Artists and Cannibals

    Artists and

    Organizers of São Paulo’s 24th Bienal are expecting that
    450,000 will be drawn by the international art mixing that will be open until December 13.
    Among the artists being shown: René Magritte, Francis Bacon, Vincent van Gogh together
    with national treasures Tarsila do Amaral, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark.
    By Émerson Luís

    Bishop Sardinha, a character from the early Brazilian history, whose main claim to fame
    derives from the fact that he was eaten by Brazilian cannibals is the great inspiration
    for the just-opened 24th Biennial in São Paulo, the world’s third most important art
    exhibit, just behind the Venice Biennial from Italy and the Documenta exposition from
    Kassel, Germany. The bishop’s deglutition had already inspired in the early ’20s the
    so-called anthropophagic movement, which proposed the cannibalizing of the European
    culture. The same idea was again adopted by the tropicalista music movement from
    the late ’60s.

    In 1928, writer Oswald de Andrade, one of the leaders of the Movimento Modernista,
    wrote the celebrated Manifesto Antropófago after looking at Tarsila do Amaral’s painting Abaporu,
    one of the stars of the exhibit. United by the anthropophagic theme there are foreign
    geniuses like Belgian René Magritte, British Francis Bacon, and Dutch Vincent van Gogh as
    well as William Blake, Auguste Rodin, and Salvador Dalí. From the Brazilian side besides
    Tarsila do Amaral, there are other heavyweights like Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark.
    These works were insured for half a billion dollars, $100 million of which to cover 15
    paintings and 13 drawings and prints by Van Gogh. The Bienal itself consumed $15 million
    to be organized.

    All these names may give the impression that after decades—the event started in
    1951 by the hands of São Paulo Maecenas Ciccillo Matarazzo — promoting avant-garde
    and cutting edge art, the Bienal has become a museum. Not quite. These are just the decoys
    for close to 1000 works by 270 artists from 55 countries. And for the first time there is
    a section entirely dedicated to the Brazilian contemporary art. Among the close to 60
    Brazilians artists there are Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Alfredo Volpi, Leonilson, and

    Among the innovations introduced in the latest version of the Bienal it is the
    so-called contamination. According to the organizers, every work was chosen as an
    illustration for the anthropophagic theme, the global inter-borrowing of ideas. The idea
    of artistic contagion continues inside the expo, which abolishes the geography and time to
    purposefully juxtapose the old and the new, the classic and the experimental, the national
    and the foreign. In a way that you can admire in the same room the distraught faces of
    Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and the Trouxa (Bundle of Clothes) of Brazilian sculptor
    Arthur Barrio. Barrio created his trouxas at the end of the ’60s during the most
    repressive phase of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. They
    reminded people of the "presuntos" (literally, hams), cadavers who were found on
    the streets and covered by a sheet or newspaper waiting to be picked up by the police or
    the coroner.

    Organizers are expecting that 450,000 will be lured by the international mixing and
    will come to the show that will remain open until December 13. A hailstorm with gusty
    winds on the opening day (October 3) provoked panic and the building on the exhibit in the
    Ibirapuera Park had to be closed for four days while the place was cleaned up and
    repaired. According to the organizers there was no irreparable damage to the paintings and
    other works of art.

    During the press conference held the day after the accident, Belgian curators of the
    Magritte room, Paolo Vedovi e Gisèli Olligns, commented that such "whims of
    nature" could happen anywhere in the world. Touched by the show of solidarity,
    curator Paulo Herkenhoff cried copiously.

    According to a report by weekly Isto É the episode and its consequences were
    much worse than admitted by the Bienal’s organizers. "What we saw on the modernity
    temple projected by Oscar Niemeyer was one of the saddest demonstrations of carelessness
    with an inestimable national and foreign artistic patrimony." The magazine described
    in vivid tones rain and sleet coming from the roof and hitting the works of art while
    José Carlos Libânio, a UN representative, commented: "That’s the ultimate act of
    anthropophagi. Brazilian nature took care of devouring the world’s works of art."

