Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    In this pocket-sized catalogue for an exhibition of recipients of the Leirner Prize for Contemporary Art in 1959, Ariano Suassuna writes that he would trade all his works with Francisco Brennand if “he would let me sign five drawings and five ceramic plates of my choice, within his enormous oeuvre. And that would still be a dishonest profit for me.” Brennand’s work is free of what he describes as a Northeastern preoccupation with representing “the land, the myths, the stories, the forms and colors of the region.” He draws on sources as diverse as a Persian jar or a Greek frieze, and Suassuna argues that “Brazil and the Northeast are exactly the legitimate heirs of the Western, Latin, Baroque, lush tradition of Mediterranean culture.” Somehow, he concludes, Brennand manages to absorb “quietly, lovingly and naturally all that surrounds him,” combining “universal” influences with the landscape of the Northeast.

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    Francisco Brennand (b. 1927) was born in Recife, the son of a ceramic tile manufacturer, though he initially studied painting. Under Álvaro Amorim, he developed a style of simplified lines and pure colors with floral motifs that float in pictorial space; he won first prize at the Salão Anual de Pintura do Museu do Estado de Pernambuco in 1947 and 1948. Invited by Cícero Dias, he traveled to France in 1949 and studied with André Lhote (1885–1962) and Fernand Léger (1881–1955) in Paris. While there, he encountered an exhibition of Picasso’s ceramics, and discovered that many of the artists of the Paris School, including Joan Miró, had worked in ceramics. The sinuous forms of Antoni Gaudí, whose work Brennand encountered in the early 1950s, are also evident. In 1955, he participated in the V Salão Bahiano de Belas-Artes and the III Bienal Hispano-Americana de Barcelona. After a brief return to Brazil, Brennand took an apprenticeship at a majolica factory in Deruta, Italy, where he developed a process of applying and burning ceramic enamels to build colors and textures on the surface. Between 1958–99, he created several large-scale ceramic murals in Brazil and the United States, including the Bacardi Building in Miami and the newly-opened Recife airport. In 1971, he restored the ceramic factory owned by his father and turned it into his studio, where he permanently exhibits ceramic objects, panels and sculptures. This document, from 1959, also notes his participation in the Exposição Internacional de Cerâmica in Ostend, Belgium, and the V Bienal de São Paulo.

     

    The Brazilian playwright Ariano Suassuna (1927–2014) was Brennand’s high school classmate in Recife, with whom he published and illustrated a literary magazine. In 1955, he published his most famous work, O Auto da Compadecida, which he references in this essay. A champion of the popular culture of Northeastern Brazil, in the 1970s he founded, with Brennand, the Movimento Armorial, an effort to approach elite forms of modern art, literature, dance, and music from a radically regionalist perspective. In his essay, Suassuna seems to search for a synthesis of Brennand’s modernism with the folk traditions of his region.

     

    In addition to a checklist of works shown in the exhibition, this document reproduces one painting by Brennand in which his figurative style is evident; this style might explain his inclusion in this honorary exhibition at the Galeria de Arte das Folhas. When, two years earlier, art patrons of São Paulo felt that important figurative artists had been excluded from the Concrete-focused biennial, the industrialist Isaí Leirner (who, at the time, was director of the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo) sponsored an alternative exhibition of 12 São Paulo-based artists. This initial exhibition, which became known as the Premio Leirner, was held in the lobby of the office building of the newspaper La Folha. Leirner eventually founded a space dedicated to this cause, known as the Galeria de Arte das Folhas, which operated from 1958–62 and hosted not only exhibitions but also debates and conferences that promoted a wider array of tendencies than those backed by the organizers of the São Paulo Bienal. Leirner and the other patrons who coalesced around the Galeria Folha often bought the exhibited art themselves and donated it to museums, thus driving the institutionalization of the showcased artists. In its four years of operation, the gallery exhibited many emerging talents, including Franz Weissmann, Regina Silveira, Maria Helena Andrés, Mário Silésio, Di Cavalcanti, Willys de Castro, and Hermelindo Fiaminghi. This essay was published in the pocket-sized catalogue for an exhibition of Clélia Cotrim Alves, Renina Katz, Francisco Brennand, and Leopoldo Raimo, all recipients of the Premio Leirner in October 1959.

     

    [For more on Francisco Brennand, see the following documents in the ICAA digital archive: by Gilberto Freyre “A propósito de Francisco Brennand, pintor, e de seu modo de ser do trópico” (doc. no. 1110797), and “Regionalismo brasileiro” (doc. no. 1110810); by Orley Carneiro de Mesquita “Recife em S. Paulo” (doc. no. 1111183); by Ana Mae Barbosa “Artes plásticas no Nordeste” (doc. no. 1111417); by Marcelo Santos “O Recife e as artes plásticas” (doc. no. 1110815); by Theon Spanudis “A Bienal de Salvador” (doc. no. 1110843); and by Ariano Suassuna “Os desenhos de M. Carmen” (doc. no. 1111376).

     

    For the rest of the catalogue, see by Wolfgang Pfeiffer et. al. “Leopoldo Raimo” (doc. no. 1316907); by Cláudio Abramo “Renina Katz” (doc. no. 1317183); by Clarival do Prado Valladares “Clélia Cotrim Alves” (doc. no. 1317124); and by Clélia Cotrim Alves “O meu trabalho…” (doc. no. 1317154)].