In April 1970, at the outdoor exhibition Do Corpo à Terra - PDF

The Salão da Bússola (1969) and Do Corpo à Terra (1970): Parallel Developments in Brazilian and International Art Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University Résumé Les artistes

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The Salão da Bússola (1969) and Do Corpo à Terra (1970): Parallel Developments in Brazilian and International Art Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University Résumé Les artistes brésiliens des années 1960 et 1970 se sont profondément investis dans leur propre contribution au modernisme, notamment par rapport aux modèles européens qui avaient fasciné leur milieu culturel dès les années Répondant à l appel d Oswald de Andrade, qui dans son Manifesto Antropófago (1928) conseillait aux artistes brésiliens de dévorer les sources matérielles importées afin de créer un art unique à leur pays, les artistes et critiques brésiliens de cette époque tentent de redéfinir leur relation avec l art moderne international. Cet article examine deux expositions fondamentales. La première, le Salão da Bússola (1969) annonce l émergence de «l anti-art», caractérisé par la performance corporelle et l usage de matériaux «pauvres». La seconde, Do Corpo à Terra (1970) définit encore plus clairement la réponse brésilienne aux mouvements bourgeonnants de l art «post-atelier» tels que arte povera, process art, et land art. Les efforts des conservateurs ainsi que la réponse critique envers ces expositions révèlent l intention délibérée de positionner ces expériences par rapport non seulement aux artistes contemporains tel que Jan Dibbets, mais aussi aux artistes de l avant-garde historique tels que Kurt Schwitters et Kazimir Malevitch. En réagissant simultanément à l héritage de l avant-garde européenne et aux préoccupations locales contemporaines, les artistes brésiliens de cette époque ont effectivement répondu à l appel d Andrade en créant un art né au Brésil dans une démarche parallèle à celle de l art international. In April 1970, at the outdoor exhibition Do Corpo à Terra (From Body to Earth), the people of Belo Horizonte witnessed Cildo Meireles burn live chickens at the stake, Artur Barrio throw burlap sacks filled with raw meat and trash into an open sewer, and Décio Noviello detonate grenades of coloured smoke. Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, was considered provincial by comparison with São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the larger metropolitan centres of the Brazilian art world. Unsurprisingly, these violent actions were the cause of significant controversy among state officials; six years earlier a coup d état had placed the country under military rule, severely limiting the freedom of expression of its citizens. Defending the artists in question, critic Mari Stella Tristão, a co-organizer of the exhibition, wrote, For the first time in the history of the Plastic Arts in Minas, we are walking parallel to national and international movements. We are breaking the taboo that our mountains limit us and close us off. 1 Although such daring actions offended official sensibilities, Brazilian artists had been producing art that paralleled international trends for quite some time. 2 In 1922, the Semana de Arte Moderna (Week of Modern Art) introduced to São Paulo a modernism conversant with European art. In response, the poet Oswald de Andrade wrote his 1928 Manifesto Antropófago ( Anthropophagite Manifesto ), 3 which famously argued that artists in Brazil should aggressively devour imported source material to create something unique to their country. Following in this spirit, theorists of Brazilian culture have long sought to define their own relation to foreign art, often wavering between engagement and avoidance. By mid-century, critics worked in a context in which international modernism was quite prominent: there were now several modern art institutions with strong international ties, most importantly, the São Paulo Biennial, founded in 1951, the second oldest after that of Venice. In 1970 the artist Hélio Oiticica responded to Andrade with a manifesto of his own, Brasil Diarréa ( Brazil Diarrhea ). 4 In it he challenged conservative cultural critics paternalistic embracing of folkloric art and rejection of universal tendencies present in foreign art. Instead, Oiticica promoted experimentation above all, effectively updating anthropophagism for a younger generation of artists who opted for post-studio (or anti-art ) practices that intersected with arte povera, conceptualism, land art, and process art. 5 Oiticica is best known for his contributions to the Neoconcrete movement of the late 1950s, into which he and colleagues including Lygia Clark injected a geometric abstraction with an organic dynamism that pushed the object into real space. These experiments culminated in participatory experiences and immersive environments that often utilized ready-made and easily accessible materials. Their work greatly impacted younger Brazilian artists, and their legacy would also resonate with the new media work seen in the late 1960s in catalogues for international exhibitions such as Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form that were widely circulated in Brazil. 