two sides of one avenue

The Louvre building holds a series of useful contradictions for considering the thresholds with which to investigate the memory of a city. It is seen and fabled by a large number of people who pass through the so-called New Center (Centro Novo) of São Paulo. Every building is, at once, a type of skin exposed to an external gaze, and a web of viscera in which other materials are contained. What is the physiological history of this building? What have been the many emotions to cross its path? What do the many people who, during a break from work, stopping to contemplate the buildings in front of them, see in it? People waiting for the stoplight, coming from Marconi Street and Dom José Gaspar Square; people stopped on the sidewalk, looking up? And those who come, from within and without: the building’s inhabitants, the people who maintain it every day?

The Louvre building can be thought of as a monumental museum element from various perspectives, some of which – for there will always be unforeseen others – are being sharply and good-humoredly called into question in the louvre pau-brazyl. Its coloring and stylistic vocabulary, which we learn to attribute to the an/architect Artacho Jurado, distinguish it from the other buildings on São Luís Avenue, while also connecting it to other buildings that have become points of reference in the city – the Saint-Honoré, the Viadutos, the Cinderela. But, taken as part of the set of façades along São Luís, it contributes in particular as a monumentalizing element of an historic period that is continually recounted by the residents and frequenters of São Paulo’s central region: the period of wealth and sophistication, against which we witness the various tinges of its current decay.

This chimera of wealth and sophistication is reflected in the name of the Louvre and exemplifies a common theme in the repertoire of names given to buildings in Brazil, in which we constantly find references to elegant foreign places and a canon of the masters of so-called “great art,” both projecting an image of the jet set. So, if in this Louvre we find apartment blocks named Velásquez, Renoir, Da Vinci and Rembrandt, elsewhere we find the Place Vendôme building and others baptized in reference to the most recent canons of good taste, such as, for example, the jazz musicians Stan Getz and Charlie Parker. These series of names converse with others that are familiar to Paulistanos and are commonplace in Brazilian cities. Additionally, there are many names of important Brazilian places and cities; there are the names of women (with and without last names), of men with last names, and their companies; there are the names of saints; indigenous names, that can refer to historical or literary figures, or, again, to near and distant places.

The world revealed by this onomastic building – which can itself be inserted into a broader repertoire of names attributed to public spaces – holds curious similarities to what we find in a pictorial repertoire; that is, the pre-modern: portraits of people and families, landscapes, sacred art, significant episodes in individual and collective histories, all of them arranged in sight of an audience, which in the case of buildings is even more varied than in galleries and museums. Passersby may or may not grasp the referent of the origin of these names but, in any case, they can experience the more immediate effects it evokes of estrangement. Other associations will be made in their own ways, for these and other streets, as well as poetic and historical ruminations not unlike those that develop here.

So we say, then, that the city presents itself as a type of museum of important things: in their names, buildings have marked their monumental character and the webs of memory with which they intend to connect themselves. “For what, and why a museum?” may appear, thus, as a specific modification of the more general question about the effects and feelings of memory of a city and about the meaning of art itself as a generator of reactions.

Although the artistic vanguards of the early-twentieth century had begun to veer away from figurative or representational art, we know how much it still costs to subvert the recovery that museums and other sites of memory production end up enacting in the logic of distinction, as they construct coherent series of names and last names in the accumulation of artistic artifacts. The tensions and paradoxes surrounding the generation that ushered in the modernist project in São Paulo created a discourse on art that is today reverberant in names, last names and eminent places; which, however, ended up devouring themselves, iconizing their central characters.

The cannibalization of modernism by this logic offers us an interesting perspective – and prospective – for considering the strange insertion of Artacho Jurado into the production of a new architectural language within the museum of great new things that was Paulista architecture between 1940-70. This is what I propose we examine here, encompassing a very visible impasse in the trajectory of the generation of ‘22 – which was more dedicated to the institutionalization of this new aesthetic and political project rather than to chance – that came to have its own name attributed to a great building on São Luís Avenue, the skyscraper library that also confronts this Paulistano Louvre: Mário de Andrade.

The art world harassed and ridiculed by the first modernist generation was not very different from that of today in that it had a pretentious repertoire of grandiosities, still recognizable not only in the onomastic building discussed above, but also in the expectations that surprise us (despite ourselves) in our engagement with art and history.

Modernist subversion was primarily aimed against the vocabulary and uses of monumentalizing art and taxes from an imperial, royal point of view that did not serve city life at large as the Republic matured, under new regimes of work relations, new languages circulating in the cultural industry, and with the massive arrival of immigrants. Shortly after the Week of ‘22, the question arose regarding the terms with which to define future aesthetic paths – should they remain what they were: Parisian? In other words, which Paulistanas, Paulistas, or Brazilians were in fact the beaux-arts and belles-lettres that formed the taste of the generation of ‘22? And, after three decades of the Republic, what would Brazilianize this São Paulo full of Italians?

The impasse retains a familiar air with the strangeness of the Louvre building and other works by the Galician-Brazilian autodidact, Artacho Jurado, in which many of us recognize a tropical vocabulary. The problem of Brazil as an historic and aesthetic fact occupied Mário de Andrade throughout his life, leading him to collect, consider and compile, in an appreciation for documentation, the first bricks of what would become his devoted art; not one related to the imperial imagination, but one that recognized itself, in the wake of the romantic project, as a national entity rooted in the popular. After the modernist invasion of firecrackers and jokes at the Teatro Municipal da Paulicéia Desvairada, the group that formed there focused on the possibilities of art constructing itself from the rubble of a not-so-distant past. But it was also under the constant threat of seduction by foreign fashions and invasions. What remained of the colonial past, and how in these remains could they recuperate the importance of Brazil’s black and indigenous populations? How to be loyal to the complex relations of exchange and affection between the asymmetries of our bodies, sensibilities, and local tastes?

