Brazilian art: beyond the system.
When Paulo Sérgio Duarte, invited to the curatorship of an exhibition at the Estação Art Gallery, suggested this title and selected the artists, I started to consider what this could lead to.
Aberaldo, Alcides,Chico Tabibuia, Elizabeth Jobim, Fernanda Junqueira, Fernando da Ilha do Ferra, Gabriela Machado, Germana Monte-Mór, José Bezerra, Manoel Graciano, Nuno Ramos, Samico, Tunga and Véio, creative artists that have, as a common property, the high quality of their artistic production.
Our work in the management of the Gallery has sought to show this very fact; art is art, and that’s that.
The text by Paulo Sérgio is out base so that, every time more, we can reinforce what we have applied in practice. What is good can coexist, and there is no prejudice able to destroy this logic.
And so it is with much happiness that we present yet another exhibition. We feel that our work, which is always challenging, has been conquering more and more followers and also those who have always been interested in popular art have been important multipliers of this undeniable truth.
We hope that this exhibition, which was established on purpose considering the Biennial of São Paulo, shall bring a curious section of the public, alert and, above all, always seeking poetry in art.
Paulo Sergio Duarte
This exhibition wants to stimulate your vision and also your thought. This is just the start of work that I plan to carry out, but which has worried me for many decades. At least since 1979, when I got to know the collection by Silvia Coimbra, in Olinda, I visited the art studio of Galdino, in Alto do Moura, in Caruaru, State of Pernambuco, after having been away from Brazil for nine years. There I had a personal meeting not only with the work, but also with an artist who is fully aware of his condition as the creator of poetic knowledge. I was already well aware of the modernist adventure, the texts by Mário de Andrade, the discoveries made by Augusto Rodrigues. I may have had a bit too much coexistence with the conceptual art and the resurgence of painting at the end of the 1970s in Europe. However, I was intrigued by the absence of popular art in group exhibitions which included the artists which, on a provisional basis, I consider “erudite”. Why is there this “system reserve” for artists of one given niche, rather than others? In the chapter of art which is considered contemporary or the “art system”, we are required to face pitiful work, things that can easily be disregarded, and not only in art galleries, as also at Biennial Exhibitions and other important trade fairs; however, a lot of poetic force is absent because the “system” does not accept confrontation with this other intensity. Popular art can be easily understood and assessed if it is placed side by side with the production of what is called contemporary art. These are the limits of the so-called “art system” which need to be reconsidered. Why can works of popular art not be placed alongside works of “contemporary art”? This is because the borders of the “art system” are considered in the light of three institutions: aesthetics, the academy and related institutions – particularly museums -, and the market. These three institutions do not only interact; they seem integrated in such a way that they do not inhibit, but also forbid the possibility of thinking of the poetic productions of different origins, side by side. With the recent addition of the issues of art and technology, the distance seems to get larger. All this difference is silly, when compared with poetics. The primitive silly things that are done using the most recent digital resources is enormous. What is needed is to rethink not only a theory of contemporary art, but a contemporary art theory that considers poetic processes regardless of the origin of the works. This is something we have not been able to do, except in isolated cases. We are not being able to theoretically show how incipient are the limits of the institutions in relation to artistic practice. More than investing in the particular processes of each popular artist, which is already being done efficiently, there is a need to weave a theoretical territory which can subsume the production of each side as only one: art, regardless of its origin. At an abstract level, aesthetics of difference, rather than the aesthetics of overcoming, would do the trick.
Indeed, overwhelming aesthetics of the difference have been developed within the “art system”, copes with and explains the last somersaults of a performance, with the remains of dust or talc in the corner of a room, or dirty crockery in a basin, photographed and enlarged on a spectacular scale. Everything that I have here described is available in art galleries or international biennial exhibitions. So what does this type of aesthetics not accept? It does not accept the idea that recognition of diversity and differences in contemporary poetic expressions has to come together with justification. The good ol’ aesthetic reasoning assesses different poetic intensities in a pondered manner. However, they would rather turn the territory occupied by contemporary art into a clinic in which the “critiques” and “theorists” make “diagnoses” to avoid issuing critical statements. Thus, everything is the same, like in a flat electroencephalogram. Doctors well know what I am talking about. This draft of a visual study as here presented is still far from the exercising of a theory of aesthetics. The work does not even whisper a dialogue, but this is just a small representation of the failure of a system which insists on treating everything in a horizontal manner, in an excessive relativism which I personally don’t approve of, and also, however, turns its back on a formidable collection of work.
So much discourse about the “other”, “otherness” and “difference”, but for what? For nothing at all, because the “other”, “otherness” and “difference”, or the category or concept that they use to represent this other thing, remains absent from their actions. In a certain sense, with all these “differences”, the “art system” has always been working on the same things. There is a need to think about this story – but don’t come over with the infamous argument that this is populism, after visiting the pamphletory works of any Biennial Exhibition.
