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oswaldo Goeldi | Cena Urbana 15 April ­­– 13 May 2011

Cena Urbana (Urban Scene), c.1929 woodcut print | 14.7 x 14 cm

Solitรกrio (Lonely), c.1929 woodcut print | 18.5 x 13.7 cm next page: Briga de Rua (Street Fight), c.1926 woodcut print | 14.3 x 20 cm

Oswaldo Goeldi: an expressionist in the tropics Paulo Venancio Filho, curator The world of Goeldi is that of the twentieth century, yet it is uniquely uninhabited. There are no masses in this world; only isolated, silent figures. In spatial terms, man finds himself caught between ruins and emptiness. There is an apparent incongruity between the modern world of the masses and the Goeldian world; the latter seemingly emptied and thus somewhat frightening. There we cannot identify nor recognise ourselves, the empty city is Goeldi’s internal world. A world that is made unreal and that displays a reality still in force, underground and threatening; man and the environment off-centre and hostile. Goeldi achieves this effect with a minimum of elements. As an expressionist, Goeldi could not find the basis and the circumstances of European expressionism in Brazil, and so built this conflict for himself. His drama consisted of solving this equation at the high ethical and aesthetic level of expressionism. The obsessive and obsessed character of his work was sustained by having to build for itself that which society fails to express, and indeed silences. Goeldi’s pictures show the possibility of an impossibility, of the experience of profound misery without retreat or complacency: there could be no state of compromise. The Goeldian experience does not preach any position nor does it present solutions: it merely attempts to transpose in its own terms a collective experience that does not express itself and even prefers to ignore itself. An urban artist, Goeldi does not encounter the relationship between people, nor the sociability and prosaic social atmosphere of life.

top: Vila (Village), c.1927 woodcut print | 14.5 x 15.1 cm bottom: Nรกufrago (Castaway), c.1927 woodcut print | 14.5 x 15.1 cm

The Goeldian world is dark, haunted, and unexpected. It does not state anything, nor register a situation. The fantastical in Goeldi pertains to the fact that reality is actually more brutal. The historical reality that has emptied one world and is yet to produce another. There are still no men inhabiting this world, only ghosts; faceless figures. There are no streets, only alleys, threatening mansions and lonely figures, in a world in ruins where anguish seems to want to leap from the paper. A poet of pain. Each anonymous figure registers a collective fate, each one bears the announcement of misery and is alone because alone he will remain, detached from any solidarity to replace that which is compulsory, uniting masters and slaves. And so is born the wretch without citizenship, deprived even of his own revolt, indifferent to himself and to others. As even the feeling of revolt fails to find solidarity. Not even anguish questions it, and yet he knows of anguish. Nothing is stranger to the tropical setting than Goeldi’s presence. Where in his work can we find traces of the proclaimed tropical sentiment? He does not present an Eden of any kind, rather we find with him the constantly ignored warning of the actual impossibility of such an Eden; a warning that we always prefer to ignore rather than anticipate frustration, a disappointment which we prefer to attribute to some external factor. Goeldi represents that which we prefer to avoid because we cannot stand the idea – someone once said that Brazilians are the hardest people of all to disappoint. His silent images disturb us because they reject proximity and intimacy, making it impossible to feel calm when looking at them. Deprived of any sentimental element, of any sense of familiarity, the pictures seem strange to us, while the impossibility of our counting on them disturbs us. He is the artist of the void; rather than that which is current, he considers that which is yet to happen but does not happen at all. In his almost complete disregard of the Brazilian landscape he attempts to find the anti-landscape, the non-landscape. And this affords a certain soulful aspect to his mansions, his alleyways, his landscapes, representing a world which is peripheral, unstable, disconnected and unfinished. Nothing has been finished. Nothing belongs to anything. Goeldi is the translator of this social unsteadiness, of this detachment of the man in the street who knows neither where he has come from nor where he is going.

detail of Caminho Abandonado (Abandoned road), c.1930 Kümmerly Collection | woodcut print | 14.5 x 15 cm

When Goeldi returned to Brazil at the age of 19 (see biography), he said he felt it was as if he had never been there before. This, perhaps, is one of the elements that can help us understand this uniquely paradoxical artist: an expressionist in the tropics. Perhaps a Freudian concept is needed in order to understand this situation: the uncanny (das unheimliche). This concept is an attempt to elucidate the psychical phenomenon by which a reality initially experienced with pleasure subsequently arises as a threat. This feeling of uncanniness may represent the revival of his idyllic childhood in Belém, in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. From this perspective we are able to identify a facet of his world: the destabilising effect, in all senses, that can be found in the images he created. The tormented void that he presents to us corresponds to the intensification of the Brazilian man’s internal emptiness. The situation in which Goeldi found himself, however extraordinary and contrary to his expressionist sensitivity it may have been, was the sole factor that enabled him to further increase such sensitivity, which was unknown to the European expressionists. This intensification represents his painful and desperate love for things. Goeldi remained an expressionist not due to the conflicting situation between man and world, but rather due to the absence of such a conflict between ourselves. Due to the absence between us and the problematic twentieth century man.

