of my time doing research both on political and cultural aspects of eighteenth century Europe. I had never before published a single line on Brazilian contemporary culture.

At the beginning of 1999, the Commissioner General of the National Commission for the Commemoration of the Portuguese Discoveries, Joaquim Romero Magalhães, gave me the opportunity to settle down once again in Lisbon, provided I agreed, for a change, to focus my attention on the history of Brazil. And, as a matter of fact, it would be quite a change. Back in São Paulo, some of my best Brazilian colleagues had long got used to look at me as a sort of ‘general adviser’ on Portuguese matters; then, out of the blue, on the other side of the ocean, the Portuguese government offered me a job as a sort of ‘general adviser’ on Brazilian culture. It's hard to explain, a little peculiar ­- perhaps even weird; but definitely interesting, and undoubtedly challenging.

The Portuguese National Commission for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries is a very unusual public organization. It was created in 1986 to celebrate fifteenth-century Portuguese sailors and captains’ overseas achievements. In this last fifteen years, the most important moments of those efforts have thus been remembered through more than six hundred books, literary supplements, reviews, CD-ROMs, exhibitions, plays, concerts, sporting events, and academic meetings. Different types of funds have been granted to universities and students: graduate and postgraduate students, in Portuguese and in foreign universities. Right from the beginning, the National Commission (from now on, CNCDP) aimed to help establish closer ties with Portuguese communities abroad. Likewise, it tried to strengthen old relations with countries that rule over the lands Portuguese ships had ‘discovered’ in Africa, Asia, North and South America.

The five hundred anniversary of Pedro Álvares Cabral's adventure on the Atlantic provided a good opportunity to improve cultural and political relations with Brazil. As for economic partnership, Portugal had already surprisingly managed to become one of the four most important foreign countries to invest in Brazil since 1997. So, there was reason to think that, after almost two centuries of warm assumptions of life-long brotherhood, centennial festivities could help to go even further beyond rhetoric.

In accordance with Prime-Minister António Guterres’s instructions, the Commissioner General, Joaquim Romero Magalhães, decided to sponsor and organize several different activities throughout the first semester of 2000, bearing in mind two major objectives: on one hand, to call Brazilian attention to modern Portuguese culture; on the other hand, to present the Portuguese people with a new opportunity to ‘rediscover’ Brazil and its most important cultural icons. For, as much as Brazilian popular music and soap operas had conquered millions of Portuguese fans since 1974, Magalhães believed (and knew) there were still numerous basic Brazilian cultural references that were completely unknown in Portugal, even among educated people.

It would take too long to read a list of all the activities organized by CNCDP for the fifth centenary of Brazil. However, it may be interesting here to catch a glimpse of the so-called ‘grand expositions’. There have been at least ten big exhibitions promoted and/or sponsored by the Portuguese National Commission. In Brazil alone, there were five: D. João VI e o seu tempo, Leituras da Carta de Pêro Vaz de Caminha, Amazónia Felsínia, Os Azulejos dos Portugueses and a retrospective of Júlio de Resende: Resende: 1947-2000. As a whole, several hundreds works of art were displayed, dating from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries.

Some of these expositions have been taken to more than one city. Os Azulejos dos Portugueses, for example, travelled to Rio, Salvador and Belém do Pará. As a part of the controversial Mostra do Redescobrimento, the Leituras da Carta de Pêro Vaz de Caminha went even further: having started its tour in Ibirapuera (São Paulo), several months afterwards it went to Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, São Luís, Recife, Salvador, Curitiba and Porto Alegre, before returning, once and for all, to the Torre do Tombo in Lisbon. It would be difficult to estimate how many people managed to see the celebrated letter that Pêro Vaz de Caminha sent to king D. Manuel in 1500, during this journey. Official Brazilian estimates are confusing: they vary between one million eight hundred thousand, and about two and a half million; sometimes, even more. Anyway, there is little doubt that it was a highly successful initiative. And it may be remembered forever in Porto Seguro through a collection of eleven oil paintings on the subject by some of the most important Portuguese contemporary artists, such as Júlio Pomar, José de Guimarães, Graça Morais, Fernando de Lemos and Noronha da Costa.

