Modern furniture in Brazil

Image: Claudio Mubarac


Commentary on the book by Maria Cecília Loschiavo dos Santos

Studies on the integration of the modern in Brazil have just received a relevant contribution, and in a field that, given its evidence, has so far been scarcely addressed. The book by Maria Cecília Loschiavo dos Santos, by proposing a historiographical and iconographical systematization of modern furniture production in Brazil, not only covers the gap but also encourages reflection on aspects and modes of the modernization impulse. By composing a panorama, situating problems and analyzing production, the book hints that, also in material culture, the imperatives of updating were imposed through the same bids and designs that commanded the arts.

Intending to identify the origins and development of Brazilian industrial design, especially in the furniture sector, Maria Cecília emphasizes the emergence of the figure of the designer in line with the transformations of the industrialization process and associated with architectural design. She does not intend to trace the social history of the furniture used extensively, as this would require social analysis, symbolic values ​​and cultural habits, in addition to aesthetic and expressive aspects.

Rather, it focuses on the designer's challenge: finding formal and technological solutions for the design and execution of furniture and other domestic utilities, required by architects' desire for general modernization and specific purposes. From artisanal production, often of unique objects with an artistic pretension, to industrial production, aimed at a consumer public in formation, the trajectory described seeks a possible specificity of Brazilian furniture, sometimes emphasizing the inventiveness of designers, sometimes the vicissitudes of product design in the face of the demands of fashion and marketing.

The story told by Maria Cecília is interesting; although made up of the typical features of forced modernization, it constituted icons and legendary inventors. From the Cama Patente to the Peg-leve line, from Warchavchik to Sérgio Rodrigues, from the Poltrona Mole to Gaivota, from John Graz to Tenreiro, from Geraldo de Barros to Fulvio Nanni, the commitment to assert a piece of furniture that wants to be modern and Brazilian is outlined. , beautiful and comfortable, sophisticated and, if possible, affordable. The path, well known as an example of modernization efforts in all areas, is marked by fluctuations in taste, the impetuosity of the projects, the rationality of the proposals, and, not least, the difficulties of implementation, given the improvised pace of developmentalism.

The typicality of the evolutionary line traced by Maria Cecília is evident in the way she sees the passage of furniture, from handcrafted object and work of art to product; or, from a minor genre to design, essential in architectural design. From the 20s until today, the evolution of furniture follows the changes that took place in literature, visual arts and architecture. The modernist experiences of Warchavichik, John Graz and Flávio de Carvalho; the projectualism inaugurated by architecture from the 30s onwards and the “project specification”, which responds to the demands of the art-technical binomial in the 50s/60s, are justified by the cultural projects and structural transformations of each historical situation. Finally, the history of modern furniture in Brazil is an effect of capitalist integration and the modernity it represents, even if hallucinated by the thematization of the “Brazilian reality”.

In the 50/60 period, rightly considered heroic, product design came of age, as the establishment of formal principles and technological development allowed mastery of materials and serial production and, simultaneously, a certain differentiation in the market. collaborated for the design vision to assimilate a captive audience. And this target audience was the same one that, culturally and politically, would be attuned to the turmoil in the arts and behavior.

It is understandable, then, why this emphasis is not sustained when dealing with later production, the “current generation”, that of the 70s/90s. A totalizing reading of the most recent production of furniture design is not possible, since, as in the related areas, it is dispersed, predominantly recoding and, frequently, nostalgic. The much sought-after articulation of form, function and production of modern projects was swallowed up by the vortex of fashion consumption.

The work seems to build the idea that, in the same way that the arts created a particular figure of the modern here, combining experimental freedom and cultural criticism, in its own way industrial design offered a production that was significant enough to change habits and styles in the field. domestic and functional furniture; and even more, that the vicissitudes of the projects exemplified the mishaps of modernization. However, perhaps it is not enough to emphasize that the specificity of Brazilian furniture, sought in these projects, is primarily due to the “persistence of the presence of handcrafted wood work”, to the appreciation of some Brazilian materials, leather and wood, dominant in the period of affirmation. , and the reference of the objects, especially the armchairs, to equally Brazilian themes.

However, this did not prevent the excellence and originality of modern furniture work: projects such as Unilabor, Hobjeto and Mobília Contemporânea; of styles, like those of Joaquim Tenreiro and Sérgio Rodrigues; of solutions, such as the Poltrona Leve, the Poltrona mole, the Candango, for example. These do not translate a Brazilian piece of furniture, rather the surprising adventure of Brazilian inventiveness.

*Celso Favaretto is an art critic, retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and author, among other books, of The invention of Helio Oiticica (Edusp).


Maria Cecília Loschiavo dos Santos. Modern furniture in Brazil. São Paulo, Studio Nobel/ Edusp, 198 pages.


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