Published  14/09/2001

Experiment Experiencia: Art in Brazil 1958-2000

Experiment Experiencia: Art in Brazil 1958–2000

Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, through 21 October 2001.

The Brazil of the start of this period was scarcely realised in the recent Tate Modern extravaganza ‘Century City’, other than in the seductive notes of the Bossa Nova Rhythm. The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford has in its typical manner sought to have explored this cultural saga more deeply and more perceptively.

Despite all the evident energy displayed to represent this impossibly long single perspective (and perhaps predictably), much of Brazil’s representative work of the period appears to be fundamentally derivative. For example, Sergio Camara’s constructions reveal Lucio Fontana’s influence. And Helio Oitica’s brightly congregating rectilinear flashes of colour offer a direct reference to Malevich. Yet modernism seems to be commuted into an evolutionary constructivism if anything, lacking in any collective manifesto, speaking through various individual artists, rather than via any organised teaching or critical apparatus. In the later l960s, it seems that the world of Arte Povera was extending its influence through the media. ‘I’m Crazy About You’, an emblematic double bed by Antonio Manuel, seems to prefigure Tracey Emin’s far better known archetypal pit.

What emerges, despite an apparent absence of real contextual narrative, in the whole exhibition, is an ethical, socially aware art, through to the l990s, when across the world, a wave of consumerist, cyber-spatial determinism set in. Sure, there is something called Brazilian Art, and apart from this exhibition, this year will see four more exhibitions precipitated on the subject. Indeed, all this follows on not only from the now defunct Century City, (Rio de Janeiro section, Tate Modern), but also the exhibition of homoerotic art at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, where Brazilian artists seem exceptionally well represented too, in the current show, ‘Un Art Populaire’.

But what of the years of political and intellectual repression in Brazil? Where is the powerful work of Cildo Meireles? Is stamping slogans of an anti-governmental nature on banknotes too antithetical for today’s curatorial consumerism? Where are the tragic human clumps of Arthur Barrio? History is here being rewritten, and such works disappear. So is this proliferation of Brazilian art on show part of an organised revision of those years of persecution, encouraging amnesia? Or else is all this just a mere coincidence, that art as elsewhere is good for export? We will see.



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