14/03/2010 | Folha de S. Paulo – Ilustrada Section -

Gallery owners invites griffes of contemporary art to sign catalogues. With leather sandals on his feet and a stub of wood in his hands, Cícero Alves dos Santos has his eyes low when the Folha reporting team gets to the Estação Gallery in Pinheiros, São Paulo. After some seconds, he raises his face and after one last stroke on the small trunk of imburana, says: “If I stop, I get neurotic. I am always doing something. I have been like this, ever since I was a small boy. When I was 5 years old, I worked with beeswax and, hidden from my father, would model some figures.” This is how Santos, known as Véio, shortens the path that leads to the origin of popular art. Made by self-learners from the poorer layers of the population, this art, difficult to define, is often considered as handicrafts or, at most, a picturesque expression. Naïf and primitive. Last Thursday, on leading a guided visit followed by a cocktail, Véio started to free himself from these words to leap to another word: art. "This was an ancient dream. Treat these artists like artists, and that’s that.”, says gallery owner Vilma Eid, a participant in the movement seeking to give popular art a new status. She called painter Paulo Pasta to write about former sugar cane cutter José Antonio da Silva (1909-1996), and curator Rodrigo Naves to reflect about the sertanejo sculptor José Bezerra, and Paulo Monteiro to assess Véio: "With these approximations, we are reaching out to a new segment of the public.” Whether thanks to the varnished hands or not, popular art has seen its prices rise. In São Paulo, which for many years only had one specialised gallery, Brasiliana, now there are two more: Estação and Pontes. "In proportion, this was the art form to have been most valued over the last five years”, says auctioneer Soraia Cals. Until 2005, these works never even heard the bang of the gavel, but now they account for some 15% of the total number of items auctioned. However, the money involved is still low. Even the most valued names, such as sculptors Vitalino (1909-1963) and G.T.O. (1913-1990) and painters Heitor dos Prazeres (1898-1966) and Silva, cost very little when compared to erudite art. A painting by Prazeres, for example, never costs more than R$ 40 thousand. A good-quality work by Vitalino, the cotton cutter who saw his figures leave the fairs of Caruaru to art exhibitions, costs no more than R$ 25 thousand. “There is a lot of prejudice regarding art made by people at the base of the social pyramid”, says Roberto Rugiero, from Brasiliana. "This is so much the case that often those who buy these pieces keep them reserved to their country houses. However, in the past things were not like this.” Rugiero refers to the modernist movement and also the desire for a merger between the popular and the erudite.” It was the modernists who commemorated Silva and Vitalino, and were led by typically popular themes – we just need to remember the samba singers portrayed in Di Cavalcanti and the poor migrants (retirantes) in Portinari. “I am not able to think of the popular or the non-popular, but rather good or bad painters”, says Pasta. “Silva had a good feel for the plane question, the intelligence of the eye, intuition”. It seems that the dialogue existing in 1930 and 1940 and then silenced is whispering once again. “We spent a lot of time regarding this type of art as picturesque”, critic Rodrigo Naves says, in a type of self-confession. “It seems to me that contemporary art is getting ever more academic and repetitive. Also for this reason, the originality of Zé Bezerra attracted me”. Gallery owner Edna Pontes risks another explanation: “Popular art is being benefited by the added value of Brazilianness”. Rugiero, in turn, thinks that participations are good but is still suspicious. “The lack of a critical reference allows the possibility of bluffs. Another risk is that of transforming the artist into a circus monkey and seeing authenticity in what is mere repetition”. Nuno Ramos, who had not laid his eyes upon popular art until he was introduced to Bezerra, liked what he saw, but fears generalisations: “We need to be careful with the popular discourse of ‘let’s give him a chance’ or ‘what an incredible story is his’”. This fear also includes the artists themselves. “There are times when they only want us to say they worked on farms, this kind of thing”, says painter Nilson Pimenta who, as a boy, in the rural areas, would draw on fences and trees and now does art for a living. “If they also see what I paint, then that’s fine”.

Galeria Estação