Brazilian Embassy, London
In 1944, as Brazil joined the Allies to fight in the War, a group of Brazilian artists offered their works for the first ever collective exhibition in Britain. The works were sold to raise funds for the British military efforts and many became part of leading UK public collections, such as the Tate Galleries’.
A new show, ‘The Art of Diplomacy: Brazilian Modernism Painted for War’ put together by curators Hayle Gadelha and Adrian Locke, now brings back on display 24 of these artworks at the Brazilian embassy in London.
When I was invited to review the show the first thought that struck my (admittedly often shallow…) mind was that modern art is not really the first thing we associate with Brazil when considering its wider cultural impact on the world. Football, carnival, beaches, Samba, Formula 1 and the odd supermodel are probably more likely to come to mind. Maybe this is because unlike countries like Mexico it has never had an iconic, publicity-savvy painter, a Frida Khalo or a Diego Rivera, to bring its visual art to the mainstream.
This exhibition will therefore be a welcome reminder of, and for many a first encounter with, the many artists that have been part of what is undoubtedly a rich tradition of figurative and to a lesser degree abstract painting, often inspired by political and social activism.
Works by Candido Portinari and Emiliano Di Cavalcanti stand out by managing to be both dreamlike and earthy. The paintings of Thea Haberfield are wonderfully sparse but evocative in their representation, whether they tackle the beauty of Brazilian landscapes or a simple plate of fish.
This is definitely a show worth seeing if you are after a first introduction to many of Brazil's most celebrated painters and a great opportunity to discover hidden gems . It is also a chance to see how Modernism was interpreted beyond the usual artistic hubs of Paris, London or New-York.
Although not the most obvious of venue for an art exhibition, the embassy manages to provide a warm and welcoming environment for the show: no one batted an eyelid when this Brit turned up to their rather grand opening night wearing scuffed red trainers and a tattered coat…
More information about the Art of Diplomacy exhibition can be found here.