Toward a Phenomenology of Brazil's Baroque Modernism

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"Toward a Phenomenology of Brazil's Baroque Modernism"

From Brazil: Body and Soul
David K. Underwood
Published in 2001
13 pages, fully illustrated

Examining the Modernist identity of Brazil through the use of architecture, David K. Underwood turns to architects Lúcio Costa, Roberto Burle Marx, Oscar Niemeyer, and Baroque architect O Aleijadinho to illustrate the soul of Brazilian art and culture. Looking to the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty as well as to the Antropofagia movement, Underwood suggests an intermingling of architecture and flesh, a chiasm between Baroque and Modernity.


The grandest poetic gesture in the Baroque-Modernist spirit was Brasília, where the utopian rituals of colonial conquest and magical form produced almost overnight an image of a futuristic place in the middle of no place. The functional aspects mattered less than the symbolic imagery. The international marketing of an image of modernity was paramount. The creation of a universalist mythology was to ensure the erasure of the underdevelopment of the past. Formal innovation and universal spiritual redemption symbolized above all by the Cathedral of Brasília (1958–62), the Alvorada Palace (1956–58), and the Planalto Palace (1958) on the Plaza of the Three Powers. In all of these, [Oscar] Niemeyer extended his architectural body-language into the realm of pure and elemental form. Exoskeletons of sculptural wraps and bonelike structural frameworks echoing the Surrealist images of Yves Tanguy reflect the coming forth or pulling out of the architectural body to create a space for the spiritual itinerary of national redemption within.

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