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March 24, 2023

Acquisition: Beatriz Milhazes

Beatriz Milhazes, "Romantico americano"

Beatriz Milhazes
Romantico americano, 1998
oil on canvas
overall: 187.96 x 220.03 cm (74 x 86 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

The work of Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960), one of Brazil’s most celebrated contemporary artists, reveals her deep engagement with her native country’s complex colonial history, characterized by the meeting of Indigenous, African, and European cultures. Milhazes’s work also brings visual forms related to Brazil’s vernacular arts, such as ceramics and textiles, into conversation with those drawing from the tradition of modernist abstraction. Her signature, brightly colored circles and curvilinear forms overlap and intersect with organic shapes and floral motifs that reference the ornately patterned costumes of carnaval. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Romantico americano (1998), generously given by Tony Podesta.

Milhazes made this work using a “monotransfer” technique. A collage-like process involving painted elements attached to canvas, monotransfer allows for both the facture of the transfer and the crisply delineated shapes to play leading roles in the composition. The work’s title, which translates to “American Romantic,” alludes to the Romantic period in the arts at the beginning of the 19th century when Brazil was a colony of Portugal, while also asserting the presence of the Global South in the use of the word “America.” In Romantico americano, Milhazes painted and applied multicolored geometric forms, pulsing arabesques with draped flowers, and outlines suggestive of colonial lace against a coral-colored background. The flowers evoke the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden near Milhazes’s studio, as well as longstanding ideas of femininity and associations with the female body.

Milhazes’s career began in 1980, when she entered the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage (EAV) in Rio de Janeiro, studying with Scottish artist Charles Watson. In 1984 she participated in the foundational exhibition Como vai você, Geraçâo 80? (How’s it Going, Generation ’80?). The so-called “Generation ’80” artists became associated with ornate, joyful painting that seemed to resist Brazil’s two-decades-long dictatorship. Throughout her career, Milhazes has received commissions for a number of large-scale architectural works: a series of vinyl forms for the exterior of Selfridges department store in Manchester, UK (Gávea, 2004); 19 compositions for the arches of the London Tube’s Gloucester Road station (Peace and Love, 2005); four mural images for the Murals of La Jolla project (Gamboa Seasons, 2021, based on four acrylic-on-canvas paintings from 2010); and most recently, a ceramic mosaic mural and a painted mural at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital (Tuiuti and Paquetá, 2018). These murals and mural-like works place Milhazes in the tradition of Latin American modernist muralists of the 20th century, including seminal Brazilian muralist Candido Portinari. Like Portinari, Milhazes acts as an ambassador of Brazilian arts and culture on the international stage.

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