D. João VI e o seu tempo and Amazónia Felsínia were first displayed in Lisbon and Oporto. Apart from them, Magalhães planned to present Portuguese people with five other grand exhibitions. They would deal with Brazilian colonial frontiers, the Baroque, nineteenth century Portuguese emigration, Brazilian contemporary art (from the 1950s onwards...), and the Brazilian indigenous people. Five different times, five different subjects: an audacious attempt to catch the Portuguese people’s attention to the cultural wealth and diversity of Brazil, throughout a year.

Three of these exhibitions came about exactly as planned: Os Brasileiros de Torna-Viagem, Um oceano inteiro para nadar and Os índios, nós. Financial restraints made it impossible to finish the one on the Baroque. Nonetheless, we managed to publish the studies hitherto accomplished along with a large majority of amazingly colourful photographs selected by the curators. As for the project on the Brazilian frontiers, things would prove much more complex.

Two and a half years ago, when he was officially appointed as Commissioner General, Magalhães had already drafted a plans for a grand exposition based on ancient maps. It would open in Lisbon during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s special visit to Portugal, precisely scheduled for the day of the fifth hundred anniversary of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s departure from Lisbon. However, Magalhães himself had some doubts about the general concept he had then established and feared not to have time to work alone on an alternative. So, before moving on, he decided to invite me to help him redefine his original idea. And I dared to accept.

It took us several weeks to discuss the problem. During that time, we paid numerous visits to public museums and private collections, searched for catalogues, looked for an adequate site to display our choices, and tried to gain Brazilian professional assistance to assure the lending of some of the most important items on the list. When we finally arrived at a decision, there was not just one single grand exposition to put together in less than a year: there were three.

The first one would take place in the Galeria de Pintura do Rei Dom Luís, at Palácio da Ajuda. It would be an account of Brazilian colonial history, from a sort of ‘Braudelian’ point of view, and should be called A Construção do Brasil. Portuguese astonishment and delight before the natural splendours of the New World seemed then an appropriate theme for a second part of the project. As a late tribute to Sérgio Buarque de Holanda’s brilliant studies, it would be entitled O Jardim do Éden (The Garden of Eden). We dreamed of having it done on the cloister of the Jerónimos’ Monastery and invited a team of scholars from different fields to develop the concept. Unfortunately, they would not succeed in presenting a viable solution on time.

The last part of this new three-folded idea entailed bringing to Lisbon a small collection of samples of Brazilian Modernist works of art. For we were convinced that the Portuguese people did not know how important the set of cultural references defined in Brazil since the 1920s had been (and still is). The one and only occasion Lisbon had seen an attempt to exhibit major Brazilian Modernist sculptures and paintings had been at the beginning of the 1970s, at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian. And it seemed not to have left any strong impressions at all ­- even among art critics. If it was our task to help to discover the unknown, foster mutual sympathy and help to overcome old clichés, nothing would then sound more appropriate than to bring back into discussion the main principles of a movement that had tended to treat Brazil's Portuguese cultural heritage in a most aggressive way.

Two or three rounds of talks with some museum directors and with the presidency of the Portuguese National Institute for the Museums (IPM) led us to agree that this part of our new project should take place in the National Museum for Contemporary Art: the Museu do Chiado. That is a relatively small but modern museum, erected over the remains of an ancient factory, right in the heart of eighteenth-century Lisbon.

As we were dealing with Luso-Brazilian relations and mutual gazes throughout the centuries, we did decide to call this last and unexpected exhibition Olhares Modernistas (Modernist Gazes). And we agreed that it would be structured so that it could be "read" and understood by almost any visitor. We should be able to offer a general idea of the basic principles, tendencies, authors, periods, themes, and works of Brazilian plastic arts and literature, more or less during the years that elapsed between the two Great World Wars. That is why we decided to divide the exhibit into four different sections, respectively named Princípios, A Explosão Tropical, Urbanidades e A Reinvenção da História. Apparently, it would seem to be a thematic choice. Anyway, I would like to stress that there has been a serious concern to try to adopt a set of divisions that would lead the visitors into a chronological display of subjects, respecting both aesthetic and historical coherences.

