Modernity and Identity in São Paulo During the 1950’s: Three Murals from Cândido Portinari

  • Abstract:

    In the 1950s, São Paulo knew a great vertical growth, driven by the economic prosperity of the period after the Second World War. Inserted into this impulse are a remarkable number of buildings that expressed an idea of modernity and identity. These works joined architects and artists, adapting in a specific way the European concept of synthesis of arts and New Monumentality, brought by some intellectuals, like Le Corbusier and Sigfried Giedion. This presentation aims to introduce, through the study of three murals from the Brazilian artist Cândido Portinari, hypothesis on how some regional topics – linked to the memory and identity of São Paulo and the Latin America – were related to the modern architecture and the debates observed in Europe. The first mural analyzed is the one made by Portinari to the Ministry for Health and Education, designed by Lucio Costa in Rio de Janeiro, in 1937. This is an important example, due to its place as a model of the synthesis of art, and its modernity, praised in international magazines by the time. The project established the first significant connection between the modern architecture and the national identity in Brazil, and the bridge to that were the murals by Portinari. The second mural was made for a Hotel in São Paulo, in 1951. In this work, Portinari represented a very specific chapter of the colonial history of São Paulo, and linked it to the 400th anniversary of the city, that was three years ahead. In 1953, the artist delivered the third mural analyzed in this presentation, to decorate the wall of a gallery designed by Oscar Niemeyer. This project is worthy of attention due to the debates it evoques. The first sketches by the artist and some documentation allow us to know that Portinari designed a mural about colonial explorers, as the one made for the Hotel in 1951, but due to some happenings, Portinari ended up making a geometric abstract mural, a polemic choice to a mural by that time.