Ruptures and developments in Modern Art Week



Commentary on Maria Lúcia Fernandes' book in the month in which the Week turns 104

Oh, how lazy! Imagine having to leave a nice hammock to learn how to play a lute (have you ever seen one?). And go out writing manifestos that were as intelligent as they were pretentious – with the almost absolute certainty that, from then on, nothing would be the same again. Fast, futuristic times.

Think about the iconoclastic boldness that provoked a baffle of epic dimensions – in the heart of the Municipal Theater of São Paulo. Yes, the “h” remains there to this day (if you have any doubts, just go to the official website). The spectacular building (which mimics Parisian theaters) would become a source of pride for the hillbilly aristocrats/coffee farmers – future industrialists of a city that was expanding rapidly. 

At the beginning of the 1920s, São Paulo had something like 600 thousand inhabitants, 2% of a universe of 30 million. For comparison purposes, among the current 203 million Brazilians – 11,5 million, almost 6%, live in Sampa. More or less double the current population of Rio de Janeiro. A century ago, our then capital had 1,2 million inhabitants. It was the political and cultural epicenter of the country. Basically São Paulo was a pretentious province that was quickly enriching its farmers at an impressive rate. 

This small digression aims to highlight the unusual. Why did Modernism explode here in São Paulo and not in Rio de Janeiro – which had undergone a major urban reform, led by Pereira Passos, which demolished tenement buildings, expelled the poor away from the center, opened wide avenues and much more ( the model was the radical Parisian reform led by Haussmann at the end of the 19th century). In fact, it has always impressed me how the center of Rio – and Buenos Aires – immediately reminds us of Paris.

Does Scandalous Week still have something to tell us?

The sensible Graça Aranha, then a renowned writer, was the godfather of the Week in 1922. Our master Alfredo Bosi in his canonical Concise History says that the Mesquita newspaper reported and effusively welcomed the event, highlighting the importance of the Municipal watching shows by representatives “ofthe most modern artistic currents".

This is all very well known and studied (or not!) in schools from high school to postgraduate courses. It is inescapable to see that the modernist movement gave a “ruler and compass” to a significant part not only of literature but of the arts as a whole. From Caetano's tropicalism to Zé Celso's theater: music, visual arts, architecture and even the cultural industry. For a hundred years, modernism has been a paradigm that structures us and helps build our identity as a country. 

All these themes and many others are present in the most recent book by professor Maria Lúcia Fernandes: Ruptures and developments – critical reverberations of Modern Art Week, in published last year.

The 274 pages contain ten essays organized into two sections: i. The Week and the search for Brazilian identity; ii. Critical reverberations of the Week. 

I had the pleasure (and privilege) of being a student of Maria Lúcia in the Literature course at the Federal University of Viçosa, in the mid-1990s – today Fernandes is a free professor at UNESP, in Araraquara.

Fernandes maintains that the Week was not essential for the constitution of Modernism. In a great and sarcastic comment, he even classifies the presentations at the Municipal as a “Happening Dadaist” (younger people would call it sealing).

What I liked most was that the set of essays structurally dialogue with each other. In the first half of the book, Maria Lúcia deals fundamentally with the founding fathers, so often described as antagonistic, when in essence they are two poles of the same initial movement.

Shy, Apollonian, middle-class teacher, Mario (impressively erudite) is a part of the “canon”. Dionysian, flashy and bourgeois Oswald is another. Maria Lúcia writes about both.  

The man who created a hero without any character had the intellectual ambition of seeking “a Brazilian aesthetic expression” and “incorporating the impure speech of his [our] people”. 

Pagu's husband, Oswald, was involved – as was Patrícia – politically and ideologically: both were communists. Oswald de Andrade left us an aesthetically experimentalist work, “mixing poetry and prose”. He handled techniques such as cutting and collage, bringing elements of European futurism to our literature.

Maria Lúcia, drummondically, does not move away from the present time. She joins hands with women, black people and indigenous people when dealing with contemporary authors such as Cuti (Luiz Silva), a black writer; Denilson Baniwa (indigenous artist) and the poets Angélica Freitas and Luiza Romão. I confess that I missed a reflection on the contemporary production of LGBTI authors (or those who write with an emphasis on sexual and gender diversity).

By way of conclusion, I would say that the book is rigorous – but didactic. Conversation with experts, students, journalists, but it can be enjoyed by everyone who enjoys our literature, although perhaps it is still a “secondary branch of the Portuguese, in turn a second-order bush in the garden of the Muses”as the master of magicians, major icon, a living paradigm, defined it soured a few decades ago.

* Julian Rodrigues, journalist and teacher, activist for the LGBTI and Human Rights movement, master in human and social sciences (UFABC) and doctoral candidate in Latin America (Prolam/USP).


Maria Lúcia Outeiro Fernandes. Ruptures and developments – critical reverberations of Modern Art Week (Pontes Editores). []

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