Alone at home, surrounded by books and lists of works, I made the selection of about a hundred items, in August. If you consult the catalogue, you will see that I have tried a balance of oil paintings and watercolors, with pencil drawings, printed books and illustrations. In order to add some volume to the whole, three different sculptures: one marble, two bronzes. All of them, Brecheret’s. At that time, I also thought of having Villa Lobo’s Choros de Câmara playing on the section dedicated to the new features of Brazilian urban life, as well as Humberto Mauro’s Descobrimento do Brasil on a small TV set, next to the end of the exhibition. But, unfortunately, afterwards, I had to give up these ideas, for lack of time, space and money...

There are four Brazilian institutions whose kindness and support were nothing if not essential to make this project come true. First of all, the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros at the University of São Paulo, that lent twenty four items from its precious collections. I would like to single out Anita Malfatti’s O Estudo do Homem, Tomás Santa Rosa’s Estrela da Manhã, Cícero Dias’s A Chegada de Muratori, and the only remaining specimen from the printed catalogue of the Semana de Arte Moderna. I can never be grateful enough to Marta Rossetti Batista and Murilo Max for their friendly confidence.

The second institution that proved to be essential to this project was the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. It was the first to answer to our requests, lending us one of Anita Malfatti’s most renowned paintings (Tropical) and Lasar Segall’s remarkable portrait of an Afro-Brazilian male head emerging from a plantation of banana trees (Bananal). Also from the Pinacoteca, I have chosen a set of drawings for chapter headings by Tarsila do Amaral, in order to illustrate the fruitful commitment that has then been notorious between different kinds of artistic expressions, especially in São Paulo.

The third institution to give us precious support was Banco Boavista Interatlântico ­- the owner of Candido Portinari’s black and white spectacular drawings for a new American edition of Hans Staden’s account, from the early 1940s. At the beginning, I remember selecting only six items from the collection, being afraid to exceed budgetary limits for insurance and transportation. But less than two months before inaugurating Olhares Modernistas, I was advised to borrow eight drawings, instead of six. Fortunately, Banco Boavista did not create any problem and kindly agreed to authorize the change. I would like to take this opportunity publicly to thank Roberto do Valle and Ricardo Espírito Santo for their decision.

Last, but not least, this exhibit would have been very different, and much less fun, without Museu Lasar Segall. Since I first went to São Paulo to visit modernist collections and gather detailed information on the subject, Marcelo Araújo made me see that it would be possible to explain a major part of the whole of twentieth century Brazilian urban history through a simple gathering of some of Segall’s oil paintings and illustrations. At the same time, he also called my attention to the fabulous set of 1934 Segall watercolors for the Carnaval da Spamolandia. Their rich expressiveness and good humour got me so excited that I decided to arrange for almost all the collection to travel to Lisbon. It thus crossed Brazilian borders for the very first time.

Packaging, transportation and insurance were mainly handed by Expomus - Exposições, Museus,
Projectos Culturais, Lda. As a matter of fact, the Portuguese National Commission relied entirely upon Maria Ignez Mantovani and her highly trained staff to contact Brazilian official institutions and private collectors and to search for alternatives, whenever a request was denied. Her personal advice has always proved to be the best to follow. And her professional prestige helped us win many a battle against redoubtable contenders.

Scarcity of time and knowledge did not permit me to write a thorough introduction to the catalogue, explaining the criteria I had used to select all one hundred items at display. But I have been lucky enough to rely upon five well-known Brazilian scholars and one of the most important Portuguese art critics for complementary texts. Aracy Amaral, Marta Rossetti, Elias Thomé Saliba, José Carlos Sebe Bom Meihy, Vilma Arêas and José-Augusto França, on the whole, did an excellent job.

The exposition opened on 28th April 2000 and closed at the end of June. No minor incidence was
registered, and every item was returned to its owner, with no new scratches. Nowadays, that is something worth noting.

The number of visitors was far greated than our most optimistic anticipation. During those two months, 20 % more visitors than usual went to the Museu do Chiado, encouraged by good reviews.

At the end of December, the weekly newspaper O Expresso considered Olhares Modernistas as one of the two most outstanding exhibitions of the year, in Portugal, together with Joaquim Pais de Brito’s Os índios, nós ­- also directed and sponsored by the National Commission for the Commemoration of the Portuguese Discoveries.

Personally speaking, it has paid its way.

Modernismo Brasileiro em Portugal

[…] Quem canta seu subconsciente
seguirá a ordem imprevista das comoções,
das associações de imagens dos contactos exteriores.
Acontece que o tema às vezes descaminha.

