Carlos Basualdo, originally from Argentina, is the new Curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On 1/31/07, he gave a lecture at the San Francisco Art Institute on an exhibition he curated, “Tropicália,” which recently ended its tour at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
“Tropicália” refers to a period of artistic efflorescence in Brazil in the late 1960s (mostly in Rio de Janeiro). This coincided with the first years of a military dictatorship—one of several in Brazil—that soon turned to bloody repression. “Tropicália” is also the title of a celebrated 1968 album of Brazilian music, and it is the musical side of this movement that Norte-Americanos know best: Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and others. (An image of the album cover, borrowed from the BBC website, is shown above.)
Basualdo’s exhibit was designed to highlight the visual artists from the movement, especially Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Antonio Dias, and Lygia Pape. A sense of continuity was proposed by showing some recent Brazilian artists too, including the omnipresent Eli Sudbrack (code name: assume vivid astro focus). The exhibit provided information on a key background figure, Oswald de Andrade, a founder of Brazilian modernism in the 1920s whose idea of cultural cannibalism influenced the Tropicália movement.
Not having experienced the exhibit in person, I can only say that as shown in Basualdo’s installation photos, the artwork seemed to be stranded in the large white-box spaces. Of course, a lot of exhibitions look that way.
Among the artists included in the show, Lygia Clark seems a very interesting figure. Her goggles, hoods, and interactive suits resonate well today. (There are some photos of this work on CuteCircuit.) In reading about her, I was intrigued by her step-by-step progression from a somewhat conventional modernism to a post-modern practice. A full account of her career would make an interesting exhibit in itself.
The lecture was tasty, but I left it feeling I’d had an appetizer rather than a meal. I would have preferred a visual walk-through of the exhibition, with commentary and historical sidebars to fill out the experience.
For further reference, there is a longish article about Clark and Oiticica is available at Leonardo Online.