Keila Alaver, Sem título, 2000

Past/Future/Present, exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, is more than a commemorative exhibition. Conceived amid the celebrations of 70 years of creation of the museum and originally created two years ago to present the institution collection for the public of Atlanta (it is worth noting that it was the first exhibition of the MAM in North American territory), the selection offers an interesting opportunity to enjoy and reflect on important aspects of contemporary Brazilian art.

The criterion adopted by the curators Cauê Alves and Vanessa Davidson is neither chronological nor thematic. The 72 works selected for the Brazilian version, which occupy the main hall of the museum until April 21, were not chosen with the purpose of narrating or illustrating an official history of the national art nor presenting a particular trajectory of the collection. The plastic, conceptual or poetic power of the work, as well as its ability to connect with other parts of the selection, seem to have been the most important criteria of choice. This is already evident in the first work, “Notes on a Burning Scene”, by José Damasceno. This seductive panel, which recreates with hundreds of yellow pencils, the perspective image of a silhouette watching a screen, immediately arouses the sympathy of the public, as witness the frequent smile on the physiognomy of the visitors. Apprehension and formal creativity, capacity for synthesis and appropriation of unusual materials and procedures are among the preponderant aspects of this work and that echo throughout the exhibition.

As an organizing structure, the exhibition is subdivided into five blocks: The body/The social body; Mutable identities; Reimagined landscape; Impossible objects; and the Reinvention of monochrome. But such segmentation is quite porous, as the curators say already in the presentation. Thus, the same work is often linked to more than one core and often serves as a driving element between one and the other. This is the case, for example, of the sculpture/installation in marble of Laura Vinci, that makes a smooth transition between the block dedicated to the landscape and the one that presents / displays a series of investigations on the monochrome.

This segment dedicated to works that explore the power of color not in its diversity, but in its purest formal essence, is one of the most interesting of the exhibition. And not only because it brings together important works by quite different authors, such as Rosangela Rennó and Antonio Manuel. But also because it seems subtly to indicate that the attempt to associate Brazilian art with the generous and abundant use of colors would reiterate stereotypes and that one must look at the most different aspects of an art research without reducing the researches to a single central reason such as conceptual research or political engagement. Curiously, this nucleus brings together the largest number of abstract works of the show, indicating that the separation between figuration and abstraction – which marked the history of the museum in its early days – has lost its relevance today.

The identity notion, when thought broadly, seems to be the one that stands out the most in the selection and constitutes a central element to think contemporary production. Whether in the use of the body as an element of creation, or in a reinvention/investigation of the landscape as a place of synthesis of an idea of ​​nationality that always escapes through the fingers. It is interesting to note how it is present in the most distinct investigations. There’s a strong presence of works that depart from the representation or investigation of the human body as an element of creation, such as the series of videos by Lenora de Barros about the artist’s image, the touching feet with sores recreated by Efraim Almeida or even in the already classic work 50 Hours, Autorretrato Roubado, by Rochelle Costi made in the early 1990’s. But identity reflection is also present in another type of plastic investigation, as in the ironic installation Cortina de Vento – which plays with the stereotype of the Brazilian landscape as a tropical paradise filled with coconut palms – or even in the iconic series of postcards where Anna Bella Geiger contrasts images of Indians and Westerners, showing how fragile and thought-provoking is the native vs. foreign opposition.

With works created mostly in the 1990’s and 2000’s, the exhibition carefully mixes works already well-known to the public and lesser-known productions, enabling pleasant re-encounters or new surprises. In this relationship between greater and lesser visibility, another question is suggested that seems interesting to take into account: the relation of mutual dependence between artists and museums and a diminution of the own capacity of institutions like the MAM to expand their collections. There are several ways in which the collection can be seen, but – as you can see on the identification labels – the importance of donations, whether made by companies, collectors or by the artist himself, is unquestionable.

Confirming this feeling, is the exhibition that the museum dedicates to the new acquisitions of its collection, that can be seen in the Paulo Figueiredo Room. It is clear how increasingly partnerships are fundamental to expanding the capacity of museums and filling the gaps of their collection.

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