Ferreira Gullar’s Poema Enterrado (Buried Poem) was one of the passions of artist Hélio Oiticica, an international leader in Brazilian neo-concrete architecture. Enchanted with the poet’s idea of suggesting an object instead of a text for the poem—concentric cubes as matryoshkas that had to be buried—Oiticica hastened to find a spot to bury the work. The chosen address ended up as part of the site of a structure built by a family, but on exactly the spot intended for the water tank. Thus the 1960 Poema Enterrado was swallowed up by the water. Today the work, a symbol of the neo-concrete movement, belongs to the public collection of the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM) where, however, it can never be built since there is no space under the Ibirapuera Park marquee that could be excavated in order to bury Gullar’s poem.
The story illustrates a question that is becoming increasingly important for the production, study, and exhibition of the visual arts: what is the place of an art work in today’s world? The problem of what to do with the Gullar poem is mentioned in one of the proposals submitted as part of the 33rd Panorama of Brazilian Art, an urban-themed exhibit held at MAM’s facility in São Paulo. The display, which traditionally consists of works by artists, this time featured an impressive cast of architects and urban planners who had created proposals for relocating the museum within the city.
The firm of Y Arquitetura re-designed the site of the institution, founded in 1948, so that it could be accessed by routes well equipped for public transportation with enough space to house the 5,400 items in its collection, works now scattered among other technical reserves owing to the cramped quarters. The firm’s proposal included the realization of Poema Enterrado, something that hasn’t been possible so far because the marquee that extends over the entire front of the museum building has been designated as an historic landmark.
Architect Vinicius Andrade, a professor at the Escola da Cidade also made his debut in the exposition. He says that urban planning and art are converging ever more closely. “Despite the excellent eclectic education offered by FAU-USP [School of Architecture and Urban Planning of the University of São Paulo], where I got my degree, I notice that my students these days are naturally more comfortable moving among the different spheres of expression. They belong to a generation that is trans-disciplinary by nature, something we were not, even while understanding that this is a path,” emphatically states the author of projects that are distinguished by harmonious interaction between urban occupation and the landscape.
Andrade is participating along with colleagues from his firm, Andrade Morettin, in a phase of a real change in the face of the city, starting with projects that have an artistic function. Andrade Morettin won the bid to design the São Paulo headquarters of one of Brazil’s most important art institutions, the Instituto Moreira Salles. The building, expected to be ready in 2015, is part of the urban mesh that is Avenida Paulista and encourages people to flow through the exhibit space. The floor, for example, will be composed of the same Portuguese mosaic that was designed by architect Rosa Kliass for the plan for that avenue in the 1970s. Not far from there, in the city’s downtown area the Praça das Artes houses rehearsal and meeting rooms in a block that is similarly open to the city. That project, by the firm Brasil Arquitetura, revived an underused and dangerous part of the city with a modernistic sculptural construction whose design was heavily influenced by the architecture of another fervent advocate of the appropriation of art by architecture and vice versa, the Italian Lina Bo Bardi, designer of the building occupied by the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP).
Vinicius Andrade says the legacy of the work of U.S. architect Gordon Matta-Clark is present on all fronts of his firm’s activity—including its participation in the 33rd Panorama. Son of Chilean surrealist painter Roberto Matta, Matta-Clark is, alongside Robert Smithson and Oiticica himself, the front line of a vanguard that in the 1970s chose the city as raw material for its art—a trend that is reappearing today. One of the best-known actions by the former student of architecture consisted of the inclusion of tears and cuts in the structures of buildings and houses. Those interventions, which called attention to the urban junk pile borne of real estate boom times, became known as “negative architecture.” From then on, records of that process began to travel around the world as representatives of a combative art. In 1971, Gordon Matta-Clark led the boycott of the São Paulo Biennial on behalf of the victims of the military dictatorship in Latin America, thus delaying by some years any local contact with his negative architecture.
The idea that Andrade and his partner Marcelo Morettin developed for the MAM exhibit, which can be viewed on the museum’s website, www.mam.org.br, recovers and updates that orientation. The architects propose a very simple design that houses the building underground—literally buried. Illumination would be provided by a large tear in the ground, under which the institution would operate in Ibirapuera Park, its present address.
“Contemporary art underwent a very introspective period in the 1990s, in response to a lack of clarity as to the new ideological context of the world after the demise of Cold War logic and the paralysis of the sexual revolution brought about by the AIDS epidemic,” observes Felipe Chaimovich, curator of the museum and a post-doc researcher in philosophy at USP. “Early in the 2000s, however, there was a change in the course of artists’ commitment. They began to propose micro-political actions that were not haunted by the same ideological specter and were more diluted by everyday living. It was in that context that cities and life in today’s metropolitan areas became a subject matter that was increasingly used in the production by young artists,” he believes. Chaimovich is the author of the essays “Objects or Reflection: the Brazilian Cultural Situation,” that appear in the book entitled On Cultural Influence (New York: Apexart, 2006), and “Greenberg After Oiticica,” which appeared in The State of Art Criticism (New York: Routledge, 2007).
A Research Base
It was curator Lisette Lagnado—who also holds a doctorate in philosophy from USP, having written her dissertation about Hélio Oiticica’s Environmental Program—who was behind the idea to invite urban planners to take part in an exhibit that, ironically, was established to form a collection for a museum that doesn’t have enough space to maintain the collection it already has. “Large exhibits these days typically use their host city as a research base that unites the artists that will be invited,” she says. In 2010, she coordinated an exhibit at the National Museum – Queen Sofia Arts Center in Madrid that demonstrated that the key architect of European modernity, Le Courbusier, had absorbed characteristics of the physical and human geography of Latin America into his work. Lagnado is the advisor to the master’s degree studies by Ana Maria Maia on the activities of Flavio de Carvalho, an architect who thought about the city. Maia’s thesis was presented to an arts panel at Santa Marcelina College last year. This year, she was a member of the curator’s team that gathered projects from some of the busiest architectural firms in Brazil.
Taking art into the cities has become a tradition that, if not obligatory, has been eagerly awaited by major exhibits in large urban centers. In Brazil, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have hosted top rated contemporary art exhibits that reach the streets before they show up in the galleries. This was the case with the famous PhotoEspaña, which, in its first appearance on Brazilian soil, posted throughout the streets of the city photographs that young artist Raquel Brust had taken of residents of the center of the São Paulo state capital.
Curators and architects agree that the contact between art and urban planning is a trend visible among both new artists and students, and seems to be growing in importance every year, and having a real impact on society. “I’m astonished by the number of references to languages like dance, theater, and poetry that students bring to their discussions about architecture,” says Vinicius Andrade. Felipe Chaimovich notes that the exchange of information among areas has led to achievements and advances heretofore unimaginable. “Collective artistic movements in favor of urban orchards, for example, are creating farming technologies that are publicized via social networks, thus changing the relationship between citizens and the vacant lots in cities, raising the question of urban property along with ecology and sustainability, and coupling experimental art with cooking,” the curator points out. “It’s an international action that arises from the environment of contemporary art and is having a real impact on present-day urban life.”Republish