Saturday 5 May 2018

“Lindonéia, the suburb’s Gioconda”: my first visit to the Pinacoteca of São Paulo

"Lindonéia, the suburb's Gioconda", Rubens Gerchman, Pinacoteca de São Paulo  (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

“Na frente do espelho
Sem que ninguém a visse
Lindonéia desaparecida
Despedaçados, atropelados
Cachorros mortos nas ruas
Policiais vigiando
O sol batendo nas frutas
Ai, meu amor
A solidão vai me matar de dor (...)”

Caetano Veloso, “Lindonéia”

One thing I noticed right from my first visits to the museums of São Paulo (Brazil) was that long introductory texts are greatly appreciated. The exhibition "Brazilian Vanguard of the 1960s – the Roger Wright Collection", at the Pinacoteca of São Paulo, was no exception.

A text signed by José Augusto Ribeiro (Department of Research and Curatorship) seeks to provide the visitor with some references so that one may enjoy the works on display. Clearly, however, the visitor in mind was the one who could give meaning to statements such as "manifestations of non-conformity, contrary to authorities and officialities - in resistance to the repressive situation of the political regime and in the distraction of the artistic categories, whether theater, cinema, music, literature "; and also to terms like "concrete and neo-concrete art ", “anti-art expressions", "French nouveau réalisme " (see here some texts). After reading six paragraphs, which left the "visitor-who-was-not-in-the-curator’s-mind-at-the-time-of-writing" with a vague idea about the invitation addressed to him (or none at all), one enters the exhibition only to be confronted with the usual kind of exhibition labels: those that identify the artist’s name, the title of the work and the materials it was made of.

Lindonéia made me stop. Or rather, the label that accompanied her made me stop: "Lindonéia, the suburb's Gioconda". I had a better look at the serigraphy on the wall. Above the portrait one reads: "An impossible love." Beneath it, "Beautiful 18-year-old Lindonéia died instantly." With the little knowledge I have of this history, the portrait made me think of photographs of missing persons persecuted by latin-american dictatorships. There was nothing else in the exhibibition about this piece. I talked to the guards, they regretted the lack of information, they told me about a woman the artist was in love with and also that Caetano Veloso wrote a song about her. My curiosity was increasing, but clearly the exhibition was not going to satisfy it. The guards advised me to consult a digital post at the corner of the room. It did not have information about the works, but even if it had, in the context of a visit to an exhibition, I prefer to learn something more about the piece that interests me standing in front of it, and not at a corner, away from it. The guards were also kind enough to call a person from the museum's education department. Our colleague kindly apologised for the fact that there was no one available to accompany me and showed me the information the museum gives the teachers, so they can prepare their field trips. Despite the kindness and concern of these people, though, I left the exhibition without knowing anything else about Lindonéia. Once away from the work and the Pinacoteca, I was able to learn a little more, thanks to the materials that the Pinacoteca colleagues gave me, and I was also able to hear the song.

Hilma af Klint, Pinacoteca de São Paulo (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

The experience was rather different in the following exhibition, "Hilma af Klint: possible worlds", the first exhibition of the work of this Swedish artist, which I didn’t know, in Latin America. The introductory text, signed by the curator and current Pinacoteca director Jochen Volz, aroused my curiosity with references to the career of a woman artist born in 1862, her connection to spiritual movements that influenced her art, the creation in secret of 193 works that make up the series "The Paintings for the Temple", which were never publicly exhibited; and the artist's request that her spiritual works be kept secret for at least 20 years after her death. In this exhibition, I found two types of text, side by side: those written by the curator and those written by the education department. I did not always understand the references contained in the former and sometimes I felt uncomfortable with what I considered to be a rather too didactic way of conduct my gaze in the latter (see here
). However, with what I managed to pick up from the combination of the two, I was able to leran about and appreciate the work of Hilma af Klint and the mysterious and fascinating "Friday Group".

But, the best was yet to come, in the permanent exhibition.

"América", Stephen Kessler, Pinacoteca de São Paulo (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

Art in dialogue: observing images and relating ideas
is an initiative of the educatione department of the Pinacoteca, which places contemporary works in the permanent exhibition and invites us to enjoy them in association with works from the museum’s permanent collection. I particularly liked the room "The National in Art", where one reads: "The need to define a national character for the arts in Brazil was the main issue that emerged in the cultural field after the creation of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts of Rio de Janeiro. To be genuinely Brazilian, art should be guided by the representation of themes proper to the history of the country. At the same time, it should be based on the beauty standards and parameters of excellence established as universal by European academies. The exuberance and the variety of the Brazilian nature appear as indispensable aspects of this characterisation, as well as the indigenous person, transformed into a romance, opera and painting character."

Cláudia Varejão, Pinacoteca de São Paulo (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

In this room, we are invited to reflect on the work "America" ​​by Stephan Kessler and a photograph by Cláudia Varejão. We can read on the panel: "How are indigenous people presented in the two works? Both works present the perceptions of foreign artists about the indigenous people of the American continent, but in a very different way, especially when we consider their contexts and forms of production" (for a start, Kessler never traveled to America, while Cláudia Varejão lived with Brazilian indigenous peoples). In this same room, the Pinacoteca invites the visitor to look around, to look for other elements that could be considered aspects of Brazilian identity. And it asks: "Do you personally identify with some of these elements?" (see images here

Pinacoteca de São Paulo (Photo: Maria Vlachou)
Just before entering this room, the conversation between a member of the education department with a group of teenagers made me slow down, I felt like listening a bit. They were standing in front of another contemporary piece from Art in Dialogue, young people reflecting together with someone "like them". I think the speech of that young man - informed, sensitive, passionate, contemporary, fluid - and the expression on the face of some of those teenagers was what touched me the most at the Pinacoteca. It made me think "This is what makes museums so special. We need more of this. Why don’t we have it?" 

In fact, even after the Pinacoteca, what struck me in my visits to several museums in São Paulo was the diversity I found in the teams: more specifically, among explainers, guards, people working at the ticket office. Those museums’ “faces” reflected the faces we see in the street. And even those we pretend we don’t see. How many museums can claim to be proud of this?

Pinacoteca de São Paulo (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

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