Organizers of São Paulo’s 24th Bienal are expecting that
450,000 will be drawn by the international art mixing that will be open until December 13.
Among the artists being shown: René Magritte, Francis Bacon, Vincent van Gogh together
with national treasures Tarsila do Amaral, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark.
By Émerson Luís
Bishop Sardinha, a character from the early Brazilian history, whose main claim to fame
derives from the fact that he was eaten by Brazilian cannibals is the great inspiration
for the just-opened 24th Biennial in São Paulo, the world’s third most important art
exhibit, just behind the Venice Biennial from Italy and the Documenta exposition from
Kassel, Germany. The bishop’s deglutition had already inspired in the early ’20s the
so-called anthropophagic movement, which proposed the cannibalizing of the European
culture. The same idea was again adopted by the tropicalista music movement from
the late ’60s.
In 1928, writer Oswald de Andrade, one of the leaders of the Movimento Modernista,
wrote the celebrated Manifesto Antropófago after looking at Tarsila do Amaral’s painting Abaporu,
one of the stars of the exhibit. United by the anthropophagic theme there are foreign
geniuses like Belgian René Magritte, British Francis Bacon, and Dutch Vincent van Gogh as
well as William Blake, Auguste Rodin, and Salvador Dalí. From the Brazilian side besides
Tarsila do Amaral, there are other heavyweights like Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark.
These works were insured for half a billion dollars, $100 million of which to cover 15
paintings and 13 drawings and prints by Van Gogh. The Bienal itself consumed $15 million
to be organized.
All these names may give the impression that after decadesthe event started in
1951 by the hands of São Paulo Maecenas Ciccillo Matarazzo promoting avant-garde
and cutting edge art, the Bienal has become a museum. Not quite. These are just the decoys
for close to 1000 works by 270 artists from 55 countries. And for the first time there is
a section entirely dedicated to the Brazilian contemporary art. Among the close to 60
Brazilians artists there are Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Alfredo Volpi, Leonilson, and
Among the innovations introduced in the latest version of the Bienal it is the
so-called contamination. According to the organizers, every work was chosen as an
illustration for the anthropophagic theme, the global inter-borrowing of ideas. The idea
of artistic contagion continues inside the expo, which abolishes the geography and time to
purposefully juxtapose the old and the new, the classic and the experimental, the national
and the foreign. In a way that you can admire in the same room the distraught faces of
Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and the Trouxa (Bundle of Clothes) of Brazilian sculptor
Arthur Barrio. Barrio created his trouxas at the end of the ’60s during the most
repressive phase of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. They
reminded people of the "presuntos" (literally, hams), cadavers who were found on
the streets and covered by a sheet or newspaper waiting to be picked up by the police or
Organizers are expecting that 450,000 will be lured by the international mixing and
will come to the show that will remain open until December 13. A hailstorm with gusty
winds on the opening day (October 3) provoked panic and the building on the exhibit in the
Ibirapuera Park had to be closed for four days while the place was cleaned up and
repaired. According to the organizers there was no irreparable damage to the paintings and
other works of art.
During the press conference held the day after the accident, Belgian curators of the
Magritte room, Paolo Vedovi e Gisèli Olligns, commented that such "whims of
nature" could happen anywhere in the world. Touched by the show of solidarity,
curator Paulo Herkenhoff cried copiously.
According to a report by weekly Isto É the episode and its consequences were
much worse than admitted by the Bienal’s organizers. "What we saw on the modernity
temple projected by Oscar Niemeyer was one of the saddest demonstrations of carelessness
with an inestimable national and foreign artistic patrimony." The magazine described
in vivid tones rain and sleet coming from the roof and hitting the works of art while
José Carlos Libânio, a UN representative, commented: "That’s the ultimate act of
anthropophagi. Brazilian nature took care of devouring the world’s works of art."
In the third floor, the hardest hit, Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s bronze pieces
felt the rain’s full brunt. In the panicky reaction by the Bienal’s workers that followed,
sculptures were hurriedly taken out of the way and almost were broken. It took more than
half an hour after the storm started before the workers started evacuating the building.
