A fire in the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, in 1978, signaled a tragic moment in the museum’s history and for Brazilian cultural overall. It happened during a retrospective exhibition of work by Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres Garcia (1874–1949) and the exhibition Geometria Sensível (Sensitive geometry), organized by Roberto Pontual. It destroyed the majority of the works in the exhibition, as well as others from the museum’s collections that were on display.
The New MAM Will Consist of Five Museums
Mário Pedrosa: Primary Documents
Available for purchase at the MoMA Bookstore.
In this 1978 text, the influential Brazilian critic Mário Pedrosa lays out a plan for a museum of modern art that is very different from other institutions bearing that name. Acknowledging the relationships of modern art to folk art, indigenous art, African art, and art created by children and the mentally ill, he proposes a new museum called the Museum of Origins (Museum das Origens) to house all of these forms of expression within one institutional frame.
During a meeting of the Committee for the Reconstruction of the MAM [Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro] held yesterday at the Escola de Artes Visuais, in Parque Lage, art critic Mario Pedrosa suggested reorganizing the museum according to a new structure composed of five independent albeit organic museums: the Museum of Black People and the Museum of Folk Arts [sic].
He said: All modern art has been inspired by the art of peripheral peoples, so that nothing could be more appropriate than for the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro to display this art we possess in abundance alongside a collection of contemporary Brazilian and Latin American art.
In his proposition, Mario Pedrosa gives a succinct explanation regarding the founding of the Museum of Origins:
As a result of the MAM’s total destruction by fire,1 it is imperative that some logical conclusion be drawn from the catastrophe: the MAM is gone. With Niomar Moniz Sodré Bittencourt2 leading the group that so generously applied itself to the work of creating it is no longer in any condition to start the task anew. The situation has changed; the times have changed; the philosophy, even the ideology that inspired those who made the museum more than twenty years ago has changed; hence the need to summon others and the State to create a congeneric establishment with other purposes. The time of purely private patronage has passed. Even in the United States, New York’s Museum of Modern Art itself already resorts to substantial assistance from the state. Therefore we propose that the reconstruction be undertaken with the state’s assistance and collaboration. We propose that a public or semipublic foundation be constructed, but that, along the lines of others that exist in this country, it should retain its full autonomy. Specialists in the subject guarantee its full viability.
What follows is the text read by Mario Pedrosa:
The founding of the Museum of Origins anticipates the establishment of five museums: the Museum of the Indian; the Museum of Virgin Art (Museum of the Unconscious); the Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Black People; and the Museum of Folk Arts.
These museums are all related although they are independent from one another. The Museum of the Indian already possesses its own structure, its own organization, certain resources, and an important collection, albeit no appropriate location.
The Museum of the Unconscious also has its own structure, organization, resources, and an excellent collection. Yet its installations are in precarious condition and even somewhat threatened. It is crucial that they be secured for the good of Brazilian and global culture. The Museum of Modern Art possesses magnificent headquarters and a location that can house the others, but only a small collection of works left over from the fire.
The foundation should be of a public or semi-public nature to ensure its permanence and solidity, particularly with regard to resources, although it should dispose of an autonomous organizational structure to guarantee a cultural and artistic orientation that is not only coherent and homogeneous but not subject to changes of orientation and administration, a consequence of extemporaneous and bureaucratic political interventions that are not wholly advisable.
A committee of competent, active professionals and a board of directors made up of eminent and representative personalities whose respectability is well-recognized in society will be responsible for the cultural and artistic orientation of the foundation and an efficient, trustworthy, and authorized administration.
The Museum of Modern Art must rebuild a collection that is first and foremost representative of Brazilian art, from the early Impressionism of [Eliseu] Visconti to generations that followed, with artists such as [Vitor] Brecheret, [Lasar] Segall, Tarsila [do Amaral], Anita Malfatti, [Emiliano] Di Cavalcanti, [Cândido] Portinari, [Alfredo] Volpi, [Osvaldo] Goeldi, and Lívio Abramo, and on to the younger artists of today. It should also contain Latin American rooms, with work by the Uruguayan [Joaquín] Torres Garcia and artists from Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and Cuba, etc., as well as European rooms and North American rooms. There will be a room dedicated to Concrete art, one that corresponds to the MAM’s modern origins in Europe, in Brazil and in Argentina. A room dedicated to the Neo-Concrete art of Brazil, in addition to rooms for temporary exhibitions.
The Museum of Black People’s collection will be based on pieces brought from Africa and others made here in Brazil, especially for religious use.
The Museum of Folk Arts collection shall be made up of pieces collected throughout Brazil’s various regions, in the various types of artifacts such as pottery, wood, iron, tin, straw, etc.
Body of theoretical courses and practical apprenticeship at the MAM: visual arts, music, film, video tape, photography lab, graphic arts workshop, printmaking studio, joinery [cabinet-making], Moviola, etc.), and a few general subjects such as art history, cultural anthropology, as well as specialized sections on urban culture, rural communities, tribal communities, urban festivals, and Carnival.
Financial sources: a) state-owned companies; b) federal, state, or municipal budgets; c) private donations.
The MAM will generate income through its graphic arts workshop, joinery and printmaking studios, photography lab, editing room (Moviola), slides, silkscreen, etc.
Member contributions will be needed in order to maintain the foundation’s democratic and popular organization, along with public and private donations of permanent, temporary, and specialized natures.
Originally published as “O novo MAM terá cinco museus. É a proposta de Mario Pedrosa,” Jornal do Brasil, September 15, 1978.
Mário Pedrosa: Primary Documents is the latest volume in MoMA’s Primary Documents publication series, which is devoted to making source materials related to the visual arts of specific countries, historical moments, disciplines, and themes available to English-language readers for the first time. Mário Pedrosa is the first publication to provide comprehensive English translations of Pedrosa’s writings, which are indispensable to understanding Brazilian art of the twentieth century.
Niomar Muniz Sodré Bittencourt (1916–2003) was the executive director of the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro throughout the 1950s.