Roberto Burle Marx @ The Jewish Museum
Interview to Jens Hoffmann
What is the relation between the Jewish Museum and Ibero-American art?
There isn’t any particular relation, we try to look into the whole world, not only into America or Western Europe. We like exploring Latin America, we like exploring Africa, we like exploring Asia. We don’t look particularly to where the artists are coming from, we pay attention first to the work that represents them.
How did you come to work with the selection of pieces that are in the Roberto Burle Marx exhibition at the Jewish Museum?
Most of the pieces that are in the exhibition are coming mostly from two different places: Roberto Burle Marx’s office, and the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx, both located in Rio de Janeiro. Most of the things where viewed with his foundation -the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx. We were trying to look for the most important pieces that represented him and that would be related with the context in New York, and the Jewish work, and also showing his diversity: there are customs, drawings, paintings, sculptures, jewelry. We wanted to show all the different things that he has done.
Was there anything that you would say that was crucial to have in the exhibit?
Well, the beginning of his career in Berlin was very important, and also the design he made for the Ministry of Health and Education in Rio de Janeiro. All his work in Rio is very important.
In that sense, how do you think that Roberto Burle Marx influenced the next generations of modern and postmodern artists?
I don’t think that there are artists that he influenced that are not in Brazil. I don’t know if there is a particular influence. There are specific people that came across his work and responded to it. In the case of the exhibition, contemporary art is related in different ways.
If there is something there to think about related to art and time, it is that his art changes. His art is different every year. The seasons change, the plants are growing, and his painting is growing and his painting is changing with the different seasons. And if you think of how gardens are growing and how plants are growing, I think that that affects the way he was related to certain objects.
Would you relate this to another artist?
Not really, if you think in this type of approach that he had. But I think that this is what I like about him, this idea of time he works with.
I was actually thinking in this other exhibition you have, “Using walls, floors and ceilings”, which right now is showing the work of Beatriz Milhazes, who is also from Brazil. I was thinking if there is an influence from Burle Marx in her work.
Yes, definitely. You see that in her work, she is also interested in vegetations, and plants, and nature. And all of her work follows an organic abstraction, and you can see that also in Burle Marx’s work. And she was also focused in the folk art of Brazil. The carnaval is an important thing for her too, and what you see in the museum is related to carnaval. Burle Marx loved carnaval, he made a lot of pieces for the carnaval, they are both part of this particular culture in Rio de Janeiro.
Can you tell me about the activities that are related with the exhibit?
There is going to be a sort of conference later, focused on the development of art in Brazil, and how there was a particular form of modernism developed in Latin America and in Brazil. We will also talk about this idea of cannibalism, the way of how Brazilians appropriate in a very specific way the cultures that are not native, like West European cultures and modernism. There was this theory named anthropophagia, which comes from this art theorists. Thinking about what happens in the Brazilian art from the 1960s. All art that came to Brazil from Europe was consumed and digested, to come up with something that was very unique. And Burle Marx was very much part of it. It is going to be about looking at Brazilian art and how it worked with it’s own colonialism. If we think about the plants and the gardens, even the plants where imported. But he was really looking at Brazilian native plants, and Brazilian motives. But at the same time you see the differences in his work of what is mainly inspired by Europe and what is completely new.
The exhibition is going to the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, in Berlín, and to the Museu de Arte do Rio, en Rio de Janeiro. Is it going to be the same exhibit? Why are these locations important?
There is an interesting connection between Burle Marx and Berlin, that is the beginning of his career, it is the place where he studied the plants and the botanical gardens. He was inspired by the art that he saw when he was there. He wouldn’t have been the same person if he hadn’t been in Berlin during 1927 and 1928. So I really wanted the show to be there. It goes to the beginning and then it goes back to Rio de Janeiro. The only important change is that the tapestry is not going to be there, and that there will be more contemporary art pieces included.
What do you think about his multidisciplinary work in relation to the art from the XXI century?
I think that there is a very rigid separation. If you think about artists from the beginning of the XX century they used to move with freedom from theatre and dance, and the visual arts, and photography and painting. And then there was another moment where everybody started to conceptualize, so, you had to be a photographer, you had to be a painter. And only recently I feel that people are going back to diversity again, and that they are thinking about it in a different way. But there are many aspects, like art schools, the museums, the galleries, they have to speak to a certain traditional notion of art, otherwise they don’t really fit with the notion of market that is out there. I think a lot of this has to do with how the market goes, and what it needs. There is a lot of people that think and question this, and of course Roberto Burle Marx’s art is part of this.
But even the artists that work in a traditional way there is something interesting, people continue to explore painting in an interesting way, or explore photography, and they can go beyond those boundaries.
Do you think that there is an Ibero-American “boom”, where the art from Ibero-America is getting more attention?
Yes, I agree, it has to be with globalization and a sort of multicultural programs in the museums. It is much easier to relate to an artist that is from Argentina, Brazil or Colombia, than what it is to relate to an artist that is from Africa or Asia because of a common art traditions. In the American continent pretty much you have the European tradition that comes from the colonizations. Brazil is an interesting place because of how they mix the traditions, also with African influences.
What do you think is going to happen in relation to this in the future?
It is very hard to say. There are a lot of conditions, like the market conditions, but also how art is taught in the schools, how are the museums exhibits, what are their needs, what is audience expecting, all these things affect in how art is going to be developed. It is not only about creative people creating. It is tough, is very tough you know. Because all these things are open, all these things are happening, and they affect one another. But then, at the same time, if you want real change, a real development, it is very difficult for people to accept.
What is your advice for new curators and art communicators? What do you think that is important to keep in mind?
Well honestly I always found it very inspiring seeing everything that is out there: look around, try to see as much as possible, not only from the present but also from the past. Try to think how all the things are related one to the other, because that also explains the development of art, and how art has been thought. And it may also explain what type of art we need for the future.