Lines that Cross*
The greatest pleasure in looking back and writing a story doesn't come from the story per se. That is the practical gain. Best of all is to understand the array of possibilities that ensued; to appreciate the strength of the characters, as they make their own destiny. What makes them tick? Where do they get their certainties from? How do they cope with the anguish of doubt? lberê Camargo's painting, on display in the building designed by Álvaro Siza in Porto Alegre, leaves no-one indifferent. One inevitably wonders about who these men are, who were able to tame such strong artistic and architectural impulses as to turn them into a place of apparent tranquillity.
For the first time - and many, no doubt, should already have deserved the honour - the work of a Brazilian painter has attained the glory of being housed in a building especially designed for that purpose. The social and psychological manoeuvring that led to such an achievement, however stimulating and attractive, is outside my scope. However, in order to understand how museum architectural projects are actually carried out - or not - in Brazil, I think it is important to imbue the reader with a little of the passion and drive that Iberê Camargo devoted to his painting. Not many people set out to tread a path with such perseverance and even obstinacy.
For nearly all their lives, Iberê Camargo and his wife, Maria Coussirat Camargo, took every care to ensure that the painter's work remained untouched for posterity. They were mindful of creating a complete collection, they documented every step, they engaged good photographers, they gathered documents and they left all the clues for a good photographic reconstruction. However, this course was not planned by a cold or bureaucratic mind; on the contrary, Iberê was a restless man and could even become violent when faced with the most varied obstacles. His method of working reflected his personality, he fought with body and soul with the canvasses and paints he had at his disposal. To do and re-do, to cover and recover, to scrape and start again were the verbs of his day in the studio.
As Jorge Figueira¹ has pointed out, on that particular Portuguese ability to morph into the other, Siza has captured to perfection the personality of the honoured artist, giving architectural form to lberê's anguish. It's just that, as in a gesture of mutual consent, so as to not come into conflict with the master of the house, he has done it in shades of white and at a respectful distance from his canvasses. In this sense, the building is practically divided into two. On the one side, the complexity and tension of the forms, the "metaphor for the labyrinth", as Kenneth
Frampton² calls it, on the other the "white cube"³ in Brian O'Doherty's reading, the place where lberê's laden canvasses rest.
But the Camargo couple's efforts would have been in vain, were they not acknowledged and protected by third parties. A rare thing in Brazil. Fortunately, Iberê Camargo met and had the chance to fraternise for a few years with Jorge Gerdau Johannpeter, a businessman who shared the painter's passion for painting and the greatness of his artistic oeuvre. It is not hard to imagine the personal empathy between these two personalities, each one accustomed, in his own field and manner, to pursuing goals that many do not even dare to dream. What is harder is to see art being perceived as grounds for challenges as serious and important as the next. Thanks to this, the real treasure amassed by the Camargo couple took a turn which was unimaginable up to then.
The decision to create a Foundation had been made before the painter's death in 1994 and it was made possible in a very short time. By 1995, it already occupied lberê's home and studio in the Teresópolis neighbourhood, sharing with Maria the daily life of her house. Even then, the Foundation was beginning to show its purpose. Guest artists kept the engraving press running, curators selected works by Iberê to display at the home-foundation, seminars were held in the city's auditoria, and so on. More importantly, researchers, curators and critics became involved in a process of researching, cataloguing and debating the Foundation's future. On the horizon, naturally, was the issue of new premises. From the distance at which I followed all this, I can say that it was most impressive to see an institution tackling, step by step, what should be the normal route for the construction of new headquarters: first, the aims, then the brief and finally the design. Unfortunately, according to Brazilian tradition, one starts with the design to then get to the institution's organisation, then the staff and so on and so forth.
Another unheard-of fact, from among the various factors that led to the success of the undertaking, was that, amongst Gerdau's engineers was Jose Luiz Canal, a rare instance of an engineering teacher with a PhD in architecture! Nothing made more sense than for him to become the privileged interlocutor with sponsors to address the issues concerning the new premises and, following that, the technical specialist in charge of its realisation. Also rare in our society were the dedication and respect that this builder devoted to the architectural design. I say.
1. FIGUEIRA. Jorge. Um Mundo Coral. In Fundação Iberê Camargo Álvaro Siza. KIEFER, Flávio (org). São Paulo, Cosac Naify, 2008.
2. FRAMPTON, Kenneth. O Museu Como Labirinto. In Fundação Iberê Camargo Álvaro Siza. KIEFER Flávio (org). São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2008.
3. O'DOHERTY. Brian. No Interior do Cubo Branco - A ideologia do espaço da arte. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2002.
* Originally published in CDO – Cadernos d’Obra n°2, Revista Científica Internacional de Construção da Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto, Portugal.