We knew the photographer through the Elysée Palace in Lausanne. Here is the complete artist, painter, designer and maker of furniture in Brazil from the 1950s to the 1990s.
We had already seen Geraldo de Barros at the Elysée in 1994 (Charles-Henri Favrod was at the helm then), then in 1999 (William A. Ewing had now taken the lead). These were, of course, photos. Suffice it to say that the museum was pleased with some of the work that the Brazilian artist (1923-1998) developed from the 1940s onwards. The part is not necessarily equal to the whole. Lausanne therefore lacked painting, furniture and graphic design. It was therefore necessary to return to this subject in a more global way at some point. This is what the Mamco has been doing in Geneva for several weeks now. For example, De Barros is linked to the concrete artist Verena Loewensberg from Zurich, which I think is a good idea. It becomes easily possible to find meeting points between the two honored personalities. The link is said to work through Swiss Max Bill, whose influence turned out to be huge in South America.
Studio in cooperative
Let’s start talking about Geraldo de Barros. Born in a modest family, he managed to study economics. A very political discipline. The man, who started his career working for the Banco do Brasil, always wanted to create a social art in which financial considerations would not interfere. When he founded his company Unilabor in 1954 with the help of a Dominican worker-priest, the man wanted to create a cooperative whose workers, from the outskirts of São Paulo, would become the partners. Well managed, the house was able to produce beautiful furniture, generously with Rio rosewood, which has now disappeared due to deforestation. The end of Unilabor in 1961 is due to one of the many coups that Brazil has been the scene of. It ends in a military dictatorship in 1964. Things rarely go well in this vast country that initially had everything in mind. Chairs, shelves or dressing tables with the Unilabor label have now become collector’s items. Wanted collectors, if you will. Mamco had to get theirs from Barcelona.
Organized by Paul Bernard with the help of Fabiana de Barros and Michel Favre, the exhibition naturally gives prominence to the painter and photographer who wanted to connect Brazil with modernity. Everything really started for De Barros with the series of almost abstract images of the “Fotoforma”, which are in line with the Bauhaus origin. The novice was able to present them as early as 1951 in the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo. They are the ones who enabled him to get a scholarship. This viaticum gave him the opportunity to travel to Europe. Thus, the South American was able to meet Max Bill, who played the authorities, as a François Morellet who was still unknown even in France. It is therefore with a solid abstract background that the Barros was able to return to the herd to found Grupo Ruptura. Modernity had to correspond to that of a Brazil that was temporarily in full financial bloom. From 1956, for example, an International Exhibition of Concrete Art will take place in São Paulo.
This first part of the work is evoked at Mamco by early works and a large room, immersed in darkness, where the photographs are. The somewhat sharp amateur will notice that the latter is floating in the air. He remembers the setting of the Museum of São Paulo where the collection of classical painting is preserved, formed by Francisco de Assis de Chateaubriand (1), whose presentation was considered revolutionary at the time. The Geneva retrospective can then move on to the pop (and thus figurative) period of Geraldo de Barros. The movement was global in the 1960s and 1970s. It remained a parenthesis for the Brazilian, quickly shutting down as such. The artist had to quickly return to basic geometric shapes and simple colors. The novelty then for him was the abandonment of canvas and oil. Too classic. These will be replaced by new materials, such as synthetic enamel or modest formica. Back then, everyone (or almost) had a table with a Formica top in the kitchen! These sparkling works are mounted on the walls and are accompanied by furniture from the new furniture workshop of Geraldo de Barros: Hobjeto. In particular, there is a huge armchair covered in black leather and the matching stool. This duo is impressive.
The exhibition naturally includes a lot of documentation. A trend that was launched a long time ago by the Center Pompidou. Visitors are entitled to real context. This seems to be universally accepted today. She sees herself here very well done, the Barros family manages the archives to the best of their ability. So there are pictures. letters. newspaper articles. Also small models. De Barros liked to let his customers visualize their future home, where everything had to prove to be functional. This appendix does not overwhelm the exhibition. She lights it up. She finishes it. The stewards have indeed shown what it takes. Not anymore. Their retrospective thus remains on a human scale, without repetitions, lengths or unnecessary digressions. An additional success for Mamco, given the success of its tribute to Verena Loewensberg presented on a lower floor.
The Geneva institution is therefore increasingly being profiled as a museum of modern art, and no longer exclusively contemporary. At his press conference in February, director Lionel Bovier even talked about going back in time to scroll through the entire 20th century. Given the immobility and lack of taste for art history that the Museum of Art and History is currently displaying, I think this is an excellent initiative!
(1) The collection of the São Paulo Museum was presented in two separate parts in Martigny by the Pierre Gianadda Foundation. Both exhibitions took place in 1988.
“Geraldo de Barros”, Mamco, 10, rue des Vieux-Grenadiers, Geneva, until June 19. Such an. 022 320 61 22, website www.mamco.ch Open Tuesday to Friday from 12:00 to 18:00, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 to 18:00.
Born in 1948, Etienne Dumont made studies in Geneva that were of little use to him. Latin, Greek, right. A failed lawyer, he switched to journalism. Mostly in the cultural sections, from March 1974 to May 2013 he worked in the “Tribune de Genève”, starting talking about cinema. Then came the fine arts and books. Other than that, as you can see, there is nothing to report.
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