Tarsila do Amaral, Portrait of Mário de Andrade, 1922
Tarsila do Amaral, Portrait of Mário de Andrade, 1922

Mário de Andrade: Two Lives Mário de Andrade


MASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand
Avenida Paulista, 1578 – Bela Vista
São Paulo-SP

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MASP – Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand presents, from March 22 to June 9, 2024, the exhibition Mário de Andrade: Two Lives, which occupies the mezzanine located in the museum's 1st underground level. Curated by Regina Teixeira de Barros, coordinating curator, MASP, and assisted by Daniela Rodrigues, curatorial assistant, MASP, the exhibition brings together a selection of paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and photographs from the personal collection of the Brazilian intellectual, active in the first half of the twentieth century, from a queer perspective. The exhibition is sponsored by Lefosse and has the cultural patronage of the Institute of Brazilian Studies of the University of São Paulo (IEB-USP).


Mário de Andrade (São Paulo, 1893-1945) is an icon of literature and modernism in Brazil, as well as one of the country's most studied writers. In his public life, he was a short story writer, musician, poet, teacher, novelist, critic and historian of the visual arts, music and literature, as well as a cultural agent, collector and journalist. Author of Pauliceia desvairada (1922) and Macunaíma (1928), he took part in the Modern Art Week (1922) and dedicated himself to recording, studying, preserving and disseminating the country's most diverse cultural manifestations, both erudite and popular. He headed the Department of Culture and Recreation of the Municipality of São Paulo (1935-1938) and created the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Service (SPHAN) (1937), the first agency of its kind.


“Almost 80 years after his death, Mário de Andrade's intellectual production on music, visual arts and architecture, his novels, short stories and poems, as well as the ethnographic surveys carried out by the artist, were and continue to be central to the understanding of modernism in Brazil and to the construction of an idea of Brazilianness,” explains the coordinating curator, Regina Teixeira de Barros.


Through the perspective of a queer sensibility, the exhibition Mário de Andrade: Two Lives presents a selection of 88 works – including paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs – from the intellectual's collection, which is now in the custody of the Institute of Brazilian Studies (IEB-USP). The exhibition reflects on items from his collection of fine arts and photographs which were part of his private life, far from the eyes of censorship and the prejudices in force at the time. Mário de Andrade's “much-talked-about homosexuality,” as described by the artist in a letter sent to Manuel Bandeira in 1928, only became the subject of study in 2015, when all his writings entered the public domain and his literary production began to be analyzed in the light of his homosexual preferences, a subject considered taboo until then.


The idea of “two lives,” the subtitle of this exhibition, appears in several of the author's writings and highlights the duality Andrade experienced between his professional and personal life. “Mário describes himself sometimes as a ‘controlled volcano,’ sometimes overcome by a ‘passive femininity’; he oscillates between being a chaste pansexual (!) and a libidinous monster,” says Teixeira de Barros. In a letter to Oneyda Alvarenga, the intellectual states: “I am a being as if endowed with two simultaneous lives, like beings endowed with two stomachs. What I find most strange is that these two lives are not consecutive.” 


The artist recorded his trips to the north and northeast of Brazil in photographs between 1927 and 1929. In the series Tarrafeando (1927), taken at the creek in Barcarena, on the outskirts of Manaus, men are focused on their work while Andrade captures images of their bodies from behind. In another set of portraits, he adopts a different strategy, fixing his gaze frankly and directly on the workers, as can be seen in Vaqueiro marajoara Tuiuiú (1927). Since the camera was the only object that prevented Mário and the subject from looking at each other, the curator points out that “the photographer remains protected by the object in front of him, unable to return the gaze, defended from himself and his own desire.”


Mário's personal mythology was also recorded in self-portraits throughout his life. The images of an intellectual who mastered all the codes of heteronormative public life contrast with the more spontaneous photographs, such as Aposta do Ridículo (1927), captured in a relaxed moment during his trip to the Amazon. This photograph reveals a man who could take on different roles, since he knew how to have fun and, in fact, perform a queer masculinity.


Curatorial assistant Daniela Rodrigues notes that, through his writings and many correspondences, it is possible to observe eroticism as a theme that runs through the author's life and ideas about Brazil, and that he used countless literary strategies to say things without making them explicit. “It's not a question of reading his production as autobiographical, as if everything referred to himself, but in some texts, we can see traces of his restlessness about sexuality as a theme and life,” she adds.


With regard to his art collection, the painting The Yellow Man (1915-16) by Anita Malfatti - seen by Mário at the famous 1917 exhibition – inaugurated his interest in the visual arts. At the time, the poet prophesized that one day the painting would be his. In fact, he bought the work at the Modern Art Week, held at São Paulo's Municipal Theater in 1922. In the first article he wrote about Malfatti, in October 1921, he described The Yellow Man as a fateful figure, “feminized by distant eyes, full of nostalgia.”


In Portrait of Mário de Andrade (1927), Lasar Segall captured the poet from the front, capturing his serene expression amidst modern attributes – such as the tie printed with lozenges and the abstract-geometric background. Although he initially described it as “one of the most admirable works of your talent as a painter,” in a letter to the artist, a few years later the novelist changed his mind, pointing out that Segall had captured what was perverse in him. “Ambiguous and conflicted, understanding and recording like few others what made up such a contradictory country, Mário knew little about himself,” says Daniela.


Mário de Andrade: Two Lives is part of MASP's annual programming dedicated to Queer Histories. This year's programming also includes exhibitions by Gran Fury, Francis Bacon, MASP Renner, Lia D Castro, Catherine Opie, Leonilson, Serigrafistas Queer and the large group show Queer Histories.