Mário de Andrade, "Prefácio Interessantíssimo"

 Durante os últimos anos do século XIX, um pouco por todo o Brasil, explodem conflitos urbanos e regionais, que, para além da fragilidade das várias instâncias do Estado, espelham o difícil processo de integração social de antigos escravos e imigrantes, proprietários espoliados e marginais da indústria nascente. O crescimento acelerado das grandes cidades permite, contudo, ir-se formando em paralelo uma importante camada de profissionais liberais e funcionários de mangas de alpaca. Lentamente se desenvolvem também novos padrões de expressão cultural: na área de música, ganha prestígio toda uma série de géneros de forte raiz africana, como a toada, o maxixe, a modinha, o choro e o samba; no campo das letras, autores frequentemente autodidactas dedicam espaço às fortes tensões do momento, numa linguagem ainda marcada por compromissos parnasianos e naturalistas.

A efectiva ruptura em direcção a um acerto de passo com as vanguardas que, na Europa, interpretavam o Manifesto de Marinetti começou por se dar no expressionismo da paulistana Anita Malfatti e nos poemas em verso livre do pernambucano Manuel Bandeira. Logo seriam seguidos pelos volumes impositivos de Brecheret e as harmonias personalíssimas de Villa Lobos. Ficava a faltar um movimento de confluência com dimensão nacional.

Poucos meses antes do centenário do célebre "Grito do Ipiranga", um grupo de artistas e de letrados de várias origens decidiu reunir-se nas salas do Teatro Municipal de São Paulo, por uma semana, para marcar o início de uma acção colectiva modernizante no mundo das artes. Sobressaíram entre os presentes Ronald de Carvalho, Mário de Andrade, Paulo Prado, Oswald de Andrade, Ribeiro Couto, Menotti del Picchia, Guilherme de Almeida, Victor Brecheret e Emiliano Di Cavalcanti. José Pereira da Graça Aranha, reconhecido de forma geral como cabeça do movimento, abriu os trabalhos com um texto incisivo ("A Emoção Estética na Arte Moderna"), que questionava o interesse da manutenção de um ideal de "beleza" abstracto, e incitava os colegas a adoptar uma postura irreverente e subjectiva. Cerca de dois anos mais tarde, o mesmo escritor iria chocar o plenário da Academia de Letras no Rio de Janeiro, tentando manter o lugar de destaque que entre os mais jovens já lhe escapa, ao reclamar, por exemplo, a necessidade de um rompimento imediato com a tradição literária herdada da idade colonial: "[…] Em vez de tendermos para a unidade literária com Portugal, alarguemos a separação. […] Já é demais este peso da tradição portuguesa, com que se procura atrofiar, esmagar a nossa literatura. É tempo de sacudirmos todos os jugos e firmarmos definitivamente a nossa emancipação espiritual."

O forte empenho na promoção de um olhar renovador sobre o Brasil dos últimos anos da velha república dos coronéis rapidamente levou à divisão do grupo inicial e ao lançamento de periódicos e manifestos de diferentes matizes políticas. Mário de Andrade serviu de farol à frente de quase todos, com intervenções de grande riqueza, em forma de verso, conto, ensaio ou romance: neles se fundiam a erudição do estudioso que recusava os estreitos limites da educação académica tradicional, e a surpreendente capacidade de relacionar os aspectos mais simples, originais, profundos e irrepetíveis da cultura de cariz popular, negra ou indígena. Vezes seguidas, coube, porém, a Oswald de Andrade tocar a rebate pela necessidade de recriação das mais genuínas raízes de todo o país: esforço de síntese que apelava à "[…] contribuição milionária de todos os erros […]"; à […] realidade sem complexos, sem loucura, sem prostituições e sem penitenciárias do matriarcado de Pindorama […]"; à "[…] transformação permanente do Tabu em totem […]"; à "antropofagia".

