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The Idea of Freedom

With the exhibition O Retorno dos Gigantes / The Return of the Giants, the Deutsche Bank Collection is currently presenting a comprehensive view of German painting from 1975–1985 in Latin America. One hundred and fifty drawings and paintings by representatives of the Neo-Expressionists (Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, Jörg Immendorff, A.R. Penck) and the Neue Wilden (Salome, Karl Horst Hödicke, Jiri Georg Dokoupil, Rainer Fetting, Middendorf, Elvira Bach) are on show. After a sojourn in Monterrey and Mexico City, the exhibition was presented in the Museu de Arte Moderna in Sao Paulo. In an interview, Rejane Cintrao , head curator of MAM, discusses the relationship of Brazilian artists to German painting from the nineteen-eighties.



MAM Sao Paulo, 2003

Marie Luise Knott: How and why did the idea arise to take on an exhibition that had already been shown in Monterrey and Mexico City?

Rejane Cintrao: When Hector Ramos, the vice president of Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, suggested taking on this show, we were very happy and immediately got in contact with the German curators and Deutsche Bank Brazil, in particular with Datia Sano and Silvana Cerioni. I was also personally very closely involved, not least because I’d conducted tours in 1983 at the Biennial of Sao Paulo and had already gotten to know Penck and Lüpertz, whose works were being shown at the Biennial at the time. Two years later, in 1985, I was involved with the Biennial once again through my activities at the Museum for Contemporary Art at the University of Sao Paulo. Doukoupil had also been invited to show there. In those days, I was already in close contact with Brazilian artists, particularly the young artists of the Geracao 80 (Generation 80), who were still at the very beginning of their success.

The current exhibition The Return of the Giants is closely connected with MAM’s program. Five years ago we had a large exhibition of Anselm Kiefer, and three years ago a wonderful exhibition on German Expressionism with the collection of the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal. At the beginning of this year, we showed the exhibition 2080 with Brazilian artists from Geracao 80 . We were keen on showing The Return of the Giants here, too, partly to underscore our involvement with Expressionism, and partly because we wanted to examine the influence Expressionism has had on contemporary Brazilian artists.




Exhibition Opening

Knott: When representatives of the Neo-Expressionists were shown at the Biennial in Brazil for the first time twenty years ago, they met with great enthusiasm on the part of both artists and the public. What was it that fascinated the Brazilians so much back then?

Cintrao: The Neo-Expressionists weren’t only enthusiastically received at the time; they also influenced the works of many young artists. In Rio and Sao Paulo, a return to painting was underway in those days. The Return of the Giants is a great success today, as well. We’ve had more than 28,000 visitors, for the most part students who come because of our work in the area of art education. Everybody’s been talking about the exhibition: art critics, artists, and art enthusiasts alike.



Karl Horst Hödicke: Narcissus, 1983, Deutsche Bank Collection

Knott: Again and again, one reads about the influence the Italian Transavanguard ia and the Neue Wilden had on the Brazilian art of Geracao 80. They all had a similar impulse: after twenty years’ dominance of rationalism, conceptual art, and minimalism in art, figurative painting experienced a new and sudden boom all around the world. Is there really a correspondence between the German and Brazilian art of the time?

Cintrao: Conceptual art had been dominating for years in Brazil, as well. Following the end of the dictatorsh ip (more here), Brazilians found renewed hope throughout the nineteen-eighties. Something new began for artists, as well: freedom. The return to painting was a free and happy time. There was this boom and a sense of joy, not only for the painters of Geracao 80, but also in music. All of a sudden, musical groups were forming everywhere in the cities…

I think that the correspondence between Brazil and Germany consists in the fact that the return to painting in both countries coincides with a historical moment of political freedom. In Brazil, with a return to democracy after twenty years of dictatorship. In Germany, with the end of the dictate of Economic Recovery, perhaps, together with the opening of society following 1968.




Exhibition Opening

Knott: Have the Neo-Expressionists influenced Brazilian art in an aesthetic sense, as well?

Cintrao: In a certain sense, they have. The idea of freedom found its expression in the way the canvas was treated, the way the brushstroke was applied. The Germans were daring; the most important thing for them was to express what they were feeling through painting. When the dictatorship ended, it was precisely this free painterly gesture that impressed Brazilian artists. Questions of archival durability seemed irrelevant back then. This changed in the early nineties, when themes such as identity pushed into the foreground through the rise of Aids.

But just so you don’t misunderstand me: Germany and Brazil are two completely different countries, and their art is extremely different, as well. Even if Brazilian artists are always aware of what’s happening abroad and meet with international recognition, there is an entirely individual character here – or, as the art critic Tadeu Chairelli recently termed it: a “Brazilian International Art.”



Walter Dahn: Nightmare, 1984, Deutsche Bank Collection

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