6 This large-scale exhibition in particular included artists contributions from New York, Los Angeles, London, Amsterdam, Rome, and the cities of Northern Italy, but also from less expected locations such as Wisconsin and Kerala, India. It was representative of the new mobility afforded by emerging trends, which allowed artists to reconceive artistic production and distribution nomadically. In spite of Brazil s long history of transnational exchange, a historiographic lacuna emerged in the decades following the 1970s that prevented this generation from gaining proper appreciation abroad. Indeed, narratives forged in North American and European centres have long misunderstood or ignored the contributions of Latin American artists. The result, as epitomized by Mari Carmen Ramírez s influential essay Blueprint Circuits: Conceptual Art and Politics in Latin America, has been that the contributions of Latin American artists have been segregated and extolled on their own rather than incorporated into a larger history. The stark division that Ramírez created 109 RACAR XXXVIII Number between Latin American conceptualism, which she characterized as ideological, and European and North American conceptualism, which she saw as endemically formalist, obfuscated the possibility of any intersection. 7 This ideological component is often attributed to the dictatorships under which many artists in Latin America have worked, and, as I will suggest, many Brazilian artists did utilize metaphor to allude to the political situation in their country. Yet, a purely segregationist approach obscures significant moments of exchange between the Americas and Europe. 8 The effects of the conditions of dictatorship on artistic production have been addressed recently in thoughtful detail and thus will not be considered here in depth, 9 but there is one point at which they are particularly instructive. Many artists responded to the oppressive conditions in their country by looking outward, through strategies explored below; by the same token, many foreign artists who experimented with emerging trends responded likewise to the social upheavals of the late 1960s, such as the May 1968 protests in Paris and resistance to US involvement in Vietnam, complicating the correlation between geographic origins and ideology. Just as it is necessary to dispense with totalizing ideologybased polarities between art from Latin America and art from the United States and Europe, more attention must be paid to the specificity of critiques of Latin American artists and critics. This is especially the case in relation to Third Worldism, a Cold War-era political movement in the developing world that sought to promote national liberation and economic development. In terms of cultural production, the writings of Frantz Fanon proved to be the most influential throughout Latin America, especially in confronting legacies of colonialism. 10 The Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha reflected this influence in his manifesto An Aesthetic of Hunger (1965), which lauded the revolutionary power of an aesthetic of violence to inspire action and effect transformation. 11 The implications of these theories for the visual arts can be seen in Artur Barrio s Manifesto (1970). Here Barrio advocated for a Third World aesthetic through the use of perishable, cheap materials to cast his work in confrontation with economic hierarchies. 12 While rejecting neo-imperialism, Brazilian artists nevertheless saw themselves as heirs to the international modernist tradition. Indeed, it was because of this shared interest in European avant-garde movements that Brazilian artists can be seen as having a parallel relationship to those artists in North America and Europe who likewise revived aspects of the earlier twentiethcentury vanguard projects. In considering how Brazilian artists and critics of the late 1960s and early 1970s explored their relationship to art produced in artistic centres, I will argue that Brazilian art at this time, far from being conceived in isolation, at once informed and was informed by art produced in such centres. Using two exhibitions as case studies, I will argue that these artists updated Andrade s strategies to explore their own relationships to international movements in a time of increased mobility, simultaneously allowing for political and economic critique that responded to local conditions. Indeed, aided by the flexibility afforded by new media and alternative modes of dissemination, many Brazilian artists exhibited in international shows alongside participants from other countries. Most notably, curator Kynaston McShine included several of these artists in Information, an early exhibition of conceptualism at New York s Museum of Modern Art in the summer of This exhibition demonstrated what most