    In the third floor, the hardest hit, Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s bronze pieces
    felt the rain’s full brunt. In the panicky reaction by the Bienal’s workers that followed,
    sculptures were hurriedly taken out of the way and almost were broken. It took more than
    half an hour after the storm started before the workers started evacuating the building.

    For more than ten minutes a painting by Argentinian Guillermo Kuitca was left under a
    jet of water while many people cried looking at the disaster. Comment from Swedish
    cameraman Pontus Kianderafter after having filmed the situation: "Which artist will
    wish to expose here again after this tragedy?"

    Several exhibits that used electricity were short-circuited and for a few seconds the
    whole building went dark leading people to start screaming. The climatized room with the
    Francis Bacons and Van Goghs weren’t affected, though.


    It is easy to understand why emotions are running high and Herkenhoff has been crying
    more than expected. He had cried already during the opening ceremonies when a crowd of
    12,000 broke the record of public for the event. He said at the time: "Everything is
    working out." But just barely. Many works only arrived at the last second. People
    were already walking the corridors when Van Gogh’s Le Moulin de la Gallet was
    whisked to its place on the third floor.

    Only recently the Bienal started to recoup some international respect. Proof of its
    increasing reputation—at least before the rain incident—is the fact that the
    organizers were able to borrow pieces from the Louvre, a first time. MoMA, the New York
    Museum of Modern Art, broke also a 10-year policy of not lending any work to Brazil. All
    the charm of curator Paulo Herkenhoff was not enough though to get a single piece by Van
    Gogh from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. The Bienal had to appeal to smaller museums
    and private collectors being unable to show a single self-portrait of the artist.

    The São Paulo art show used to be a very popular event during the ’60s and the ’70s.
    Júlio Landmann, president of Fundação Bienal, who as a child used to visit the exhibit
    with his father, talked about these times: "It was the era of pop-art, op-art and
    kinetic art, which drew all kinds of visitor." By 1979 however, attendance to the
    15th Bienal had fallen to 70,000 visitors. With the creation of the museum space in 1994,
    the crowds came back and Bienal version 22 saw a record 500,000 visitors.

    The 24th Bienal can be virtually visited at http:/// On
    the site hosted by UOL (Universe Online), the largest Internet provider in Brazil,
    visitors will be able to see among other offerings the 55 artists from different countries
    reunited under the National Representations umbrella. The pages have blown up images of
    the works presented and people have also the option of sending their favorite works as
    electronic card. For the fist time the Bienal includes virtual exhibits with addresses of
    sites that are doing art on line.

    These are some of the selected sites: "Vulnerables" by Fabiana de Barros
    (; "Valetesjacks in Slow Motion" by Kiko Goifman;
    "HoME" by Lawrence Chua (;

    Mori, an Interface for Death" by Ken Goldberg and Wojciech
    (; and "No name DC", Sabine Bitter and
    Helmut Weber (


    It was the Venice Biennial that inspired Paulista (from São Paulo)
    industrialist Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho, better known as Ciccillo Matarazzo, to start
    in 1951 the Bienal Internacional de São Paulo. Matarazzo was the president of MAM (Museu
    de Arte Moderna de São Paulo—São Paulo Modern Art Museum) and made the new event
    part of the museum. The Bienal Foundation would only start in 1962.

    In 1953, for its second edition, the exhibit had Picasso’s Guernica and works by
    the likes of Brancusi, Calder, Ensor, Klee, Laurens, Mondrian, and Munch, and drew a
    public of 100,000. Four years later the Bienal got its own space, the Pavilhão Ciccillo
    Matarazzo in the Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, a 30,000 sq. meter (323,000 sq. feet)
    structure designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the architect who dreamed Brazil’s modern capital
    city, Brasília.

    The ’60s and ’70s were the best of times for the Bienal. All the big names of pop art
    were represented at the 10th Bienal in 1967: Lichtenstein, Oldeburg, Rauschenberg,
    Rosenquist, Ruscha, Segall, Andy Warhol, and Wesselman. Starting in the late ’70s,
    however, the massive presence of concept art works made the public shun the event. A mere
    70,000 people went to see the 1979 Bienal.

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