Art in Latin American Architecture

By Paul F. Damaz | Go to book overview

Preface

The problem of the synthesis of the arts is more complex then it seems at first sight. It is not enough in attempting to solve it, to bring together a group of highlevel artists, even though they may complement one another professionally, aim at the same result and share the same interest in the work to be achieved. It is also necessary--and this is more difficult--that the artists chosen should be perfectly aware of the general questions to be considered and of the particular problems of each profession. The painter's knowledge, for instance, should not be limited to painting, but should include some familiarity with sculpture, engraving, architecture and allied arts. These conditions, though apparently easy to establish, become more involved owing to the complexity of present-day themes, particularly in relation to architecture, where a synthesis of the arts is to be effected. This demands of the artists an exact idea of their motives and technique, in order that they may be able to define the places where their collaboration is required and those where it must be omitted, preserving the architectural elements in all their purity. Such preliminary planning is essential because when the architect designs a wall, a roof or any achitectural element, he keeps in mind the method of construction and the finishing materials that will result in the plastic form. Without a clear conception of the architectural requirements, the discussion will end in futile proposals, and the artists, individually, will proceed with their own work, being concerned only with its importance to themsolves.

Only in extraordinary circumstances could a true synthesis of the arts be achieved. First, it would be necessary to organize a team able to start working from the very beginning of the achitectural sketches, discussing amicably all the problems of the project in their smallest details, without dividing it into specialized areas but considering it as a uniform and harmonious whole. This collaboration should begin with the choice of the locations in which each member should function, and end with the specification of the finishing materials, the relations between the works of art, the decoration, and the environment with its multiple problems of light, color, temperature, acoustics, function, traffic and so forth.

It is obvious that because of his special functions and the preponderant part played by his work in the ensemble, the architect should give his opinion on every problem, proposing solutions indicated by the architecture, discussing and checking them with the members of the team. Without these basic conditions, the synthesis of the arts will remain an impracticable dream and the architect will have to be satisfied with a choice of limited and variable solutions: acquiring in advance works of art that he will adopt to his architecture, or hiring plastic artists to whom he will give the locations where he desires their collaboration, restricting them as to finishing materials, decoration and the architectural environment already determined. Sometimes, when the contact is close and permanent and when it takes place on the building site, it is possible to obtain a worthwhile result. I recall an instance that by its very simplicity shows how essential it is to have a cordial collaboration between architects and artists.

In connection with the decoration of the entrance hall of the Palace of Congress in Brasilia, a monumental hall of about 20,000 square feet, a large mural was to be installed. Taking into consideration various factors, including time and economy, we decided to make it abstract and simple to execute. Then we discussed the question whether the mural should be pointed or made by using native local materials, such as ceramic, mosaic, glass or metallic elements, and we reached the conclusion that the best solution would be to use materials already selected as interior finishes: the black granite of the floor and the white marble of the walls. The result was a mural of great beauty, integrated into the architecture and the architectural materials, springing from them in a natural and spontaneous way and transforming them into an authentic work of art.

Such is the problem of the synthesis of the arts which Paul Damaz discusses as an acknowledged authority, a problem it is impossible to solve completely at this time because its solution would call for a for more advanced stage of human, cultural and social conditions than now exists. We live--and this cannot be forgotten--in a time of transition and uncertainty, when men, pretending to ignore their own weaknesses, fight among themselves as if this were the way to a happy and quiet life. In reality, each of us fights alone, sometimes seeing in his fellow man a hidden enemy, not realizing that the fight is also his. This attitude keeps men apart and does not allow them to act rightly, as would be possible through united effort. In our time, work presents itself to the artist as a social imposition that he is obliged to accept, a circumstance that degrades and corrupts him, compelling him to serve those who command life with the brutal force of discrimination and money. It follows that a synthesis of the arts will not depend on a Maecenas, nor will it be, as it is today, a distant and unattainable mirage. It will be a natural consequence of comprehension and friendship. Men will better understand their problems, desires and anxieties, and together will trace out their own destiny.

Oscar Niemeyer Filho Brasília, March 23, 1962

-13-

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