The first Bienal International de São Paulo was inaugurated on October 20, 1951. At that time, it was the first modern(ist) exhibition outside the well-established geographical axis between Western Europe and United States of America. It was also the second exhibition in the world after the Venice Biennale (founded in 1895) to present itself as a long-term project, as the very term “biennial” implied. That Venice could be considered either a model or a sort of archetype was not the only tie with Italy. A strong migratory current had brought to Brazil, between the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th, a significant number of Italians. Over the years a part of these had also taken on significant social roles, such as the president of the Bienal de São Paulo, Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho (who had personally organized the first Brazilian participation at the Venice Biennale in 1950), and other members of both the executive council and the board. Moreover, recent immigrants like Lina Bo and her husband Pietro Maria Bardi were gaining visibility. It was therefore almost obvious that Italy – the new antifascist and republican Italy – was treated as a special guest along with France and United States, and that Italian section was among the largest in terms of quantity: 211 works (including 121 paintings and 23 sculptures) in 1951, 190 contemporary works and a retrospective on Futurism in 1953, 204 in 1955, and so on. Beyond the quantitative data, what is more interesting is the selection of artists and works proposed both to the Brazilian and international public, but also to the Italian-Brazilian community: that is the image of Italian modern art that was intended to be presented on a new world scale. The result of discussions within the selection committees composed by art historians and at least two artists’ representatives, the lists included (male) artists of different generations and works of different aesthetic trends, in a more or less successful balance between abstraction and realism. My aim is to show the artistic and political implications of the Italian presence at the first editions of the Bienal de São Paulo; to investigate the specificities of the relationship between the two countries linked by a migratory current in the changing framework of international politics; and to study the possible consequences of exchanges and contacts originating from the Bienal. The case of Gastone Novelli – exhibiting in the first editions with Brazilian selection and in 1963 in the Italian section – is well-known and unique. Much remains to be studied of the history of artistic relations between Italy and Brazil around the Bienal de São Paulo.
Iamurri, L. (2023). Modernity Abroad: Italy at the Bienal de São Paulo, the Early Years. In Claudia Mattos Avolese (a cura di), Motions: Migrations 35th World Congress (pp. 1805-1819). São Paulo : Vasto Edições, Comité International de l'Histoire de l'Art.