scholarly literature has since ignored that the development of trends such as conceptualism was a dialogue whereby artists from North America and Europe were concurrently exposed to Brazilian art as well as vice versa. Salão da Bússola The watershed exhibition Salão da Bússola (Salon of the Compass) took place between 5 November and 14 December 1969 at the Museu de Arte Moderna-Rio de Janeiro. The advertising firm Aroldo Araújo Propaganda sponsored the Salão to celebrate the company s fifth anniversary and to promote advancements in communications theories and the use of industrial materials in the visual arts. The exhibition s subtitle, Comunicação e Desafio ( Communication and Challenge ), reflected such ideals. Araújo offered, in addition to the standard acquisition prizes, a research prize that would encourage the integration of industry and the arts through internships in various industrial fields that allowed artists to work with plastic and synthetic fibres. 13 In line with the firm s institutional mission, the organizers also encouraged research in the communications fields, particularly following the tenets of Marshall McLuhan, whose influential book The Medium is the Massage was published in Portuguese that year. 14 As touted by the show s promotional material, What Aroldo Araújo Propaganda wants to show with the evidence of the displayed works is that folklore and technology can coexist. The craftsman with the purity and spontaneity of his creations and the manipulator of cybernetic data are two useful components of the social organism in which they act. 15 The workshops that accompanied the exhibition emphasized these goals. Notable among them was Creation and Communication in the Society of the Masses, given by the poet Décio Pignatari, a co-founder with Augusto and Haroldo do Campos of the Concrete poetry movement and the translator of McLuhan s Understanding Media into Portuguese. 16 These workshops also demonstrated the international orientation of the exhibition: the participants in The Integration of the Artist within Technology were Mário Pedrosa from Brazil, Jorge Romero 110 BRODBECK The Salão da Bússola (1969) and Do Corpo à Terra (1970) Figure 1. Cildo Meireles, Espaços Virtuais (Virtual Spaces), from Cantos (Corners) series, Wood, canvas, paint, woodblock, flooring, x 185 x 135 cm. Rio de Janeiro, Museu de Arte Moderna (Photo: Vicente de Mello). 111 RACAR XXXVIII Number Figure 2. Antonio Manuel, Soy Loco por ti (I Am Crazy for You), Wood, cloth, plastic, grass, rope. Collection of the artist (Photo: Romulo Fialdini). 112 BRODBECK The Salão da Bússola (1969) and Do Corpo à Terra (1970) Brest from Argentina, and Pierre Restany from France. Pedrosa, an influential critic who played a vital role in the development of Neoconcretism in Rio, wrote on happenings in Brazil. Romero Brest, who had been a juror at Documenta IV in Kassel the previous year, was the director of the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella (ITDT), which advocated for Argentine art at home and abroad, often with connections to pop art and happenings. Restany was responsible for promoting the Nouveaux réalistes, a group of French artists who shared affinities with the Brazilian New Figuration tradition, a loosely defined movement of artists who returned to the figure, often incorporating social critique and humour into their kitsch representations of Brazilian life. He would become an active participant in the Brazilian art scene, contributing to exhibition catalogues, participating in museum debates, and even embarking on an artistic voyage with Sepp Baendereck and Frans Krajcberg down the Rio Negro in The presence of these international figures, however, also signalled a divergence from the intended themes of the exhibition. In the fall of 1969, Pedrosa and Restany joined forces to spearhead an international boycott of the São Paulo Biennial in protest of the military police s decision earlier that year to shut down an exhibition out of which the Brazilian delegation to the Paris Biennial would have been selected. This incited artists to send their works to the Salão instead, 18 even though they had little to do with the exhibition s stated goals. They at once radicalized the bodily and anti-art qualities of Neoconcretism and rejected a strictly national allegiance. Consider Cildo Meireles s Nowhere Is My Home (1969; fig. 1), for which he won the grand prize, a travel scholarship to London and New York. Part of the Cantos (Corners) series, this sculptural environment comprised sheets of wood and plaster painted to mimic the corner of a room, complete with a parquet floor. A noticeable misalignment between the two walls created a surreal space beyond the corner. 