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