Modernisms News V: From the Sertão to São Paulo
From the Sertão to São Paulo: Transregional Intersections in Brazilian Outsider Art at the Galeria Estação
By Caroline Olivia M. Wolf
A striking array of media and visual forms encapsulates a visit to São Paulo’s Galeria Estação. Collector Vilma Eid looks assertively beyond mainstream and regional borders to bring artists from the institutional margins to her gallery’s center-stage. Eid’s venue is dedicated to exhibiting contemporary outsider artists from across Brazil, engaging the works of local urban artists with those from the sertão, or northeastern hinterlands, and further rural regions beyond the conventional art buying circuit. The vigorous nature of this gallerist’s endeavor cannot be overstated, as critical discourse surrounding Brazilian art production has historically towards binary comparisons of urban centers such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Indeed, Vilma Eid’s efforts have earned her global recognition as a visionary “champion of outsider artists.”
The diverse regional backgrounds of the artists featured at the gallery rendered the venue an ideal stop for the 2016 Transregional Academy on Modernisms: Concepts, Contexts, and Circulations. As one of the aims of the international seminar was to consider the spatial and temporal settings of modern and contemporary art through a multi-cultural global lens, the exhibited works sparked reflection on peripheral artists, markets and circuits in dialog with of the so-called “center.”
Scholar and curator Ana Gonçalves Magalhães (MAC USP) guided seminar participants through a brief overview of the gallery’s current exhibitions, including a feature show on José Bernnô (1945- 2009). Curated by Marco Giannotti, the exhibit highlights the abstract works composed of wax, oil and automotive paint created by the late contemporary artist while working in an auto shop in São Paulo’s northern borough of Limão – far from the city’s conventional gallery circuit [FIG. 1-2]. Born Jose Norberto de Mattos, Bernnô first received training as a mechanic at the National Service of Industrial Education. He later took free courses with the painters Paulo Pasta and Marco Giannotti, in addition to studying at the Faculty of Fine Arts of São Paulo. Bernnô initially garnered the attention of local critics when they by chance took their cars in to his auto shop for repair and were struck by his works on display. His first solo show took place in 2008 at Buck Studio. After his death in 2009, Rodrigo Naves and Maurice Buck organized a show of his unpublished drawings. Bernnô’s geometric shapes and pure hues have led critics to compare his work with that of Italo-Brazilian artist, Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988), who also made São Paulo boroughs his home.
Within the greater space of the Galeria Estação, the production of Paulista artist Bernnô is placed in conversation with the wood works of the sculptor known as Véio, whose adopted moniker means “old man.” The artist, born as Cícero Alves dos Santos in 1948, hails from the municipality of Nossa Senhora da Glória in Sergipe, Brazil’s smallest state in the Northeast Atlantic Coast region. Thus, Véio is one of various featured in the gallery representing the region of the sertão – an area all too often underrepresented in the institutional art scene. Contrasting the industrial materials and geometric forms of Bernnô, Véio’s work draws upon popular local traditions, in which natural wood stumps and branches are used to evoke figurative, animate forms [FIG. 3-4]. Critic Rodrigo Naves has interpreted Véio’s hybrid creations as “somewhat pop in nature,” redolent of the vibrant fauna of the artist’s regional heritage. Yet Bernnô and Véio also both purposefully engage with bold color palette and simple shapes, reflecting a shared inherent interest in pure hues, materiality and abstraction.
Like Véio, a prominent percentage of the artists displayed in the venue have provincial roots and inventively imbue local materials or techniques with new visual motifs. Izabel Mendes da Cunha’s (1924-2014) ceramic production provides another key example. Originally from the countryside of Minas Gerais, she moved to northern county of Santana after her husband’s death in 1978. Her large earthenware jars, rendered in the master pot-making techniques she inherited from her mother and passed on to her daughters and disciples, demonstrate stylistic and thematic innovation in the medium.
