If the set up of a Bienal today involves stupendous quantities and effort, just imagine how it was for the first edition in 1951. At that time, a Bienal was something completely new, the organizers had absolutely no previous experience and there were simply no specialized teams around to turn to for help.
Leonor Amarante recounts in her book As bienais de São Paulo – 1951 to 1987 (The Biennials of São Paulo – 1951 to 1987) that one simply had to learn through experience. The organizers “decided to surround themselves with young artists to help with the task of installing the exhibition. As such, Aldemir Martins, Frans Krajcberg, Carmélio Cruz and Marcelo Grassmann were brought in to work alongside Guimar Morelo” – who was the person responsible for setting up all the Bienals until his last day of life in May of 2001.
Guimar Morelo, Aldemir Martins and the young “artists-installers”. 1st Bienal (1951). Photo: Peter Scheier
It was Morelo who declared to Amarante: “For us everything was new and delirious, even though I’d already set up exhibitions at MAM. There was no time schedule for the 1st Bienal and things sometimes had to begin at the end to arrive at the middle or the beginning. The Trianon building didn’t even have doors at that time so Aldemir and I couldn’t go home and we ended up sleeping in the exhibition space.
Installers-artists-security guards, sleeping among the works. 1st Bienal (1951). Photo: Peter Scheier
Artist Aldemir Martins continues: “Everyone ended up getting involved. Lourival Gomes Machado and even René d’Harnoncourt, diretor of MoMA in New York rolled up their sleeves and helped us out. It was really moving to touch originals by Léger, Morandi, Picasso…”
Thanks to German photographer Peter Scheier and his beautiful documentation of this Bienal and its backstage moments, we are able to share some of the emotional episodes during the set up process. Despite the inexperience and a somewhat amateur approach, the dedication of those involved meant that more than 1800 works were shown, and that the 1st Bienal would make its mark, putting São Paulo and Brazil, firmly on the art world map.
Installation at the France Room. Measurements between Picassos and Giacomettis. 1st Bienal (1951). Photo: Peter Scheier
USA Room. On the left, a work by De Kooning. 1st Bienal (1951). Photo: Peter Scheier
“Briga de galos”, by Mario Cravo. 1st Bienal (1951). Photo: Peter Scheier
Installation crew at the Swiss Room. 1st Bienal (1951). Photo: Peter Scheier
Arrival of the “Figura” sculpture, by Bruno Giorgi – prize for national acquisition in the 1st Bienal (1951). Photo: Peter Scheier
Artist Bruno Giorgi carrying his prize-winning sculpture. 1st Bienal (1951). Photo: Peter Scheier
End of installtion: time for some floor polishing. 1st Bienal (1951). Photo: Peter Scheier