A mark of modernity, with all its contradictions and paradoxes, in art was that of being more inclusive than exclusive. This was a long process which started with the painting by David, “The Death of Marat”, passing through works such as Manet’s “The Luncheon on the Grass”, Douanier Rousseau’s “War”, through to Picasso’s “The Young Ladies of Avignon”. The era required a subversion is issues that until then had been largely ignored, passing to the proscenium: semidead sailors who would indulge in cannibalism to survive on the precarious ferry would have the same treatment as the picture of an important battle, as occurred in the works of Géricault; female genitalia exposed with hairs in the works of Courbet; the optical phenomenon of distance in Monet; the formidable yet untidy fruit, and the same mountain dozens of times in Cézanne; the unseen tigers, present in Rousseau; the African masks on the faces of the white street women of the Barcelona brothel, in Picasso. This was all inclusion of new languages. Apart from painters of modern life, art presented itself in the world seeking challenges.
Total subversion of values seems to have been carried out during the carnage of the Great War. The Dada revolt and the intelligent work of Duchamp would solve everything: after the death of God, also in art anything was valid. From the urinals of Duchamp to the can of shit of Manzoni, everything would be possible. However, things are not like this. This whole story about “diversity” or “difference” is only partial because it is maintained based on values constructed in, so to speak, currently academic ways, this not to say based on false epistemology, a word still largely unprepared – through the territory it covers – to face the problematic conceptual territory of art. They understood nothing about Duchamp. Even today, with all the palaver of post-modernity and its inconsequent relativism, it is forbidden to start confronting poetic powers of different origins.
In which major exhibition of contemporary art is popular art shown alongside what is called contemporary art? There are one-off episodes, one popular artist here and another there. They will say that the same thing occurs with music. When is it that a concert of classical music allows mixing with a presentation of popular music? Very rarely. At most, a symphony orchestra plays a popular song – which is not quite the same thing. Cathy Berberian, a mezzo-soprano dedicated to the repertoire of new music, tried to break these barriers. Right now, Jessye Norman, after ten years away from the phonographic market, comes back with a new album that, for the first time in her successful career as a major diva, includes jazz and spirituals, together with Bizet, Poulenc and others. These are isolated cases. The problem is the same. We are segregated, even if in the world of music, more disciplined than this world which is now called “visual arts”. Yes, indeed, they are different worlds. In the world of music, more aware of its history, we just have to look at the repertoires of orchestras around the world, nobody does somersaults with the same permissiveness as in this world of contemporary art.
However, we live in ghettos.
Here, in the exhibition, for one moment, artists of different origins have come together. This is the problem I have unearthed for myself. There is no more “curatorial association” between the different poetic powers, even more considering that the pictorial and graphic issues prevail in what is termed “erudite” rather than the sculptures in the “popular”. However, this was just one of the main challenges which came forth.
The selection of the popular artists was made entirely based on the collection of Vilma Eid. The first issue I faced, and you can be sure of that, was that of excellence. All the works as here presented seek and achieve a high quality in their respective work field, regardless of origin.
You always come with this babble of yours and also have the nerve to say that the “art system” erases the differences, treating people all the same. The sameness is in you. Speaking of Cathy Berberian, Jessye Norman! Why didn’t you stay on these shores with Paulo Moura, is there anyone who could give a better example of what you want to say, within the realm of music? It’s true, there wasn’t, but now I need to finish this text, which shall not be possible with you controlling me. Controlling, not at all. You didn’t even notice that I was wearing a new dress at dinner and even used lipstick. I didn’t even notice, it was because of your hair, which is beautiful, and then I had to somewhat schizophremise to abstract myself and not listen to that waffle. Gilda, Rita Hayworth, Ali Khan, my God, and I thought I was getting on a bit. Now let me finish my text. Don’t go away. Why didn’t you talk about Paulo Moura? Get away from what? You who came to talk about dresses and lipstick. You’re trying to escape. When Baden Powell died, in 2000, we were in Paris, do you remember? France Culture dedicated at least twelve hours of programming in his honour, with messages every half hour announcing his passing. Here, when Paulo Moura died, MEC FM dedicated half an hour to him, at half past eleven at night. Understand? This is the difference, and you talk about Berio’s muse and the North American black diva. I am very sorry, and then you say you wish to go beyond the system. However, the fact is that this system is really foolishness. Look at Véio, there is more hybrid culture than in any example by Canclini. These are round, formidable person-machines. And what about Alcides’ painting? Everything is flat, ready for a virtual movement, better than the imagination of many video games, and it is also a painting that teaches many neopop youngsters what could be a new trend in current painting.
