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A museum of many vocations

A diversified collection, with modernist masterpieces and contemporary experiments, guides future plans for MAC

Release / MAC Detail of the educational exhibition Sculpture adventure, shown at the museum’s headquarters on the university campusRelease / MAC

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) has a new home. It has just inaugurated its headquarters in Ibirapuera Park, where it will occupy a 35 thousand square meter building that in the past housed Detran (the traffic department), and has been totally renovated to turn it into an exhibition space. The institution now faces the challenge of occupying and reviving this privileged space, without forgetting that it is still first and foremost a university museum, whose main mission is to stimulate research and reflection about Brazilian modern and contemporary art, based primarily on its valuable collection of roughly 10 thousand works. The core of excellence in this collection are the paintings and sculptures donated to the University of São Paulo (USP) in 1963 by Ciccillo Matarazzo, originating from the Museum of Modern Art (MAM) and from his private collection, in addition to which there have been a number of acquisitions and donations over the course of its half century of existence.

It is based on this substantial and varied set of works that all of MAC’s actions are conceived, setting it apart from the model that is becoming increasingly ingrained in Brazil of offering a varied menu of exhibitions, acquired as closed packages on the international art circuit with the aim of attracting an ever larger public and sponsorship. “A contemporary art museum, such as MAC-USP, should have its own collection as a point of reference. This is what will help give a historical perspective to the works of art that are exhibited at the museum,” states the institution’s director, Tadeu Chiarelli, when describing the direction adopted for the museum under his management.

During this new phase, of the gradual occupation of the museum’s new headquarters, all the scheduled exhibitions will follow this principle. The first of these shows, “The three-dimensional in the MAC’s collection: an anthology,” opened in January and brought together 18 of the collection’s works of art. In the middle of this year, each of the museum’s five curators will propose an exhibition to interpret the works of artists represented in the collection: Rafael Costa will be reviewed by Helouise Costa; the show dedicated to Julio Plaza will be under the curatorship of Cristina Freire; Carmen Aranha will concentrate on the works of Leon Ferrari; and Ana Magalhães and Kátia Canton are developing an exhibition of the works of José Antonio da Silva and Di Cavalcanti, respectively. Other exhibitions, of a collective nature or emphasizing the works of specific artists (such as Carlito Carvalhosa and Mauro Restiffe) will be presented bit by bit, significantly enlarging the occupation of new installations and MAC’s presence on the São Paulo exhibition circuit.

Release / MAC “São Sebastião (Marighela)”, work by Sergio Ferro (1969/1970), was the highlight of the exhibition “One day it will have to be over”, of the cycle of exhibitions about art during the military periodRelease / MAC

According to Chiarelli, it is clear that MAC is also interested in increasing its number of visitors, but it does not need to be overly concerned about the size of the public, as it is not dependent upon sponsors for funds in order to survive. “This means that we can focus more on the quality of the public’s experience when they visit the museum,” he adds. Therefore, in the case of MAC, educational work is not limited to giving guidance or providing one-off information to visitors, and the emphasis in the collection goes way beyond the matter of the  programming of exhibitions. Distinctive aspects, related to education and research, also characterize the complex organizational life and the various projects developed by the teams of curators.

As Ana Gonçalves Magalhães explains, “teaching, research and curatorial activities are and should be integrated, which means that, perhaps the first form of extroversion of the research takes place via the training of professionals in the areas related to the museum.” This training is of an interdisciplinary nature and at various moments involves other related units. Each curator develops projects with a broad impetus, with support from institutions of development, such as Fapesp.  Ana Magalhães, for instance, has been working on updating the museum’s catalogue and reassessing some works based on scientific studies conducted jointly with USP’s Physics Institute. Since the mid-1990s Kátia Canton, MAC’s longest serving curator-teacher, has been focusing on monitoring young contemporary production and its relation to the production that preceded it. This research, named Contemporary Heritage, has already yielded a series of exhibitions and publications. Cristina Freire is dedicating herself to studying conceptual art; Carmen Aranha works with the mediation between art and audience; and Helouise Costa is focusing more strongly on the field of photography.

Release / MAC Overview of the exhibition “Modernisms in Brazil”, on show in the area that the MAC occupies on the third floor of the BienalRelease / MAC

In addition to the specific research lines, the team also conducts a few projects of a collective nature and with a significant capacity for multiplication. Examples of this are the cycle of shows about Brazilian art during the military period, developed jointly with Ana Magalhães, Cristina Freire and Helouise Costa – two out of the three exhibitions have already been held and a third one is being prepared – and the event “MAC under construction,” on show at the museum’s Ibirapuera headquarters. This initiative brought together different aspects of the museum’s operation, serving almost as a metaphorical synthesis of its different vocations. By means of the exhibition of 19 works of art from the 1970s and 1980s, by artists such as Leon Ferrari, Nina Moraes and Alex Vallauri, and over the course of the last few months a series of discussion have been held between the public, the artists and specialists from MAC and from other museums on to how to restore/preserve contemporary works of art, made from extremely fragile or perishable materials.

More recently, the museum has sought to become closer to young artists, which has resulted in attitudes such the cycle “MAC meets the artists,” which offers weekly public discussions from the new generation of artists at the University Campus auditorium. However, opportunities have also been created for young students and researchers, in the form of internships, exhibitions of work or curatorial assistance.

Although it is often valued for the modernist riches that it houses, MAC has, throughout its history, lived up to the term ‘contemporary’ in its name. From its earliest days, the institution was conceived as an “experiments laboratory” by Walter Zanini, its first director. Aracy Amaral, who was in charge of the museum during the early 1980s, believes that MAC’s commitment is “to support new artistic trends while also updating its collection,” despite warning of the difficulties of updating this collection – particularly in the international field – due to prohibitive market prices.