Challenges of Modernity - The Gomide-Graz Family in the 1920s and 1930s

By MAM, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

Since the canonization of the modernist movement tends to be closed off around a restricted number of its leading figures, it is time to widen the scope of investigation and to open some less-explored paths, in search of artists and modalities outside the already established ones.Among many aspects of the cultural revolution of the first decades of the 20th century, what interests us here is the art that informed daily life and put the household setting in tune with the great wave of the modernization of society. It should be remembered that the creation of environments and objects of “modern” lines that began in that period was the origin of what we now understand as “product design.”Due to the success of the 1925 Paris Expo of Modern Decorative Arts, art deco gained international repercussion and arrived in Brazil. Antonio Gomide, his sister Regina and her husband, John Graz, were the harbingers of this trend in São Paulo. With works labeled as “decorative,” the protagonists of this current of modernism are often seen as “minor” artists. Nevertheless, the three belong to the first generation of Brazilian modernists. Graz participated in the Modern Art Week of 1922 at the invitation of Oswald de Andrade, who was enthusiastic about the canvases he had seen in Graz’s show just after the Swiss painter had arrived in São Paulo. In the same exhibition, Regina’s textile creations did not impress the critic. This indifference evinces an incomprehension of the importance that the fusion of art and crafts would have in Europe during the interwar period. For his part, Antonio Gomide, a resident of Paris, brought a group of his paintings to show in São Paulo in 1926, proving himself to be a mature painter, familiarized with cubism and the School of Paris.Trained in the School of Fine Arts of Geneva and with extensive first-hand experience of European culture, they took up residence in São Paulo, at a time when the city was passing through great transformations, under the impact of industrialization and the mass of immigrants who sought to “make America” in this city. In light of the restricted and conservative art market, Graz soon saw that he would not be able to earn a living from his painting. He therefore sought to introduce modern settings into haute bourgeoisie residences. He established a successful practice in this, basing his work on the concept of “total art.” In his search for formal unity, he designed everything. In the furniture, the key aspects were the dominance of geometric shapes, along with the adoption of industrialized materials, such as metallic tubes and plywood. The pieces were not serially manufactured, but handmade and exclusively produced. Regina participated in his projects, with carpets, tapestries, curtains and pillows. Versatile in various techniques, she was not a simple collaborator – she gave classes in her studio and founded the factory Tapetes Regina. Antonio Gomide also worked on various fronts. He transited from oil painting to fresco, from stained-glass windows to folding screens and decorative objects, always with great skill and seeking financial stability.The modernity of the work of these artists springs from how they dissolved the borders and the hierarchies between the fields of art and design in the creation of murals, stained-glass works and tapestries, in dialogue with the architecture. Their clients were members of the elite who sympathized with modernism – well-traveled and cultivated people, coming from the coffee growing business, then in decline, and from the industrial sectors, on the rise. Maria Alice Milliet - Curator

Challenges of Modernity The Gomide-Graz Family in the 1920s and 1930s (1920) by John GrazMAM, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

John Graz

Paisagem de Espanha (Puente de Ronda), 1920. Oil on canvas, 73,1 x 58,7 cm. Collection of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, Brasil. Transfer from the Division of the Library of the Department of Arts and Human Sciences, 1980. PINA02984 | Ciprestes em Toledo (Paisagem de Espanha), c. 1916. Oil on canvas, 73 x 59 cm. Private collection. Photo: Karina Bacci.

Fulvia and Adolpho Leirner CollectionMAM, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

Fulvia and Adolpho Leirner Collection

The Fulvia and Adolpho Leirner Collection represents the complexity that the modern taste assumed in Brazil. It includes traditionally valorized genres such as paintings and sculptures, but also furniture, tapestries and decorative objects designed mainly by the John and Regina Graz duo and by the latter’s brother, Antonio Gomide. This set constitutes a notable – and unique – example of Brazilian artworks in art deco style, which materialize the search for a synthesis by which decorative standards of a modernity stemming from international sources are coupled with the local desire to construct an autonomous Brazilian repertoire.These objects were acquired in the 1960s and 1970s. Fulvia and Adolpho understood, like few others at that time, that the modern experiment could be seen as a social phenomenon molded in a vital relationship between artistic objects and daily life. Art should no longer be something inaccessible, cloistered in museums, but should rather become present in the streets, disseminated on the façades of houses, in consumer objects, in the design of automobiles, airplanes, ships, furniture, magazines, books, textile patterns, posters and cinema. Text: Ana Paula Cavalcanti Simioni. Photo: Romulo Fialdini.

