Friday, June 27, 2008

Oscar & Carmen in Rio

Visiting the Carmen Miranda Museum in Rio de Janeiro, the meeting of two different versions of Brazilian modernism seem to come together - the organic brutality of Oscar Niemeyer's architecture and the voluptuous kitsch of Carmen Miranda, the "Brazilian Bombshell". Both versions find expression in the Niemeyer-designed Museum. The concrete circular form located in an out-of-the-way park in the Flamengo neighborhood was designed in the 1960s and houses various displays of Carmen's own dresses, notorious platform-shoes (from the 1930s & 40s), and related ephemera - photographs lodged into every possible corner like a frieze made up of Carmen's smile and banana head dresses, with Latin-flavored pin-ups of the star. The outlandishness of Carmen's wardrobe, her excessive lifestyle - Hollywood nights, Copacabana nightclubs, movie-sets, radio spots, fashion modeling, and general jet-setting all came to symbolize a notion of Brazilian modernism imported onto the international stage. In parallel, Niemeyer's languid and poetical architecture typified such modernism by infusing European rationalism with a distinct Brazilian biomorphism - the swooping curve of Niemeyer's architecture supplements the European grid of steel and glass, finding form in concrete circles and ramps poised against the new urbanism rising up in Brazilian cities at the same time Carmen was singing "Bananas Is My Business." While Niemeyer's Museum is often seen as an absolute contrast to Carmen Miranda's work, I see them as forming a poignant and insightful coupling onto Brazilian culture of the 20th century. The Museum allows a glimpse onto both versions of a single story, marking the space as a radical expression of museological work.

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