In poetry and art, solutions generally run from a certain vocabulary marked as popular and the processes and languages that structure its uses by subaltern groups, humor and curiosity as fundamental attitudes of the artist – in contraposition to the canonizing erudition and attitudes of reverence recognized by previous generations. If the results of this recipe are prolific and varied, Andrade has, in this group, the singularity of having dedicated himself in the most systematic way to the sites of reproduction of these inventions. It is he, to put it in so many words, who was most preoccupied by museums, documents, and monuments in the literal sense.

The assumption of the effigy of Andrade in the dour gray building located in the Dom José Gaspar Square speaks little of the anguish that incited from him the production of his own importance and also of his affection that the Brazilian sensibility had and has of the erotic, the emotional, and the religious, despite the constant reproduction of an urbanized, blasé good taste. Throughout his life, Andrade struggled between impulses modeled, on one hand, after the figure of the predestined, inspired, and virtuous artist; and on the other, of discomfort with the notion of an individual destiny, which brought him to formulate the project of an art that could be productive for the everyday life of society. He dedicated himself to taking up the task of creating possibilities that encompassed artifacts of these two great categories (as he conceived of them): the popular and the erudite. For this, he nurtured his erudition and his vocation as a cultural commentator, investing time and resources into the formation of a library, a personal collection – and in traveling to study, from along the outskirts of São Paulo up to the Amazon.

Not in the least, Andrade was also, from a young age, a teacher of singing, piano and the history of music at the Conservatório Dramático e Musical de São Paulo. His own everyday life – between the Centro and Barra Funda neighborhoods – was a journey between the broader circuits of artistic artifacts, from the more vanguardist and erudite paths to the more popular. His movement towards the institutionalization of the aesthetic and political project of modernism was the culmination of this trend. On the board of the Department of Culture, between 1935 and 1938, Andrade oversaw and promoted ethnographic and folkloric research that placed artists and the public – in full metropolitan madness– into contact with popular and traditional expressions. He created a Public Album that disseminated the recordings of a contemporaneous orchestral repertoire that would be otherwise difficult to access; he circulated books through working-class neighborhoods via mobile libraries; he made sure that children would recognize the tunes and dance steps of Nau Catarineta; and he developed, with Rubens Borba de Moraes and Sérgio Milliet, what would become the Municipal Library.

In the wake of the Estado Novo, with the change in São Paulo’s state government, under the management of Gustavo Capanema at the Ministry of Education and Culture new modalities of stabilization and circulation of primary materials were dignified by the modernist gaze: a design for the Service of National History and Artistic Patrimony (Serviço do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional), studies for a new National Museum, a Brazilian Encyclopedia. All of these foundational acts required the knowledge and balance exercised in Andrade’s prior endeavors, implicating the selection and criteria of taste as well as the judgment and equilibrium over the perilous uses of a nationalist history of the fascist inclination, without, on the other hand, belittling the contributions of foreigners who arrived, with their new ways of doing things, as they fled from Europe.

It’s impressive that most of the projects articulated by Andrade in these fantasies of foundation, documentation, musealization, institutionalization, establishment of a Brazilian art did not have an immediate effect larger than that of his own and immediate iconization after his death in 1945, materializing in the baptism of the Municipal Library, which in a certain way marks the transition of a new generation and new debates on the meanings of a modernist project. Andrade’s campaign for the social functions of art, regarding the fundamental perversity of the figure of the virtuoso artist, the possible ways of conceiving modern art in order to serve collective life, ended up hidden behind his vocation as a “line jumper,” conforming with the projection of him as heroic and sacrificial – the pioneer of new territories, founder of languages, master of a generation, demiurge of cultural politics, Macunaíma of frustrated destinies. Who cares, anyways, about the canon that devours de Andrade himself, consumed in a restless research during the twenty years before his death that ended up monumentalizing him afterwards? For what can a Mário museum, a Mário-as-library-building, serve, in addition to our own narcissistic fantasies of cultured and elegant importance?

The hope of our generation is that the practice of documenting, iconizing, and monumentalizing our own lives and the lives of others can be subverted by always unexpected uses of the strange artifacts that we thus produce. The academic and historicizing vision that we form, unfortunately, is still restricted and elitist, and perhaps has been unable to free itself from a catalog of eminences: the Louvre, Jaraguá, Eiffel, Esther, Ceci and Peri. Luckily, there is always more than the writing desk and the studio of the artist; there are parties, and there are revolts. Perhaps it is worth as much, or more, to dance samba in the Dom José Gaspar Square. Flirtations on the sidewalk, new villages nurtured in the place of other architectural monuments, and the minimal shelters made by residents of the street beneath billboards produce equally valuable memories. And perhaps the Galician-Brazilian Artacho Jurado does not need to become a hero; who knows if we can protect his Louvre from the recalcitrance of the colonization of good taste.

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This text was originally published in the book the autobiography of monalisa (museu do louvre pau-brazyl, 2016) and revised in June, 2021.

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