1001 Words for Mário Pedrosa

Article excerpt

In 1980, at the age of eighty and soon before he died, Mario Pedrosa helped found Brazil's Labor Party (the new leftist party governing today). At that time he abandoned the conventional practice of art criticism (we will see why later on) and rediscovered the active militancy of his youth. While a committed social conscience is a trait of many Latin American critics, for Pedrosa the combination of political and critical radicalism was especially meaningful, as the trajectory of his aesthetic ideas is indistinguishable from his political trajectory. Among political exiles (and they were many, from a variety of countries), Pedrosa the militant transformed himself into a critic, and the critic became a cultural activist. The radicalism of one position lent itself to the other, resulting in Pedrosa's becoming a key figure with an innovative role in the history of Latin American art criticism.

In 1925, the young Pedrosa joined the newly founded Communist Party of Brazil. In 1929, he set off to study in Moscow, but stopped in Germany where, abandoning his Moscow plans, he made common cause with Trotsky's rejection of Soviet Stalinism. It was during this sojourn that Pedrosa experienced modern art in Expressionist and Bauhaus Berlin, though he had yet to become completely consumed with the subject. Upon his return to Brazil in 1933, he founded aTrotskyist group, and at the same moment presented his first critical work-an address on the German printmaker Kathe Kollwitz, the first truly Marxist study of art in Brazil. Because of his strong ties to Trotsky, Pedrosa became secretary of the Fourth International-a position that took him to New York in the 1940s, where he became familiar with North American modern criticism and art, particularly that of Alexander Calder.

Mário Pedrosa was thus a militant of the revolutionary Left who became an art critic through realizing that the artistic forms and conditions of the twentieth century sprang from its recurring social crises. In consequence, Pedrosa never dissociated world revolution from vanguard art. From this moment on, his critical practice overtly sketched out the Utopia of modern art, as well as its impasses and insights. His critical activity was a continual exercise of redefinition and postulation, of various forms of reflective analysis, and of a pedagogy of art aimed at keeping alive the ideal of a revolutionary vanguard art. This ideal would later influence postmodern concepts of environmental art as well conceptual art.

Indeed, Pedrosa could not conceive of modern art without revolutionary politics-and vice-versa-even while arguing that art should in principle be autonomous territory. He famously defined "emancipated" art, with its creative and critical challenges, as the experimental exercise of freedom. "Exercise" because art is, above all, an attentive making of things; "experimental" because artistic effort, in a world in which social classes are alienated from labor, enables a freer, more open relationship between the individual and the material-a relationship that constantly reinvents the world in order to keep from losing it; "freedom" because the role of the artist (and the critic) is to spill into the living world that which freedom requires in order to flow according to its own properties. Art is thus possibly the best experimental laboratory for creating a socially emancipated Utopia.

For Pedrosa, the liberating potential of the work of art comes from the possibility of making differently or making freely-an action that may dislocate the reification of alienated subjectivity, enabling the renewed individuals to regain their own "destinies. …