The stocky forms of female torsos that shape her clay pitchers [FIG. 5] mold a unique multi-ethnic, multi-class vision of gender within folk art traditions. Her works have found a firm foothold and fair prices in markets from Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte to São Paulo. Such regional intersections take place creatively throughout the Gallery Estação, inviting fresh contemplation on the dialectical aesthetic production of outsider artists and patrons across country and city networks.
As a whole, the uncommon array of Brazilian artists intermingled within Eid’s gallery seamlessly connects the artistic production of the sertão and provincial regions to that of the urban megalopolis of Sao Paulo [FIG. 6]. The transregional leitmotif running through the Galeria Estação’s collection of Brazilian outsider art underscores the multiple margins and complex center-periphery relations at play in the institutionalized realm of contemporary art. A venue such as Eid’s should be energetically applauded for breaching a critical gap in the dissemination of artists who might otherwise remain excluded from privileged urban circuits and discourse today.
 In the modern era, the sertão refers to the arid Brazilian northeast region that includes parts of the states of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte, Sergipe, and northern Minais Gerais. It is associated with Brazilian frontier and cowboy culture. The term was most famously and problematically defined by positivist Brazilian writer, engineer, and sociologist Euclides da Cunha (1866 -1909), in his 1902 text, Os Sertões.
 Simon Watson, “Vilma Eid: Champion of Outsider Artists,” The Huffington Post. Nov. 24, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/simon-watson/vilma-eid-champion-of-out_b_3976610.html Accessed August 1. 2016.
 The 2016 Transregional Academy was organized by the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien and Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissen-schaftliche Institute im Ausland, in cooperation with the German Center for Art History DFK Paris and the Universidade Federal de São Paulo. Support for the Academy was provided by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and in part by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
 EID, Vilma and Marco Giannotti. Bernnô. Galeria Estação, São Paulo, 2016. Many thanks to Ana Gonçalves Magalhães and the staff of the Galeria Estação for providing the Transregional Academy with on-site historical background on the artists, Bernnô and Véio, during this excursion.
 Lélia Coelho Frota, “Izabel Mendes da Cunha,” Little Dictionary of the Brazilian People’s Art – 20th Century. Cited on Galeria Estação, http://www.galeriaestacao.com.br/en/artist/12#prettyPhoto. Accessed July 31, 2016.
ALVES, Cauê. José Bernnô: a matéria da pintura. São Paulo: Estúdio Buck, 2008.
ALZUGARAY, Paula. “Vilma Eid E A Arte Brasiliera Além do Sistema,” Coleçao, seLecT. São Paulo, 2016.
DIORIO, Rocheli. “Modernixzação chega as oficinas mecânicas,” O Estado de São Paulo, 11 June 1996.
EID, Vilma. Véio | Esculturas. Exhibition Catalogue. São Paulo: Galeria Estação, 2010.
EID, Vilma and Marco Giannotti. Bernnô. São Paulo: Galeria Estação, 2016.
FROTA, Lélia Coelho. Little Dictionary of the Brazilian People’s Art – 20th Century, featured on Galeria Estação website, http://www.galeriaestacao.com.br/en/artist/12#prettyPhoto. Accessed July 31, 2016.
Galeria Estação website, http://www.galeriaestacao.com.br. Accessed July 31, 2016.
“José Bernnô,” Enciclopedia Itau Cultural, http://enciclopedia.itaucultural.org.br/en/pessoa442651/jose-bernno. Accessed July 31, 2016.
NAVES, Rodrigo. “A alegria arisca da arte de Bernnô,”. O Estado de S. Paulo, São Paulo: 19 August 2008. Caderno 2.
NAVES, Rodrigo. “Véio Biography,” Galeria Estação website, http://www.galeriaestacao.com.br/en/artist/7. Accessed July 31, 2016.
WATSON, Simon. “Vilma Eid: Champion of Outsider Artists,” The Huffington Post. Nov. 24, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/simon-watson/vilma-eid-champion-of-out_b_3976610.html Accessed August 1. 2016.