Índios de Regina Gomide GrazMAM, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

Índios, déc. 1930, Regina Gomide Graz

In the early 1920s, Regina dedicated herself to studying the indigenous art of the Upper Amazon, researching at the Museu do Índio, in Rio de Janeiro, thus becoming, alongside Vicente do Rego Monteiro, one of the pioneers of the study of the material culture of the autochthonous peoples. In this tapestry, the theme is the Indian in his natural setting, demonstrating how much Regina was in tune with the artistic atmosphere of the Brazilian modern movement, which sought to establish the roots of an authentically Brazilian identity in indigenous culture. With felt cutouts, geometricized shapes and a simplified treatment of both the human figure and the landscape, the artist reconstructs a hunting scene. This stereotyped image is in keeping with popular taste, while its small format is suited to the serial production Regina was envisioning. With works like this, modernism would stop being restricted to the elite, to become part of middle-class life as well. Regina Gomide Graz, Índios, déc. 1930, fabric, 72,5 x 121 cm. Collection Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand. Gift from Fulvia and Adolpho Leirner, 2018. MASP.10741. Photo: Romulo Fialdini.

Fulvia and Adolpho Leirner CollectionMAM, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

Fulvia and Adolpho Leirner Collection

The works presented here are certainly representative of a style, an artistic project, and an era. But they are also elements which compose Adolpho Leirner’s house, as well as Fulvia’s, part of their everyday life, in accordance with the aesthetic precept they espoused. This matchless collection, without equivalents even in the collections of Brazilian museums, therefore documents the way in which the project of “total art” was interpreted and materialized in Brazil. This is a less canonic facet of Brazilian modernism, and for this very reason deserves to be seen and understood. Text: Ana Paula Cavalcanti Simioni. Photo: Romulo Fialdini.

Challenges of Modernity The Gomide-Graz Family in the 1920s and 1930s (1920) by Antonio GomideMAM, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

Diana caçadora, déc. 1920, de Antonio Gomide

In his long stay in Europe, Antonio Gomide rubbed shoulders with various artists linked with cubism and the other vanguards. Before ending his Parisian cycle and returning to Brazil, Gomide produced a work that stands out for its large size compared to the rest of his production up until then – the panel Diana caçadora, composed of five parts sewn by hand, which does not bear a signature or date, but is presumably from 1928. The scene, constructed by concise drawing, presents some art deco features, such as leaves contained in circles that form the tree crowns, a detail that could be easily converted into a motif for printed fabric. Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting and of the moon, is depicted carrying a bow, in the gesture of taking an arrow from her quiver. As in the myth, the goddess lives in a wood alongside a lake and is associated with a fleeing doe and a wounded bird. A second woman (perhaps Diana herself) appears worshiping the moon, a cult associated with this goddess. Behind the hunter, Pegasus is arising – the winged horse was considered by the ancient Greeks as a source of poetic inspiration. In light of its artistic treatment and thematics, this work reveals how much Gomide was in tune with the art deco aesthetics, a contribution which he brought to the modernism of São Paulo. Antonio Gomide, Diana caçadora, déc. 1920, tempera on jute, 160 x 280 cm. Collection Cacau e Gugu Steiner. Photo: Karina Bacci.

Colcha (1930) by Ateliê Regina Gomide GrazMAM, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo

Colcha, déc. 1930, Ateliê Regina Gomide Graz

Made from cut and sewn fabrics, this quilt displays geometric patterns in relief, characteristic of the art deco style, a development of the cubist experiments that marked the arts in the early 20th century. From Regina’s studio, this piece was most likely executed by one of her pupils.A similar quilt, produced by Regina Graz, was in the famous Casa Modernista [Modernist House], designed by Gregori Warchavchik and opened to public visiting in 1930, in an exhibition that exalted the modern ideal of living. In period photos, the piece appears in the couple’s bedroom, covering the bed, whose headboard bears a painting by Tarsila do Amaral. Ateliê Regina Gomide Graz, Colcha, déc. 1930, cotton, silk and velvet (hand and machine sewn), 231 x 212 × 2 cm. Private collection. Photo: Karina Bacci.

Credits: Story

Desafios da modernidade – Família Gomide-Graz nas décadas de 1920 e 1930
Curadoria: Maria Alice Milliet
Período expositivo: 25 de maio a 15 de agosto
Local: Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo
Realização: Governo Federal, Ministério do Turismo e Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo
Fotos: Romulo Fialdini e Karina Bacci

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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