Museum of Modern Art (Foto: Divulgação)

What is new at MoMA and how Brazilian artists are inserted

14 Nov 2019, 6:03 pm

The MoMA, Museum of Modern Art in New York, is a spearhead for art museums around the world, or at least is working like never before to maintain its leading position in the arts system. The museum’s power of influence does not occur only in the administrative sphere, whose management and capitalization model is seen as the ideal of governance to be followed, but mainly in the symbolic field.

Since its foundation, with the hand of the American art historian and critic Alfred Barr, the star institution has contributed to fixating an exclusive and linear imagery of art history in its shift towards modernity, properly fitting American artistic production in the current European narrative based on avant-garde artistic movements. Ninety years after the inauguration of MoMA, society is deeply impacted by other socio-cultural paradigms – not to mention political ones. Given this scenario, how should a museum, therefore, be projected for the future?

In October 2019, MoMA reopened its doors after a major renovation. The museum’s physical space grew by 30%, opening new galleries and repairing a certain sense of distance from the city due to its last refurbishment, in 2004. In addition, the permanent collection is now reorganized based on key themes, escaping the “isms” through the inclusion of works and artists (women, for example) that challenge and update the classic categories of art for the massive audience of the museum.

Check out the list of Brazilian artists and works that participate in this rewriting, and that heat up the debates around the new museum:

Above: Museum of Modern Art (Photo: Publicity)

"A Lua" (1928), Tarsila do Amaral (Foto: MoMA / Divulgação)

"A Lua" [The Moon] (1928), Tarsila do Amaral

(Photo: MoMA / Publicity)

1880s–1940s Collection

The “Paris 1920s” wing frames the resumption of the artistic and cosmopolitan atmosphere of the French capital after the First World War. This part of the collection now boasts “A Lua” [The Moon] (1928), one of Tarsila do Amaral‘s most hypnotic canvases. The painter circulated in the same artistic circles of the City of Light as her peers in the great room at MoMA, such as Fernand Léger, Constantin Brancusi and Pablo Picasso, and it no longer makes sense to reduce the condition of the Brazilian artist to an apprentice of the time: she already had performed and impressed Paris in 1926, and held a second solo show in the city in the year she made “A Lua”. Now raised to a more balanced level, Tarsila’s work can be enjoyed with the attention it deserves, at this Brazilian crossroads between surrealism and cubism. The canvas was acquired by the museum in 2019 for $ 20 million – the most expensive financial transaction for Brazilian art ever.

"O impossível III" (1946), Maria Martins (Foto: MoMA / Divulgação)

"O impossível III" [The Impossible III] (1946), Maria Martins (Photo: MoMA / Publicity)

Still de "Passagens 1" (1974), de Anna Bella Geiger (Foto: MoMA / Divulgação)
"Abstraction" (1949), Geraldo de Barros (Photo: MoMA / Publicity)

Still from "Passagens 1" [Passages 1] (1974), by Anna Bella Geiger (Photo: MoMA / Publicity)

1940s–1970s Collection

This period inaugurated a new arrangement of forces in the world spun by the Cold War and, already in that context, a chronological vision for art became obsolete. That is, it was no longer possible to deduce that an artistic movement ends organically and inevitably with the next one: the experiments and ruptures with artistic traditions and modernity happened in a scattered and simultaneous way. In this sense, Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape were essential for the expansion of the concept of art. The artists are, respectively, in the nuclei “Architecture Systems” and “In and Out of Paris”, although they are categories that sound out of place when we characterize them. Also in this part of the collection are the artists Miguel Rio Branco, Sérgio Camargo and Mira Schendel.

Maria Martins established a career as an artist in the USA between 1939 and 1948, very close to the Dadaists and Surrealists who moved to America during and after World War II. The condition of immigrant allowed the artist to develop a sculptural work less connected to national projects, even though certain Brazilian subjects crossed her deeply. Martins experimented with plaster, bronze, wood, from figuration to abstraction, always in intense exchange with colleagues of the avant-garde. Her best-known work, “O impossível” [The Impossible] is a fundamental piece for Brazilian art. Regarding the work, the artist stated: “The world is complicated and sad, it is almost impossible for people to understand each other”.