19 The work represents an extension of the Neoconcretists interest in perception and phenomenology, but Meireles s choice of the evocative English title Nowhere Is My Home suggests a rootlessness. It was intended as a pun on the conceptual painting series by contemporary Antonio Dias, Anywhere Is My Land. 20 Reflecting its title, the domestic nature of Cantos and the ultimate impossibility of penetrating the closed space lent the work metaphoric resonances during a time in which artists felt it ever more impossible to create freely in Brazil. Indeed, both Dias and Meireles would live in exile, the latter relocating to New York from 1971 to Similarly, Antonio Manuel exhibited a neo-figurative work, Soy Loco por ti (I Am Crazy for You; fig. 2), that resembled both a rejection of nationalism and a socio-political critique. The Spanish title, borrowed from a song recorded by Caetano Veloso in 1968, 21 reflects the piece s continental connections: the work is composed of a red map of South America painted on a black background, which was then covered with a black sheet and positioned above a bed of grass. Viewers could lift the sheet with a dangling cord to reveal the map. Although the work had ludic connotations, it nevertheless proved to be controversial. 22 Amidst claims that the black covering cloth and the red map of South America referred respectively to the anarchist and communist flags, the exhibition sponsors debated whether or not to remove the work. As a safeguard against any potential backlash from the military censors, they screened it for offensive content through an army general and a Catholic priest. Manuel, who felt uneasy with the political climate in Brazil, proposed to give up the work in exchange for a round-trip ticket to Paris or London, where Oiticica had been living. Ultimately it was accepted into the exhibition and won a top prize, and Manuel stayed in Rio. Manuel s willingness to exchange his work for travel abroad can be interpreted as a sign of the frustration felt by the artist living with the constant threat of censorship of his works, which indeed had also been targeted in the 1969 pre-paris Biennial shutdown. By including a sheet that serves to veil the map, Manuel parodied the very act of censorship. Moreover, as scholars have pointed out, Manuel s work also addressed US neoimperialism in much the same manner as the song that gave the work its name. 23 This can be seen in the artist s use of so-called poor materials (the grass bed, for instance), which was formally indebted to the Neoconcretist tradition. Manuel recalls: The exhibition lasted two months, so the grass bed started to get rotten and exhale a bad odor, which, for me, made sense: it was Latin America itself exhaling its decomposition. 24 The powerful resonances of perishable materials were also exploited in Artur Barrio s contribution to the exhibition, Situação ORHHH T.E EM N.Y City 1969 (Situation ORHHH 5,000 B.B IN N.Y City 1969, 1969; fig. 3). This work was the first in his Situação (Situation) series, in which Barrio dumped burlap sacks filled with abject and often bloody materials (what he called bloody bundles ) in the museums, streets, and waterways of major Brazilian cities. In this first Situação, Barrio placed provisional bundles composed of newspaper, aluminum foam, and raw meat in the museum s gallery. He then invited spectators to throw their garbage into the bundles and even to scribble curse words on them. Viewers were also encouraged to discard money along with their garbage, a critique of the nation s monetary policy that would be echoed in Meireles s Inserções em Circuitos Ideologicos (Insertions into Ideological Circuits; ). 25 The reference to New York in the work s title tellingly points to another centre of global economic power. After exhibiting his bundles for one month, Barrio moved them to the sculpture garden, placing them on the concrete pedestals reserved for high art. This move into public space 113 RACAR XXXVIII Number Figure 3. Artur Barrio, Situação ORHHH T.E EM N.Y City 1969 (Situation ORHHH 5,000 B.B IN N.Y City 1969), Installation view at Museu de Arte Moderna-Rio de Janeiro. Paper bag with newspapers, aluminum foil, bag of cement, garbage. São Paulo, Galeria Millan (Photo: César Carneiro). provoked the military police, who, after demanding and receiving confirmation that the bundles belonged to the museum, nonetheless destroyed them. A more explicit exploration of the relationship between art and landscape can be seen in Territórios (Territories), a pioneering work executed by Luciano Gusmão, Dilton Araújo, and Lotus Lobo. For this initial version of the piece, which they originally wanted to perform in the museum s sculpture garden, the artists placed plastic, acrylic, and aluminum sheets in the vegetation of the Aterro do Flamengo, Rio s largest park. The wind was so strong that the work was destroyed. 26 I will return to Territórios below; here one need only note how it exemplifies a more explicit dialogue with emergent post-studio practices such as land art in much the same manner as Barrio s Situação series. Even work that explored regional concerns such as an interest in Third Worldism was recognized by critics for its resonance with contemporary international practices. Writing in the Jornal do Comércio, Thomas Cohn c
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