I don’t want a meeting between erudite culture and popular, within one same project; for this, I already have jazz and Samico, an erudite who does this to perfection. I wanted to really join them together, to somewhat break this false Enlightenment that some… Enlightenment, mate, Enlightenment? For God’s sake, only you still believe in this. But you were saying it was false – but you said this because you still think there could be a real one. Boring stuff. And I well know that, within this story of writing about “differences” and “repetition”, you are, in essence, trying to discredit Deleuze. Who are you? Please, we are not going to resume our conversation about the end of truth. And then I did not write “repetition” between quotes, one single time, at least so far. I have nothing against Deleuze as a personal friend, so much a poet and almost neopositivist when he addresses the philosophies of the second half of the 20th Century. He does this very well because he firmly believes in the territory drawn out by Kant. However, his friend loathes Heidegger. He, and many other people. For many philosophers, this is idle talk. Indeed, the Deleuzians are coming out worse than the Lacanians. I really liked Paulo Moura, the artist and also the loving person, whenever we met.
You are quite right. Paulo Moura is the best example that I could mention, of an artist that switches between different erudite and popular areas. In music it is possible, but here it is not. I like Pixinguinha, Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho, and the “False sincere love” by Nelson Sargento. Then musicians, with different backgrounds, whether erudite or not, could interpret them. Different from what happens with music, in art there is no difference between composer and interpreter, and any child sees this, even if the child does not put it into words. Admit this coexistence of the difference here in art, it is different from music. You always have this idea of speaking about art and music as if music was not a form of art, as if literature, dancing and theatre were not art either. Keep calm, this was just a convention that may be in the process of being revoked by its post-modern theorists. Nobody writes a story about musical art, a story about visual arts. Stories are written about music and literature, but when a story is written about art one already knows what is being addressed. Is really that bad? Have you ever read a story about Italian visual arts or a story about Greek plastic arts? Whoever it may be, Argan, Gombrich or Janson, can you imagine a title for the books other than history of art? You are being too fussy. Do you think I haven’t seen that recorder switched on, over there? Later, you shall use it for those short dirty stories that you put on the Internet. I have never thought about this, but you are giving me an idea. And then this group that you are putting in there, as gate-crashers in the exhibition. This way, I shall never get things finished, but with you nagging me like this it won’t work out, why don’t you go back to your literature? This is what you want. I think this extends well beyond the system and then recruits a group of friends to back you up: Beth, Samico, Gabriela, Fernanda, Nuno, Germana, Tunga. Aren’t you ashamed? What blame do I have for being a friend of the beast, and so many others that I have not yet called for future adventures beyond the system. Well, that’s enough, you shall understand in the end. This is what I want to obtain through this exhibition: Brazilian Art: Beyond the System.
The exhibition “Brazilian Art: Beyond the system”, under the curatorship of Paulo Sergio Duarte, shall take up the three floors of the Estação Art Gallery in São Paulo. The poetic force of the two poles of Brazilian art – that which is known as “contemporary art” and, at the other extreme, popular art – is presented through a selection of works by fourteen different artists: Aberaldo, Alcides, Beth Jobim, Chico Tabibuia, Fernanda Junqueira, Fernando da Ilha do Ferro, Gabriela Machado, Germana Monte-Mór, José Bezerra, Manoel Graciano, Nuno Ramos, Samico, Tunga and Véio.
For the curator, “It is time for the contemporary theory of art to review its limits and surpass the frontiers of the so-called ‘art system’. Plastic power and artistic intelligence are not privileges of instituted values; on the contrary, they are present outside official territories. This exhibition is just a small sample of an enormous continent to be included in contemporary aesthetic thought.”
PAULO SERGIO DUARTE is an art critic, a professor of history of art and also a researcher at the Centre for Applied Social Studies (Centro de Estudos Sociais Aplicados – CESAP), at the Candido Mendes University, in Rio de Janeiro. He has also led programmes of the federal, state and municipal (Rio de Janeiro) governments. He designed and implemented the Contemporary Brazilian Art Space, of Funarte, between 1979 and 1983, the National Institute of Plastic Arts, from this same institution. He was also the first Director General of the Imperial Palace / Iphan, between 1986 and 1990, responsible for the implementation thereof as a cultural centre and also responsible for the curatorship of several exhibitions as shown. He was also the general curator of the 5th Biennal Exhibition of Mercosur (2005), in Porto Alegre, and the general curator of the programme by the name of Rumos Itaú Cultural Artes Visuais 2008/2009, among several other exhibitions. Among others, he has published the following books: Contemporary Brazilian Art, an introduction [Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Silvia Roesler / Instituto Plajap, 2008]; The trail of the plot and other texts about art [Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 2004, 2nd edition, 2010]; Carlos Vergara [Porto Alegre: Santander Cultural, 2003]; Waltercio Caldas [São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2001] and The 1960s: Transformations of art in Brazil [Rio de Janeiro: Campos Gerais, 1998].
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Contacts: Marcy Junqueira and Martim Pelisson
Brazilian Art: Beyond the system: Exhibition from 9 September 2010 to 13 November 2010, curatorship of Paulo Sérgio Duarte