Nos ateliers dos novos pintores, entre São Paulo, Recife, Rio e Paris, ganham expressão desenhos de traços mais simples e tonalidades garridas, buscando um retrato do modo de ser "nacional" firmemente ancorado nos elementos da natureza e da sociedade dos trópicos. É nessa altura em que Tarsila do Amaral concebe figuras fantásticas e/ou paisagens encantatórias, onde a terra e os céus, as plantas e os animais, em formas de bordos redondos e insinuantes, rebentam de vida e de cor. É essa a altura em que Emiliano Di Cavalcanti passa para as telas a atmosfera pesada e sensual das moças mulatas da Guanabara, que esperam clientes em quartos sombrios ou espreitam para a rua, perdidas, em sonhos, por dias melhores. É finalmente a altura de um jovem artista de origens humildes, mas consistente instrução académica, chamar a atenção para a vivência de sofrimento e de trabalho, de indivíduos mestiços não raramente faltos de pão e de posses: em composições de planos e feixes que mostram um apuro pouco comum, Cândido Portinari concentra e resume, com alguma eficácia, as directrizes primeiras de um movimento de redescoberta e fundação renovada de um Brasil a todos os títulos ainda hoje desconcertante e espantoso.

Segundo dos núcleos do ciclo de exposições que se houve por bem organizar em Lisboa por ocasião do V centenário da viagem de Pedro Álvares Cabral, Olhares Modernistas é uma mostra que traz ao Museu do Chiado a produção de alguns dos mais destacados representantes da vanguarda modernista brasileira surgidos num intervalo de cerca de vinte anos, a contar de meados da década de 1910. Trata-se de um conjunto praticamente todo "importado" de acervos do Rio de Janeiro e de São Paulo, com o intuito de aqui divulgar um movimento que, através dos romances da geração de José Lins do Rêgo e Jorge Amado, esteve tão próximo de nossos pais e avós, mas que, em seus aspectos mais radicais, já tantas vezes se disse que se mostrou muito distante do modernismo de Portugal. Ainda que algumas das velhas ideias a esse respeito mereçam ressalvas, é facto que, hoje, nas colecções dos museus nacionais, quase se não encontram obras de peso de brasileiros, do período em questão. Estudiosos com publicações a esse respeito também se não acham. E a última mostra de importância sobre o assunto, aqui entre nós, conta já para cima de duas décadas.

A selecção efectuada teve o intuito de facilitar aos visitantes o conhecimento de três ou quatro linhas-de-força fundamentais. No começo do percurso, existem alguns exemplares das realizações dos primeiros integrantes do novo movimento, antes, durante e logo depois da Semana de Arte Moderna do Municipal de São Paulo. Trata-se de um conjunto de peças que tanto procura mostrar a relativa diversidade de escolhas estéticas dentro da oferta então existente no cenário europeu, como a acção convergente e colectiva na busca da afirmação de uma identidade distinta. Por isso mesmo, vem em seguida um segmento que se dedica à abordagem de temas mais claramente ligados à riqueza da fauna e da flora da zona dos trópicos e ao folclore local. Surge em terceiro lugar um grupo de obras que se situa entre meados dos anos de 1920 e o início dos de '40, voltadas para o registo de diferentes vivências em zonas urbanas. Na última parte, vêem-se, enfim, desenhos e livros que testemunham o investimento na compreensão e/ou no forjar de mais adequadas apropriações da história do Brasil.

O grande número de mostras que para agora se programaram, tanto na América, como na Europa, e os elevados valores que as obras da altura adquiriram ao longo do tempo, internacionalmente, limitaram à partida as escolhas a fazer. De qualquer modo, parece haver sido possível reunir um número significativo de trabalhos (cerca de uma centena), de artistas dos mais eminentes, com a ajuda da equipa de técnicos da Expomus -- Exposições, Museus, Projetos Culturais Ltda. E o apoio empenhado do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) e do Museu Lasar Segall.

Para compor o catálogo, foram feitos convites a professors de literatura, história e história da arte da USP e da Unicamp, que, a pedido da coordenação do projecto, escreveram ensaios introdutórios sobre os temas propostos. Um novo e provocante olhar português junta-se a eles, num texto de José-Augusto França recheado de notas pessoais. Se o conjunto dos seis puder despertar nos leitores uma parte do gosto que tive ao tentar pôr em ordem as comoções e as imagens trazidas de um Brasil ainda fortemente modernista na definição do seu carácter, o esforço e os descaminhos terão valido a pena.

Abril a Junho de 2000


(1). Text written for the conference Grand Expositions: Iberian and Latin American Modernisms in the Museum, held at Yale University on 26/27.10.2001.