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Swapping influences

Survey profiles the 90s art and its roots

Seven years ago, the  USP professor and curator Kátia Canton believed that, in order to build up a profile of the 90s art, she would have needed to undertake a survey of the main influences on young artists at the beginning of their careers, or even on those that were still studying at college. The survey, which was supported by FAPESP and USP’s Museum of Contemporary Art, (MAC), surprised the researcher. Practically none of those interviewed made any reference to the giants of modern or of classical art and still less to the international scene. Almost unanimously, the then future artists of that decade, according to their own statements, were mirrors reflecting the generation active at that moment.

Katia, then saw, that in order to understand the very new art of the decade that had barely begun, she had, first of all, to draw parallels with contemporary art itself, preferably that of the previous decade that was still current, in this case that of the 80s. As she worked in the MAC’s curatorship division, Katia opened her telephone book and got on with the survey. She began personally visiting artist studios working in various Brazilian towns, asking the question: who is your chief influence? At the time, the curator surveyed 56 names; now there are 71, almost all of them contemporary artists working in this country, such as o Regina Silveira, Tunga and Waltércio Caldas, holding exhibitions famous “Contemporary Heritage”. Art critics nowadays acclaim the exhibition.

Last year, for example, the exhibitions put on a series of what could be called a double influence. Tunga, chosen as her master by Renata Pedrosa, presented one of his organic sculptures in the “Lips” series, and chose his own influence, Lygia Clark. Represented by one of her geometrical sculptures, which she called “Bichos” (Creatures), Lygia acted as a sort of grandmother to Renata, who contributed her own reading of the body in drawings done in mercury. “It is these dialogues between generations that fulfill the role of telling the history of modern art”, concludes the researcher.

The thread recorded by Kátia, the works produced or chosen for the exhibitions and the critical examination of the origins of what we now call the 90s generation are now brought together in a book, Novíssima Arte Brasileira – Very New Brazilian Art, also accomplished with the support of FAPESP, to be published in the second half of the year by Iluminuras. It is the first general record of the most recent contemporary artistic production, legitimized by being the result of an objective comparison of works – a comparison made, in the first instance, by their authors and, then, ratified by the curatorship and by the public that visited the three editions of the exhibition held at the MAC. In other words, Very New Brazilian Art does not pick out a group of the emerging elite seen through the eyes of a critic, but rather a comparative reading of what has changed and what has remained in the last ten years on the Brazilian artistic scene.

Readers may learn, systematically, about what they saw at the MAC: artists that today are names appearing in the catalogs of important museums and galleries, creating their masters through the work of their masters. Thus, Mônica Rubinho, Fábio Bittencourt and Cristina Rogozinski are represented in the book through the works they created for the first edition of “Contemporary Heritage” held in 1997. These present, for example, emotional or physical fragility and the experimentation with materials that these disciples inherited from Leonilson and Leda Catunda, respectively, who, alongside Nelson Leirner, made up the trio of masters that year.

“Comparison with the source, specially close references, was the most concrete method of portraying a movement profile that time has still has not had time to understand”, observes Kátia. Hence, it can be seen that the book was born to be already revised and expanded. “Not least because, as the succeeding editions themselves of “Contemporary Heritage” have shown, the arrival of new names and the scenario change has never been so swift as in the 90s”.

Statements by artists that took part in the survey have been given a chapter to themselves. In it, the young creators, introduced by a short biography, set out their ideas about art and speak of their masters and influences. Each of these has a work chosen for the exhibition “Contemporary Heritage”, properly reproduced and identified.

In order not to go directly into the changeable concepts that permeate the artistic production of this decade, the curator chose to make a historical introduction with a brief summary of the transition of the artists to the art of today – the timeline to which the masters and disciples belong recorded by the book. From then on, she distributed the trends detected in the works over different chapters, in which she included the artists sharing these features. They are elements or topics common to many of the participants in the sample, such as the notion of memory, permeating the work of Mônica Rubinho and Renata Pedrosa, for example, or the so-called domesticity in art, exemplified by Cristina Rogozinski, and, again, Mônica and Renata, since the trends organized by the author appear constantly in the work of different artists.

This point in the text, however, runs the risk of becoming outdated quite quickly, because many question raised by the author can perfectly well be abandoned or be given a different treatment in the work of the artist to whom they are attributed. “Which does not detract from the point of recording a moment in time in the careers of these artists; a moment that happens to be the decade of the 90s”, argues the curator. Kátia defines the exhibition loaning the illustrations for the book as a work in progress, a new name for unfinished work that has become a real pattern in the art of the 90s. This first publication of the project can also be defined in this way; it tends like contemporary art, itself, to undergo constant revision.

• Kátia Canton a graduate in journalism at the Communication and Arts School at the University of São Paulo, with a masters and doctorate in art criticism from New York University. She is a lecturer and divisional technical director at USP’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
Project: Contemporary Trends: Discussion on the Artistic Production of the 90s Generation
Investment: R$ 10,000