Casa Abandonada (Abandoned House), c.1925 Kümmerly Collection | woodcut print | 11 x 11.7 cm Carroça de Lixo 3 (Garbage Cart), c.1927 Kümmerly Collection | woodcut print | 18 x 18 cm

Untitled (post mortem print, 1972) woodcut print | 12.4 x 18 cm

No sentimental refuge is recognised in Goeldi, no consolation, no support; only a love that does not console, that does not satisfy our sentimentality. The dark alleyways, the uninhabited mansions, the deserted streets, the loneliness of the people, do not represent aspects of reality that have been modified by the artist’s sensitivity. It is not the external reality that is revealed, it is the internal reality of the Brazilian, his emptiness. It is not animism that frightens us in Goeldi; if it were only animism there would not only be a threatening atmosphere but also a curious and funny aspect. What Goeldi reveals is not animistic, but rather the existence of an atmosphere of a certain ‘something’ that is not outlined and remains hidden in the shadows, showing itself in the deserted, uninhabited mansions. Behind the appearances there is a centrifugal, uprooting force. An all-knowing and almighty ‘strange creature’ with which one must live amidst doubts and uncertainties, in a proportion-less, scale-less world, dominated by ‘ill being’. In what manner could he express himself if not with his oblique and enigmatic clarity? Goeldi is the border-region artist. The outskirts, where the city is no longer city and yet is still not countryside; a vague region, vague much like the city was then. This is not a purely fantastical region. A point of view, a stance, is in operation there. Thus Goeldi observes the interstices, what has already been and is no longer, what shall never be, that which only represents a motive for his imagination. A silent, incommunicado world, on the verge of an abyss. People traverse this space in divergent lines. Nothing approaches anything else, everything repels. Up in the sky there is always a tempest or storm approaching. In this town, nature, if not yet a threat, is a phenomenon that amazes and imposes itself; irrational, mysterious and inexplicable, the beginnings of urban rationality.

This space and this behaviour correspond to the recent and still new urban reality. The horror of the unknown face, the fear of public spaces where personality dissolves into the masses, and the difficulty in finding sociability amongst unknown figures and strangers. This situation is the opposite of that of a family clan, the large family closed in on itself; a context of complacency and smooth reprimands, of constant intimacy. Opposed to all this is the unstable, strange and mobile reality of the town where everything points in the opposite direction of family organisation. The town was formed as a strange organism, a strange reality, which imposed a reconfiguration of the subject’s personality; a relative and variable annulment of his hypertrophied self-esteem. The town withdrew the soil from where the rural man once stood – and once detached from the soil, he was weakened, lost his strength, and dissolved. The interstices penetrated by Goeldi, the landscape that he discovered, emphasized soul-like elements, one figure or another, an animal, everything enveloped in a lively, restless atmosphere, where one cannot choose the path that one wishes to follow and one follows those that cannot be avoided. This is not just spatial, external disorientation, it is internal and more powerful; time is no longer that of roving and wandering, rather it is of disorientation and anguish. Goeldi is not concerned with portraying everyday life, and nothing in his drawings assumes this. His choice of themes is more or less invariable; everyday life is also more or less variable, a certain constancy of habits, behaviour and attitudes, that are rarely altered and that the subject only notices in some event that reveals that which is woven around him. Goeldi’s attitude in relation to the quotidian is not to reproduce it. If he insists on the same theme it is precisely to point out and accentuate certain everyday aspects until they seem obscure, amorphous and opaque next to him.

top: Tarde (Afternoon), c.1950 woodcut print | 20.5 x 26.5 cm bottom: Céu Vermelho (Red Sky), c.1950 (post mortem print, 1970) woodcut print | 21.8 x 29.5 cm

