A few children, from 7 to 9 years old, obviously part of a class, sat on the floor in front of the painting, “Composition (Lonely Figure),” by the great Brazilian artist, Tarsila do Amaral. Their teacher gave them instructions about what to draw and write in their notebooks. What a lovely sight to see these children having an art class at MOMA! (Museum of Modern Art, NYC).
Students of all ages, senior citizens, young adults, Brazilians, Americans, and tourists from many different countries packed the galleries. The work of the “Tarsila” had finally arrived at MOMA in New York.
I saw some of her paintings in São Paulo in 2014. I really liked the museums in São Paulo, MASP and the Pinotecas. (You can read about some other impressions on Brazilian art that I saw in São Paulo on deslumbrar). MOMA and the Chicago Art Institute collaborated on this initiative.
What I liked most about this exhibition was seeing Tarsila’s originals close up, and also reliving memories of Brazil. Each of her paintings invokes Brazilian culture and triggers saudade. And that’s really what she wanted. When she was living abroad, she began to identify more as a Brazilian and she wrote:
One thing that I just don’t understand, and I don’t agree with, is the “English Only” of some museums. This is not only an issue I have with MOMA, since I have also experienced this at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For this Tarsila exhibition, all of the labels and the audio guide were written in English. Of course, the audience for the exhibit is comprised of Americans from the United States, but in my opinion, it should have been bilingual, in Portuguese and English. There are some things that are difficult to translate, and would be helpful to have an explanation in Portuguese (or the language of the artist). In addition, in the audio guide there was an error in the pronunciation of “Sono”. Instead of saying “sono” the voice said “sonho,” which means “dream” in English. This completely confuses the meaning of Tarsila’s “O sono” (Sleep). Another advantage of a bilingual show is that it is accessible to more people. A bilingual exhibition of Tarsila’s work, which is important for Brazil and the rest of the Portuguese speaking countries, would have reached out as a “welcome” to Portuguese speaking people.
That, however, is a minor criticism. The exhibition is worth seeing, even in English. I adored looking at all of her pieces displayed, from the unknown sketches in graphite and ink on paper, to the huge canvasses in oil, for which Tarsila is most famous.
This is not an “objective” analysis or a pseudo-academic text. MOMA has already published the coffee table book and everyone can purchase that in the museum bookstore. You can also check out the interview with Caetano Veloso on youtube.com that MOMA presented, or do a Google search of all the criticism of the show by the famous art history experts. I prefer to offer a few observations and reactions to my favorite works.
First, as an artist, I really admire that Tarsila signed her pieces with only her first name. There’s this idea among artists in the United States, that if you are a “serious” artist, you need to sign with your last name. Tarsila proves this WRONG.
Tarsila painted Brazilian subjects, and she started, along with her husband, Oswald de Andrade, and other artists of different types (Mário de Andrade, Anita Malfatti, etc.) the Cannibalism Movement, Movimento Antropófago, and Modernism in São Paulo. Tarsila traveled to Paris in order to continue her art studies, and also around Brazil. In Brazil, Tarsila was inspired by various native subjects. She painted animals, landscapes, cityscapes, human figures, almost human figures, and nature. Overall, she used a non-realistic approach that encompassed surrealism, cubism, futurism and everything else that was going on at the time.
Born in 1886, on a plantation in São Paulo, she captures nature in a raw fashion. Cartão postal, (PostCard) has the same elements that you find in typical postcards of Brazil: palm trees, other tropical trees, animals, houses, fruit, water and hills. It is interesting that she mixes semi-tropical, desert plants with the water (river/sea). It’s as if this post card isn’t just to represent the popular tropical panorama, but also that of Brazil’s rugged and barren interior, o sertão.
“O sono” (Sleep) sticks in my head because of its surrealism mixed with the Brazilian landscape—the simple and essential palm tree.
The last work that one sees before leaving the gallery, is Operários from 1933. This is a representation of different phenotypes of Brazilians and urban factories.
The exhibition of Tarsila do Amaral’s work is at the MOMA in New York City, through June 3, 2018. For more information: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/3871