t was in the late 1970s that two art students, upon entering a gallery, realized that art is not just about creation. “What caught our attention the most was the price of labor. It was a totally unrealistic business, the reality of Brazil at that time. It is not possible, it does not cost that, it must be wrong!”, says Luiz Zerbini, today ironically one of the most expensive Brazilian artists, remembering his visit with José Leonilson to an Antonio Dias show (1944-2018).
The statement, however, serves as a preamble to the friendship that would eventually develop between Leonilson (1957-1993) and Dias in Milan shortly thereafter. These bonds were so strong that, decades later, the valuable artist would buy works by his friend, who was prematurely deceased as a result of AIDS, making possible today the exhibition Leonilson by Antonio Dias – Profile of a collection, which from November 11 and December 14 is on display at Pinakotheke São Paulo (Ministro Nelson Hungria Street, 200), after passing by the Rio de Janeiro headquarters.
If it all started with the shock of high values, as Zerbini tells in the exhibition catalog, it was in the fall of 1981 that Leonilson would indeed meet Antonio Dias at his home in Milan, on the recommendation of another Brazilian, Arthur Luiz Piza (1928 – 2017), who lived in Paris.
In another statement in the show’s catalog, now by Paola Chieregato, she tells how Dias influenced the then young artist who had just arrived at his home in Milan, who was ready to return to Jericoacoara. of the arms. “It was there, in that house in Milan in front of the castle, that Leonilson was propelled by his mentor to finally take the reins of his profession as an artist in his own hands and thus, with courage and determination, was performing on the Italian scene”, says Paola, widow of Dias.
It was in this context that he nominated the gallery of Enzo Cannaviello to Leonilson, who bought his works and inserted it in some shows, besides the father of Transvanguarda, Achille Bonito Oliva. The friendship strengthened and even Antonio Dias living in Europe both met regularly. A letter of May 3, 1993, sent shortly before Leonilson’s death, shows Dias’s appreciation for his friend, speaking of two works by Leonilson that he had brought to his permanent residence in Cologne, Germany: “Now, I think on you every day. (…) I would love to see you again and say that I really like to have you as a friend”.
There was no time, but after Leonilson’s death, Dias began to pursue his work, especially those sold in Milan, with the help of Paola, the “gold digger,” as he called her. The exhibition at Pinakotheke brings together 38 drawings and paintings from Antonio Dias’ collection, an exhibition that was planned in 2015, when Antonio Dias was preparing his solo show at Galeria Multiarte, in Fortaleza. Four works belonging to other private collections complement the exhibition.
It is, therefore, a somewhat unknown facet of Leonilson, taking into account the recent shows dedicated to him in Brazil, a clipping of his early career, with most of the works coming from 1981 and 1982. There is only an embroidery from the 1990s, for example, a technique that gives it greater projection and recognition, especially for the autobiographical character it gives to its later years.
The works in the show are more experimental, such as a colored paper polyptych, which even resemble certain works by Antonio Dias himself. On the other hand, the sculpture Ponte, from 1982, already has an image that will recur in his career.
The works on display actually have a joy, which contrasts with the melancholy of the end of his career, partly as seen by the tone of the tapes left by the artist. In this recorded diary, which generated two films, Leonilson projects an image contested by Zerbini in the catalog, which led him to plan the destruction of the tapes, together with Antonio Dias: “We thought, and I think, that they propagate an image that does not correspond to reality. Leonilson was one of the funniest, smartest, and fastest thinking people I have ever met. Owner of a rasping, cruel humor”. And Zerbini concludes that “the suffering caused by the disease should not contaminate his work, but, for that, we should not reflect, overvalue the moment when he appears most fragile”.