The Museu de Arte Brasileira (MAB) has 2,850 works in its collection. From this collection, the work of sixty-four female Brazilian artists was chosen for the exhibition, “ELAS: Women Artists in MAB’s collection.” I’m not an art critic and have know little about the women responsible for the works that are on display. This is a review of the holistic experience of being in the museum and my amateur impressions of the art.
Entrance to the MAB is free. For those who drive, parking costs R$30. I went on a Sunday at 11:30 am, there was ample street parking, free of charge. The doorman at a neighboring building confirmed that it’s safe to leave your car on the street. The museum is close to Pacaembu Stadium and is accessible by public transportation.
At the entrance there’s a metal detector. When I entered, it went off, but there were no employees to search me or prevent my entry. Filming and photography aren’t allowed in the museum. There is a coat check, museum store and bathrooms. There is no onsite restaurant, but the surrounding neighborhood is full of (expensive) restaurants.
The exhibition is in the Annie Alvares Penteado room, to the right of the entrance. There are no identifying signs (unlike for Raimundo Cela exhibition). The exhibition space is a large circle, with black walls and black carpet. In the middle of the room there is a diagonal wall with engravings, serigraphs, lithographs on the one side and photography and multimedia on the other side. Most of the eighty-two art works are hung on the interior of the circular wall that surrounds the room. In the space between the room wall and the middle wall, sculptures are mounted. There’s a table that functions as the “educational space” where there are fliers with information and puzzles of the art.
The information on display at the entrance notes that: “Female participation in Brazilian art was triggered by the onset of Modernism. Until then, virtually unknown and hidden, women artists were relegated to the status of amateur because of biological determinism, social prejudices of gender and a lack of opportunity and recognition by institutions and their practices.” According to this information (which I haven’t’ verified), this exhibition highlights a key moment in the history of female Brazilian artists. I didn’t see more than five visitors when I was there. Why did the exhibition of Frida Kahlo attract so many people (600,000) and not this one?
I think that is the question of the artwork, the organization and lack of information.
The art definitely doesn’t represent the best work of the artists in the exhibition. “The Frog” (one of the works in the exhibition) by Tarsila do Amaral has political and historical meaning, but is rather unimpressive. Tarsila has significantly more striking work (for example, A Cuca, which has a similar subject matter). My favorite works (Santuza Andrade—Untitled, 1970 and Marina Caram—Homem do Campo, 1955 and Anna Luiza Bellucci—Untitled, 1980) are obscured by the spatial arrangement. (The majority of the art loses impact in such a large and dark space).
Due to the limitations of the collection (which apparently consists of less sophisticated and unknown works), it was necessary to be more innovative, with a more interactive display and/or with more focus on the process of some of the women. How much did these women respond to history versus agitating for change? What was the impact on their work? What were the consequences? There is no such information in the exhibition. Currently, neither the work nor the artists engage the public.
Also, I noticed the lack of discussion of race in the exhibition. In a country with the largest population of people of African descent in the world (outside of countries in Africa), it’s an unacceptable omission. As I said, I haven’t studied Brazillian art, but I suspect that there are few/no Afro-Brazilian artists in the exhibition.