13/12/2013 | Magazine DASARTES Worlds Crossed By Silas Martí


"... Often a controversial debate, the borders between contemporary and popular art are dissolved in exhibitions such as the Crossed Worlds (Mundos Cruzados) exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro (MAM-Rio), which makes surface productions which establish a dialogue with this more popular universe..."

By Silas Martí.
A series of frontiers, around of a kind of ghetto of visual arts, has been dissolving over recent years. Ever since the last edition of Documentada, in Kässel, in Germany, and also the Biennial Exhibition of São Paulo, last year, through to the Biennial Exhibition of Venice which is currently on show, the art of untrained artists, from the crazy to the self-learners, or what in Brazil has become known as popular artists, have been entering strongly into the circuit which had previously been reserved for the names of contemporary art with the approval of the Academy, criticism and – particularly – the market agents.
This is a visual phenomenon in the ascending trail taken by Arthur Bispo do Rosário, for example, who, in the space of two decades, has made the move from being a crazy person admitted to a psychiatric ward to a star of contemporary art, subject of countless studies and books, and anchor of an important part of the Biennial Exhibitions in São Paulo and Venice. In a similar situation, we have artists such as Raphael Domingues and Emydio de Barros – who were admitted to the hospital at Engenho de Dentro, led by Nise da Silveira, and pupils of artist Almir Mavignier, who also gained additional space to be shown at the Moreira Salles Institute in Rio de Janeiro and also in São Paulo.
An exhibition now on show at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro (MAM-Rio) takes as its starting point the visual works of Ione Saldanha, who slowly cast aside the traditional support of painting, to incorporate everyday objects, from bamboos to immense spools found in the Port of Rio de Janeiro, in a plastic process which largely remembers that which would be the naive aesthetics of popular artists. Beside Ms Saldanha’s room, as if in fluid progression, we have the cutting proposed by Crossed Worlds, in which curators such as Luís Camillo Osorio and Marta Mestre compare the production by names such as famous GTO with famous names on the national contemporary circuit, like Barrão.
“This border between the popular and the contemporary is very much undefined and is always being moved”, says Mr Osório. “Our idea was that of bringing popular art to this space, betting that this lack of definition could be something productive. This is not to smudge coils, but rather to show what we intend to think about them.”
At this point, Mr Osório remembers the mélange between the popular and the erudite forms of art in the current Biennial Exhibition in Venice. Massimiliano Gioni, the curator of the Italian exhibition, started, in fact, from the work of a self-learner or an outsider, this being the preferred term for artists outside the market of the global circuit, to structure the exhibition. In this case, his Encyclopaedic Palace, echoing the name of the exhibition, reflects the proposal, not only poetic but impossible, to bring together in one single infinite tower all the knowledge present in the Universe – an idea of Italian mechanic Marino Auriti, who went as far as building a model of his Babel of visual knowledge.
One year earlier, the Documentada in Kässel, organised by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, also shook the foundations of these divisions between official and extraofficial artists, including not only the common names in the contemporary pantheon but also a string of physicists, biologists and even Australian Aborigines at the exhibition. In São Paulo, Luis Pérez-Oramas touched on this point in his homage to Mr Bispo do Rosário and, in a more subtle operation, with the rehabilitation that he promoted on the work of Alair Gomes, a Physics teacher who was only recognised as an artist, particularly for his homoerotic photographs subjected to the metrics of music, after he died.
However, while the circuit makes an effort to cross these worlds, as the MAM exhibition in Rio wants to show, the market is still slow, resisting the incorporation of popular art to the rest of the team, even though prices have been doubling in recent years. Mr Osório regards this trend of the expositive and institutional circuit, to mix high and low art, to use the market perception of this product, as an opposition to the voracity of the art system. “This is a trend to stand out from trade fairs”, the curator said.
“In art trade fairs, everything is art, while in a Biennial Exhibition everything starts to be able to be art. This is art as a problem, rather than a sure thing.”
Paulo Sergio Duarte, an art critic and also the curator that organised the art exhibition by the name of Art Beyond the System (Arte Além do Sistema), at the Estação Art Gallery in São Paulo, where popular artists have been shown alongside names such as Tunga, Nuno Ramos and Germana Monte-Mór, seems to back up this idea saying that he is certain that the art of the popular artists is on the same level, or maybe even higher, than what is presented on the contemporary circuit, remembering Alcides’ paintings as “a plan that is ready for virtual movement” and which is able to “teach many neopop youngsters about what an aspect of current painting could be”.
"Even today, with all the palaver attached to post-modernity and its inconsequent relativism, it is not allowed to have a confrontation between poetic powers of different origins”, Mr Duarte writes.
"We are all segregated, we live in ghettos."
This, to the extent that, even having studied the production of artists considered crazy, such as Raphael Domingues and Emydio de Barros, and having penned the preface to a catalogue for the catalogue of the popular art exhibition Stubbornness of the Imagination (Teimosia da Imaginação), three years ago at the Tomie Ohtake Institute in São Paulo, art critic Rodrigo Naves makes a point of saying that these fields remain as impenetrable spheres, far from a possible dialogue.
"In Brazilian art nowadays, I see no point of contact between what is called popular art and what has been called contemporary art”, says Mr Naves. "There are people who think that Volpi is popular. The houses that he painted have a lot to do with the painting of façades of poor houses, but I do not consider Volpi to be a popular artist. In essence, contemporary art starts to become a kind of theory about art itself, while the relationship between popular art and the world is more of a coarse relationship.
Rude, but no less sophisticated. In the opinion of marchande Vilma Eid, who is at the helm at the Estação Art Gallery, one of the few art galleries in the country dedicated to the exclusive representation of popular art, these artists must no longer be confused with artisans and their works, even based on the more elementary presence of the image, already reflect aspects of contemporaneity. “Handicrafts are the representation of an infinite formula, which lasts for as long as there is a market interested in these products”, says Ms Eid. “However, popular art is also contemporary art, but done by artists without any formal grounding, even though they live in the modern world, with Internet and television. The sculptures of artists such as Véio and José Bezerra have already lost their Baroque characteristics.

Galeria Estação