Anna Bella Geiger also lived in the USA in 1954 and 1969, first as a student and then as a teacher. From this second stay in New York, Geiger brought to Brazil a “Portapak”, one of the first portable video technologies available on the market that aroused immediate curiosity among artists of the time. “Passagem I”, by Anna Bella Geiger, is the pioneer video art of Brazil, marking our transition to even more experimental practices of conceptual art.

It is worth mentioning Gertrudes Altschul, Gaspar Gasparian and Geraldo de Barros: the Brazilian photography of the 1940s and 1950s, marked by geometric abstraction and the innovative use of analog cameras, constituted a singular and quite representative group of our modernism’s sophistication.

"Caderno de referência no. 70" (2000), Hudinilson Jr. (Foto: MoMA / Divulgação)
"Lung" (1987), Jac Leirner (Foto: MoMA / Divulgação)

"Caderno de referência no. 70" [Reference Notebook no. 70] (2000), Hudinilson Jr. (Photo: MoMA / Publicity)

"Lung" (1987), Jac Leirner (Photo: MoMA / Publicity)

1970s–Present Collection

“In the 1970s and 1980s, while new technologies aided the unprecedented global circulation of goods and information, artists and activists across Latin America turned to do-it-yourself and “lo-fi” means to disseminate their own work,” says the text in the section “Print, Fold, Send”, which brings together works by Brazilians like Paulo Bruscky, Eduardo Kac and the Brazil-based Argentinian León Ferrari.

With an individual show scheduled for 2020 at Estação Pinacoteca, Hudinilson Jr.‘s legacy has yet to be reviewed and recontextualized. Many of his works combine the performance act with xerography and postal art, making the use of the media more complex based on reflections on the male body and self-representation. Over the years, he has accumulated several notebooks with photographs and illustrations of men cut out from magazines and newspapers, in which the sensuality, eroticism and cliché of male nudes stand out.

In 2019, Jac Leirner was the first South American artist to receive the Wolfgang Hahn award from the Ludwig museum in Germany. The recognition comes in the wake of her wide international trajectory, which started in the 1990s at the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis (USA), today with works in the collections of more than twenty institutions outside Brazil, such as Reina Sofía (ESP), the Guggenheim Museum (USA) and the Tate Modern (UK). Jac works with the appropriation and reframing of banal objects, from the world of art or not, which are collected over the years and then formalized in a serialized manner, addressing acidly aspects of the globalized consumer society and the role of art in these circuits.

Exposição "Sur moderno" no MoMA (Foto: MoMA / Divulgação)
"Work of Days" (1998), Rivane Neuenschwander (Foto: MOMA/Divulgação)

Exhibition "Sur moderno" at MoMA (Photo: MoMA / Publicity)

"Work of Days" (1998), Rivane Neuenschwander (Photo: MOMA/Publicity)

Bonus: “Sur Moderno” and “Surrounds”

It is also worth mentioning the exhibition “Sur Moderno: Journeys of Abstraction”, which presents the collection of Venezuelan Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, who in the last 25 years has donated more than two hundred works to the MoMA. It is a powerful sample of the development of geometric abstraction that for many years characterized the spirit of artistic and political renewal in Latin America. Among the Brazilians, the following stand out: Amilcar de Castro, Hércules Barsotti, Willys de Castro, Waldemar Cordeiro, Luiz Sacilotto, Abraham Palatnik, among others.

The “Surrounds” exhibition also features eleven important installations from the museum’s collection. The artist Rivane Neuenschwander is alongside famous artists, such as Arthur Jafa and Hito Steyerl, presenting the work “Work of Days” – a 1998 installation that represents the passage of time and the fragility of matter.

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