Sunday, 1 March 2015

There and Back Again: Part III

There and Back Again: Part III

My trip to:
Manchester/London/Florianopolis/Rio de Janeiro

In my last post I wrote about the exhibitions I visited whilst in Manchester for this entry I’m going to talk about my cultural sightseeing in Brazil between most of December and early January. Up for discussion will be the Museu Castro Maya.

Whist in Rio I visited the Museu de Arte do Rio (Rio Museum of Art) and Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, but my favorite cultural highlights by far was the Museu Castro Maya or the Castro Maya Museum (in English). Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya (1894-1968), or Castro Maya for short, was a buisness man and art collector  who was born in Paris and returned there several times, which made him a very familiar with European culture, and particularly the French.

Museum Plaque

It was his activity as a collector supporting national artistic values ​​and the pursuit of public access to it's collections that made ​​him a great patron committed to the city of Rio in which he lived. He helped create of the Company of the Hundred Bibliophiles of Brazil, in 1943, filling a cultural gap by editing 23 books, and Castro founded the Society for Friends of Printmaking in 1952, helped to spread the taste for engraving as artistic expression. It is also important to highlight that Castro had a pivotal role in the founding of the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in 1948, of which Castro was the first president.

The Castro Maya Museums - Museum of Sky Ranch in Santa Teresa, and Dam Museum, the Alto da Boa Vista - today constitute the set of museums belonging to the Brazilian Institute of Museums, Ministry of Culture. Based in Santa Teresa a neighborhood in the city of Rio de Janeiro located on top of the Santa Teresa hill. The area is famous for its winding, narrow streets a favorite spot for artists and tourists. The neighborhood originated around the Santa Teresa Convent, built in the 1750's on the Desterro hill. At the end of the 19th and early 20th century it was an upper class borough, as testified by its magnificent mansions, many of which are still standing. Santa Teresa has since ceased to be an upper-class neighborhood, but it has been recently revived as an artistic hotspot and is now home to several artists, art studios and galleries. Castro Maya, who lived in the neighborhood in his Chácara do Céu mansion which has now been turned into the Castro Maya Museum and its exhibits include works by Matisse, Jean Metzinger, Eliseu Visconti, Di Cavalcanti, and Candido Portinari it also includes some pretty smart period features.

Museum interior

Notice the painting Nature morte by Louis Casimir Marcoussis in the Museum Hallway

I truly loved the Castro Maya Museum not only does it boast a fantastic view from the hills looking over the city, but the yellow stone covering the facades and the exquisite art deco styled finishing’s make it worth checking out alone. Also the gardens that were designed by Roberto Burle Marx are beautiful and offer a very scenic view of downtown Rio.

Gardens were designed by Roberto Burle Marx

The view of downtown Rio

The Museum has a good selection of classical European art dating from the 1800's (Impressionists/expressionists ect) and Brazilian abstract art. The abstract art really caught my attention partly because Modernist Brazilian art was not something I was familiar with and there seemed to be some fascinating parallels with late Cubism/early Abstract Expressionism from America and Europe.

In Brazil abstract art as a movement came late in comparison to Europe. Brazil had a vigorous art scene, but it was one marked more by sturdy academic tradition. Even modern figurative art had to fight an arduous battle to impose itself upon the public during the 1920’s far behind what was going on in Europe and even the rest of South America. The Sao Paulo Biennial founded in 1951 (the second oldest art biennial in the world after the Venice Biennale) is commonly accepted as the landmark event that signaling the arrival abstract trends in Brazilian art. As a result of these changes on the national art scene the Castro Maya Museum from the 1950’s onwards started to expand its collection to the include more Abstract art. The epicenter of the Castro Maya collection is focused the years between the 1957 (IV) and 1959 (V) Biennials. As a result most of the works held by the Castro Maya Museum are composed during the second half of the 1950’s and the early 1960’s.

Untitled (1959) by Georges Mathieu

Untitled (1959) by Jean Paul Riopelle

Its noticeable that a lot of this work in the collection features modernist work and ideas that lean towards nationalist themes such as slums and are more influenced by Geometric Abstraction/Cubism. These works probably functioned as a kind of safe-conduct for acceptance, given how behind the rest of the Modernist world Brazil was even with a man like Castro Maya needed work that still had (no matter how vague) a connection to the figurative. Many of these Geometric/Cubist works Castro Maya could relate to more immediately because there modern features were still linked to reality and where a more obvious continuation of those more accepted earlier modernist European trends.

Untitled (1960) by Jean Guillaume

Untitled (1960) by Ivan Serpa

The abstract acquisitions at the end of the 1950’s are linked to the building of his home in the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. With its inauguration in 1958 the Chacara do Ceu was conceived as a white cube that would house the modern part of Maya’s Collection which was being vastly expanded at the time. Also while I was visiting the Museum had a show of contemporary art by Land Art and Installation artist Claudia Bakker showing the museum still has a role to play in the modern art world.

So yes, the Castro Maya Museum, very good!