Chuva (Rain), c.1957 woodcut print | 21.8 x 29.7 cm

Goeldian types have no genuine definition. On the contrary, they are rarely seen from the front, and in general try to hide themselves. The spectator’s eye seems to threaten them, impel them into the ‘interior’ of the drawing or engraving. They seem to run away, not wanting to be disturbed, not wanting to show themselves. They often turn their backs, avoiding an invasive look. They face the world with their backs; a separating force acting upon them, dispersing and isolating them. There is no communication between them; there could not be any, as there is nothing to communicate. For Goeldi, nature is of little interest; he is an urban artist, as is pertinent to his expressionist and modern sensitivity. His work shows nothing of the tropical, exuberant nature, detached and confused, that so distinguishes northern Brazil. The only element of nature in his work is the presence of animals, yet they are urban animals that only exist where man exists, sharing the same reality, the same fate, the same unreality. Goeldi created a world, but in this world there is nothing that remains identifiable with the modern world. His works are devoid of cars and skyscrapers. The only remains of modern civilization are the electricity poles. The Goeldian scenery is around the border; there are lamp posts but no cars. It is part of an unfinished town. That is where he felt at ease. In this world we do not find the typical expressionist distortions. In this border world Goeldi found a parallel world for his imagination. They are almost dead places, almost dead hours. What Goeldi reveals is the vacuum between existences. He is the only artist to transmit the heat of the tropics, thus transmitting his oblique love for this land. Goeldi’s empty hours are also the impossible hours of heat, deserted hours, which exhaust and drain man’s energy.

O Ladrão (The Thief), c.1955 woodcut print | 21.5 x 17.2 cm

casario abandonado (Abandoned Houses), c.1929 woodcut print | 13 x 13 cm right: detail of Favela (Slum), c.1929 KĂźmmerly Collection | woodcut print | 13 x 13 cm next page: SilĂŞncio (Silence), c.1957 (post mortem print, 1971) woodcut print | 17.8 x 24.5 cm

Urubus (Vultures), c.1929 K端mmerly Collection | woodcut print | 13.5 x 15 cm

Goeldi responded to the void he found here with absolute artistic coherence. He did not compromise, abdicate, or turn his back. It was the light that he managed to extract from the darkness that, seeping through crannies, revealed a blackness that could be a kind of accusation – something about which one should remain silent and ignore, but that Goeldi insisted on remembering incessantly, and still remembers. He was, and still is, a solitary enigma. The eloquent silence of his work tells us much more than those who preferred eloquence itself. He knew how to get the most out of the least. His unmistakable and unique expressionism lucidly revealed the internal void of the Brazilian, and maybe that is why his work still disturbs, like an unfinished drama. An urban artist like all expressionists, Goeldi established himself in a marginal region, on a border, which was no less fantastical than it was real – indeed, a reality even more fantastical as it was deprived of all that the imagination tends to perceive as fantastical. It is either the smudged world of charcoal drawings or the dry world of woodcut, inflexible and intolerant of any alternative. For Goeldi a simple piece of wasteland can be more fantastical than a whole legion of unbelievable beings. The configured space is in the half-dead, unfinished region of little appeal, already abandoned, where even nature insinuates a threat. In the words of the poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade: ‘Cloudy sky, incessant rain, leaden atmosphere / are elements of your kingdom / where death is under an umbrella / it commands / puddles of solitude, between vultures.’ Goeldi was the great artist of this still-Utopian place, the town that he managed to people with his anonymous, anxious figures who had no place. He gave substance and a dimension where there was neither matter nor space, just ‘whispers out of nowhere, the dizziness of the abyss out of nowhere’.

Jardim Tropical (Tropical Garden), c.1929 woodcut print | 18.8 x 27 cm

Demolição (Demolition), c.1957 (post mortem print, 1971) woodcut print | 17.8 x 24.5 cm left: Última Noite do Vagabundo (The Vagabond’s Last Night), undated woodcut print | 22.5 x 25 cm

