Luís Martins

Tarsila do Amaral, Portrait of Luís Martins, 1940


Considerations on the art chronicle of the journalist and critic who defended the modernist movement in the 1940s

“I lost the way of dawn. / Night eyes. Silent gesture./ I played with life. If I didn't lose, / I won so little. It was a tie” (Luis Martins, dark street song).

The art chronicle of Luís Martins in the Diário de Notícias between 1943 and 1948 suggests that it was not so obvious to associate São Paulo with modernism. Despite a lot of movement, the limitation of the environment was visible. Martins often complains about the lack of public initiatives in the field of the arts. The Prestes Maia Gallery and the Municipal Library, with their courses and conferences, were small islands that did not support the volume of activities. Most of them took place in “galleries”, which were nothing more than improvised halls, many of them temporary.

In Rio de Janeiro, there was a modernist cultural policy. White plate, but of some content: initiatives in the field of architecture, commissions, acquisitions, and the large exhibitions at the National Museum of Fine Arts vulgarized modern art. So much so that, at the end of the regime, an editor came out with a good one: “The deformed painting portrays the Estado Novo well”.

In Belo Horizonte, Kubitscheck's great card, when mayor, made us think that the Rio-São Paulo axis of the arts would become a triangle. The architectural ensemble of Pampulha, where Niemeyer's style was established, the foundation of the School of Art, directed by Guignard, and the great Exhibition of Modern Art, in 1944, made Martins speak of these initiatives as “the most exciting experience ever attempted in the country” and deeming “paradoxical the capricious destiny that brings us from the 'artistic capital of Brazil' to come to learn modern art in Belo Horizonte”.

In São Paulo, there were artists, an emerging public, critics, buyers, but little public awareness of art. And modernism had to impose itself through new battles. In the controversy between Martins and Mayor Abrahão Ribeiro over the creation of the Museum of Modern Art, even Monteiro Lobato returned to the scene, to denounce that the outcry for the museum was something of “artists missed, many of them of notorious mental weakness”, which would make the MAM a municipal warehouse for “stranded production”.

In this scenario, Martins' chronicles were a small and enlightening combat. Along with Sérgio Milliet, Geraldo Ferraz, Lourival Gomes Machado, Quirino da Silva, who were the most prominent critics in newspapers at the time, Martins prepared the ground for artistic culture to cease to be the exclusive repertoire of small circles.

The chronicles deepened the tendency, which came from Mário de Andrade, to reinforce the awareness of the school in formation, for which “the craftsman concerned with the craft of painting” was a key idea. School that articulated the pioneering group of 22 and those that came after, the Artistic Family, which foreigners joined, and the young people trained in the ateliers of the older ones. The coverage of the exhibitions that took place at the Instituto dos Arquitetos in 1945 and the X Salão do Sindicato in 1946 is illustrative of the network of artists that had been formed, with reciprocal influences, with recurrent themes, with the circulation of mannerisms.

Always taking the side of the São Paulo School, fair or unfairly, the chronicles show that there was an internal game in the environment, increasingly dense, which begins to make anachronistic the figure of the artist who arrives from Europe to impress the shy environment with the latest fashion. .

About Hugo Adami, Martins writes with reservations that he only painted for the rich and behaved like an upscale person. Sometimes he evokes the people, who want to educate and for whom MAM would play an important role. In others, he exalts artists, like Pancetti, who “feels the people in his blood”. But he disagrees with Jorge Amado, who treats Di Cavalcante as a “people's painter”, opposing the idea that his commitments are artistic. When he realizes that the chance of advances via public authorities is minimal, he calls out to the bourgeois for patronage. But soon after, he criticizes the burgher for his shortsightedness.

Martins had a republican policy in mind and thought of modernism as the art of a society in transformation. He wasn't wrong. Modernism went well with communism, fascism, various socialisms. But also with the cultural updating of a fraction of the São Paulo elites and, above all, with the affirmation of a new field of artists, polygraphers, young critics trained at the University, who had as their public a middle class that differentiated and a bourgeoisie, previously rough , which focused on symbolic capital. A modernism attenuated by the “return to order”, applied in the making and good for collecting.

the exam of An art chronicler in São Paulo shows that Martins' combats were among the most relevant for the cycle that opened in São Paulo between 1947 and 54, with MASP, MAM, the Bienal, the Ibirapuera Park.

Martins is from 1907 and came from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo in 1938, with poetry, novels, criticism and journalism in his baggage. For Brazil, I don't see any problem in generationally associating a literate with the 1930s, quite the contrary. But, when it comes to São Paulo, things are more complicated. Some episodes of his art chronicle are a good example of this, above all, the controversy with Antonio Candido.

The “footnote” of criticism was something that came from afar. In the 1940s, new and old generations coexisted in this ephemeral matrix, foreigners who settled in Brazil, Brazilians returning from abroad. Even those who had the university as a base – and were oriented to present research in other matrices – sharpened their diction and became more intelligent with the “footnotes”, which worked among peers as a congress in permanent session.

The new academic specialties opened up space and requested the verticalization of studies. Luís Martins was not averse to this, so much so that he wrote a book that articulates sociology, cultural history and psychoanalysis. The Patriarch and the Bachelor he received praise from Gilberto Freyre and, to this day, Antonio Candido speaks highly of him. A book whose sources are albums of portraits and autographs of noble families, which analyzes the guilt complex of the young bachelors who “killed” the patriarchs by adhering to Abolition and the Republic.

But Martins was a man of the newspaper, because he made a living from it, but also because he had the knack for the chronicle, which he knew very well, since his manifestations in Rio de Janeiro in the XNUMXth century.

What happens is that the great era of new analytical methods, which had sociology at one pole and the “new criticism” at another, was also the brilliant period of this ephemeral, unpretentious but sharp genre that thrived, above all, in Rio de Janeiro and which had in Rubem Braga the most notable exponent. Chronicle of everyday interactionism that spoke of women, politics, birds, social differences, the passing of time. this thing kinda bossa nova, which was a breath of lightness and intelligence.

The controversy with Candido originated in two criticisms by Martins that spoke of the serious, profound character and the lyrical and artistic poverty of young people from the Climate Magazine. There is not space here to summarize the controversy, but it should be said that Candido's response was accurate and, despite the replies, left Martins a little out of breath. But he was already out of breath as he opened the debate with the declaration: “I am indeed – alas! – a man of another background and age”. The fact is that in São Paulo there was a clearer cut of generations. Like nowhere else there was a fright, as if the old people had been caught in their inconsistency.

Martins was then 37 years old and very talented. After 1948 he gradually gave up art criticism, as he was troubled by the implicit hostilities in the genre. He was almost just a chronicler, a full-fledged chronicler.

*Guilherme Simões Gomes Junior is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at PUC-SP. Author, among other books, of pilgrim word (edusp).

Originally published on Journal of Reviews no. 8, March 2010.



Louis Martins. An art chronicler in São Paulo in the 1940s. Organization: Ana Luisa Martins and José Armando Pereira da Silva. São Paulo, MAM-SP, 380 pages.


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