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Works of the biennials will have electronic access

Archive covers 50 years of São Paulo

For a long time, it was practically forgotten. But there are few archives with so much interesting material as the Wando Svevo archive, of the Biennial Foundation of São Paulo. Where to find, for example, a record of the complicated negotiations that made it possible for Pablo Picasso painting Guernica to come to Brazil in 1953? With an allocation of R$ 130,000 from FAPESP’s Infrastructure Program, the Biennial’s archive is organizing its collection and getting ready to launch new ventures.

“The whole collection is packed in appropriate, acid-free file boxes and stored in sliding cabinets, which saves a lot of space” says Sílvia Castelo Branco, the coordinator of the institution. The funds from FAPESP also made it possible to take on history students as trainees, who are organizing the documents, and to purchase information technology equipment, which was used to create a database.

The archive was created in 1955, with the name of the Archive of Contemporary Art of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (MAM). It then received documents relating to the biennials that have been taking place in São Paulo since 1951, art books, and artists’ dossiers.

The negotiations for Guernica to come were difficult because the picture, in those days, was in the custody of the Museum of Modern Art of New York (MoMA). Picasso would no allow it to be handed over to Spain whilst the country was governed by the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. Only after Franco’s death, in 1975, could the picture go to Madrid.

The biennial was staged in the Museum of Modern Art until 1993. In that year, Count Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho extinguished MAM, donated its pictures to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) of the University of São Paulo (USP) and created the Biennial Foundation. The documents were transferred to the collection of the foundation. The name of Wanda Svevo comes from a secretary-general of the foundation who died in 1962, in a plane crash, when she was going to Peru, to deal with an exhibition of pre-Columbian art.

“Now we have started a project to create a site on the Internet with the collection of the archive”, reports the president of the Biennial Foundation, Carlos Bratke. Sílvia, in turn, regards the work already carried out as just the first part of a process of restructuring. “We will continue”, she promises. Ana Maria de Almeida Camargo, a teacher from USP’s History Department who is responsible for the project for reforming the archive, thinks that the fundamental point is to call the attention of the public and researchers to the informative potential of the archive’s collection. “It would be interesting to have a guide or a catalog that could make these documents visible” she suggests.

The archive’s collection, at any rate, will be the basis of an exhibition that will be celebrating this year the Biennial’s 50 years. Bratke advises that a book will be published, using the collection, to tell the history of the biennials and to show the personality of Count Matarazzo, who was responsible for several other cultural ventures in São Paulo, like the Brazilian Comedy Theater (TBC).

There are many other rarities scattered over the archives of the state of São Paulo. FAPESP is making its contribution towards bringing them within the reach of researchers and other interested parties. At the Basic Sanitation Company of the State of São Paulo (Sabesp), for example, one of the problems was to alter the way of filing plans, kept in enormous steel map cabinets, which took up a lot of space and did not preserve the originals properly. In addition, says the man responsible for the archives, Milton Tomoyuki Tsutiya, who teaches at USP, the mere handling of the material was enough to put it at risk.

The solution found was to computerize the control of the documentation, with software specific to Sabesp’s needs. The funds for the purchase of the equipment needed just for the first stage, which covered 300,000 of the total of 1 million documents, were provided by FAPESP. Then a problem cropped up. The investment promised, of R$ 300,000, proved to be inadequate, due to the devaluation of the Real in relation to the Dollar, which happened precisely during the process of the money liberation. In the end, a complement was released, not very rare fact , since normally a change of level creates new requirements. Anyhow, it was an important work. “It is a question of preserving the technical memory of the sanitation of the environment in the state of São Paulo, a heritage of the Brazilian nation”, says Professor Tsutiya.

In Campinas, a venture that was started in 1983 – Unicamp’s Memory Center (CMU) – was transformed into a landmark for the inhabitants of the region. In a contact between the teachers and the administrators of the law courts in Campinas and Jundiaí, with the support of the rector of the university and his staff, an agreement was reached whereby the archives of these institutions were passed on to Unicamp. Right afterwards came the archives of the local Fire Brigade and several donations from private individuals. The center became a reality in 1985. “The physical space was conquered gradually” says Paulo Miceli, the coordinator of the center, recalling that it is located where Unicamp’s Faculty of Education used to be, and that, besides the three floors of the premises there, is has installations scattered over various points of the university. FAPESP’s support, forthcoming in 1998, was fundamental in ensuring that this space was put to better use.

The installation of sliding files alone brought a saving in space of 70%. Roughly 60% of the books of the library have been digitalized and are at the disposal of the public through the Internet. Of the 50,000 articles in the collection of newspapers and other periodicals, which goes back to 1920, 20,000 are in the same situation. The greater part of the investment of R$ 475,000, however, went to the historical archives. With the installation of a book hoist, the entire collection was passed to the building’s lower floor. This meant that the cataloging area gained 80 square meters.

The center’s collection has some important material, such as the maps, drawings and diaries of the travels of the naturalist Langsdorff to Brazil between 1824 and 1829, and the personal correspondence of Francisco Glicério, the abolitionist. Amongst those most sought after are the records of the Immigrants’ Hostel of São Paulo from 1882 to 1922. “People want documents that will allow them to apply for double nationality” says Miceli.

In the meantime, the center has been carrying out a special task with several cities, to maintain their memories. The work normally takes two years and involves mainly teachers who disclose their discoveries in radio programs and newspaper articles. In Jarinu, the work led to a public exhibition, at the request of the inhabitants themselves. On the day of the opening, no less than 5,000 of the city’s 12,000 inhabitants were present.