For more than ten minutes a painting by Argentinian Guillermo Kuitca was left under a
jet of water while many people cried looking at the disaster. Comment from Swedish
cameraman Pontus Kianderafter after having filmed the situation: "Which artist will
wish to expose here again after this tragedy?"
Several exhibits that used electricity were short-circuited and for a few seconds the
whole building went dark leading people to start screaming. The climatized room with the
Francis Bacons and Van Goghs weren’t affected, though.
It is easy to understand why emotions are running high and Herkenhoff has been crying
more than expected. He had cried already during the opening ceremonies when a crowd of
12,000 broke the record of public for the event. He said at the time: "Everything is
working out." But just barely. Many works only arrived at the last second. People
were already walking the corridors when Van Gogh’s Le Moulin de la Gallet was
whisked to its place on the third floor.
Only recently the Bienal started to recoup some international respect. Proof of its
increasing reputationat least before the rain incidentis the fact that the
organizers were able to borrow pieces from the Louvre, a first time. MoMA, the New York
Museum of Modern Art, broke also a 10-year policy of not lending any work to Brazil. All
the charm of curator Paulo Herkenhoff was not enough though to get a single piece by Van
Gogh from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. The Bienal had to appeal to smaller museums
and private collectors being unable to show a single self-portrait of the artist.
The São Paulo art show used to be a very popular event during the ’60s and the ’70s.
Júlio Landmann, president of Fundação Bienal, who as a child used to visit the exhibit
with his father, talked about these times: "It was the era of pop-art, op-art and
kinetic art, which drew all kinds of visitor." By 1979 however, attendance to the
15th Bienal had fallen to 70,000 visitors. With the creation of the museum space in 1994,
the crowds came back and Bienal version 22 saw a record 500,000 visitors.
The 24th Bienal can be virtually visited at http:///www.uol.com.br/bienal/24bienal. On
the site hosted by UOL (Universe Online), the largest Internet provider in Brazil,
visitors will be able to see among other offerings the 55 artists from different countries
reunited under the National Representations umbrella. The pages have blown up images of
the works presented and people have also the option of sending their favorite works as
electronic card. For the fist time the Bienal includes virtual exhibits with addresses of
sites that are doing art on line.
These are some of the selected sites: "Vulnerables" by Fabiana de Barros
(http://www.vulnerables.ch); "Valetesjacks in Slow Motion" by Kiko Goifman;
"HoME" by Lawrence Chua (http://red.ntticc.or.jp/HoME/javahome.html);
Mori, an Interface for Death" by Ken Goldberg and Wojciech
(http://www.memento.ieor.berkeley.edu/); and "No name DC", Sabine Bitter and
Helmut Weber (http://www.plexus.org/omnizone/works/bitter-weber/index.htm).
It was the Venice Biennial that inspired Paulista (from São Paulo)
industrialist Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho, better known as Ciccillo Matarazzo, to start
in 1951 the Bienal Internacional de São Paulo. Matarazzo was the president of MAM (Museu
de Arte Moderna de São PauloSão Paulo Modern Art Museum) and made the new event
part of the museum. The Bienal Foundation would only start in 1962.
In 1953, for its second edition, the exhibit had Picasso’s Guernica and works by
the likes of Brancusi, Calder, Ensor, Klee, Laurens, Mondrian, and Munch, and drew a
public of 100,000. Four years later the Bienal got its own space, the Pavilhão Ciccillo
Matarazzo in the Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, a 30,000 sq. meter (323,000 sq. feet)
structure designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the architect who dreamed Brazil’s modern capital
The ’60s and ’70s were the best of times for the Bienal. All the big names of pop art
were represented at the 10th Bienal in 1967: Lichtenstein, Oldeburg, Rauschenberg,
Rosenquist, Ruscha, Segall, Andy Warhol, and Wesselman. Starting in the late ’70s,
however, the massive presence of concept art works made the public shun the event. A mere
70,000 people went to see the 1979 Bienal.