Noturno (Nocturnal), c.1950 woodcut print | 20.9 x 27.7 cm

Oswaldo Goeldi Oswaldo Goeldi was born in Rio de Janeiro on 31 October 1895. His father, Emilio Goeldi, was an illustrious Swiss naturalist who conducted important scientific work in Belém in the state of Pará in northern Brazil, creating the Natural History and Ethnography Museum that bears his name. At six years of age Goeldi moved with his family to Switzerland, where he began school in Berne. When the First World War broke out he was a student at the Academiae Technicae Helveticae in Zurich. He joined the Swiss army, serving as a guard on the Swiss-Austrian border. After his father’s death in 1917, Goeldi enrolled in the École des Arts et Métiers, Geneva, where he studied for six months. He exhibited for the first time at the Wyss Gallery in Berne, where he had close contact with the work of Alfred Kubin, during the presentation of the Der Blaue Reiter Group. In 1919 he returned to Brazil, and in 1926 he began a correspondence with Kubin that would last many years. In 1930 he visited Kubin at his home in the town of Zwickledt in Austria, and in the same year exhibited in Berne at the Gutekunst & Klipstein Gallery and – having been recommended by Kubin – at the Werthein Gallery, where his works were displayed alongside those of Matisse and Utrillo. In 1951 Goeldi received the First National Engraving Prize at the Ist São Paulo Biennial and in 1953 was appointed engraving professor at the School of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro. His work was exhibited extensively, both in Brazil and abroad. He died on 15 February 1961 in Rio de Janeiro. The Kümmerly Collection The Kümmerly Collection ensued from the great friendship that associated Oswaldo Goeldi (18951961) to his childhood friend, the Swiss artist Hermann Kümmerly (1897-1964). Kümmerly had abandoned his father’s cartography business in order to become an artist. In 1930, at his atelier in Muri, near Berne, Kümmerly held an exhibition jointly with Goeldi, resulting from an potent artistic cooperation between the two men during the preceding year. In 1931, on his return to Brazil, Goeldi offers his friend Kümmerly 157 drawings and engravings made between 1910 and 1940, representing his artistic development, as a gift. The collection is now owned by Raul Schmidt Felippe Jr. The Curator Paulo Venancio Filho is an art critic, independent curator and full professor of art history at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He has published articles on modern and contemporary Brazilian artists Cildo Meireles, Hélio Oiticica, Anna Maria Maiolino, Waltercio Caldas, Mira Schendel, Antonio Manuel and Fernanda Gomes. Curator of Rio de Janeiro 1950-1964 in Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis (Tate Modern, 2001), Rachel Whiteread (MAM, Rio de Janeiro, 2003), Soto: A Construção da Imaterialidade (CCBB, Rio de Janeiro, 2005), Anna Maria Maiolino: Territories of Immanence (Miami Art Central, 2006), Time and Place: Rio de Janeiro 1954:1964 (Moderna Museet, 2008), Hot Spots (Kunsthaus Zurich, 2009), Wifredo Lam - Gravuras (Caixa Cultural, Rio de Janeiro, 2010), David Batchelor: Chromophilia (Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, 2010) and Sergio Camargo: Claro Enigma (IAC, São Paulo, 2010) Acknowledgements The Embassy would like to thank: Ruy Amaral, Michael Asbury, Artur Assis, Cecília Bizzotto, Guy Brett, Raul Schmidt Felippe Jr., Maria do Mar Guinle, Carlos Pachá, Ana Cristina Paschoal, Paulo Venancio Filho and Isobel Whitelegg.

Ministry of External Relations


Antônio de Aguiar Patriota Minister of External Relations

curated by Paulo Venancio Filho

Ruy Nunes Pinto Nogueira Secretary General of External Relations

exhibition management & catalogue design Laura Barbi

Hadil Fontes da Rocha Vianna Undersecretary General for Cooperation, Culture and Trade Promotion

translation and revision João Guarantani, Nadia Kerecuk and Michael Marsden

George Torquatto Director of the Cultural Department

all works in the exhibition kindly loaned by Raul Schmidt Felippe Jr.

Mariana Lima Moscardo de Souza Head of the Division for Cultural Promotion

printed by Aldgate Press, London catalogue circulation: 1,500 copies

Embassy of Brazil in London

photos: Artur Assis and Cecília Bizzotto

Roberto Jaguaribe Ambassador

© texts: the author

Helena Maria Gasparian Head of the Cultural Section

Opened in 2001, Gallery 32 is an exhibition space maintained by the Embassy of Brazil in London. Hosting a varied programme of exhibitions, screenings and talks, Gallery 32’s main aim is to promote Brazilian culture in all its vibrancy, with a focus on modern and contemporary art, architecture and design.

gallery 32 32 Green Street | London | W1K 7AT +44(0)20 7399 9282 | Tuesday to Friday, 11am-6pm | Saturday, 11am-5pm Please not that exceptionally for this exhibition the gallery will be open from Monday to Friday . Closed on bank holidays.

published by the Embassy of Brazil in London for the exhibition Oswaldo Goeldi: Cena Urbana 15 Abril – 13 Maio 2011

gallery 32

CĂŠu Vermelho II (Red Sky II), c.1950 woodcut print | 21 x 29.8 cm

Oswaldo Goeldi | Cena Urbana  

Oswaldo Goeldi | Cena Urbana exhibition catalogue. Gallery 32, London, UK

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