Tenreiro, constructive counterpoint: intuition, color and geometry

Tenreiro, constructive counterpoint: intuition, color and geometry


Ana Avelar - Curator


Joaquim Tenreiro is considered a pioneer of modern Brazilian furniture. His mastery of wood is undeniable, as well as the combination of sensitivity, constructive rigor and impeccable workmanship represented by his artist, designer and artisan facets, respectively. There are numerous commentators on his work, particularly from design.

In this exhibition, furniture, sculptures, paintings, tapestries and reliefs, in addition to sketches, made in different periods, inhabit the living spaces of Casa Zalszupin, and, in doing so, shed light on other possible interpretative prisms about this production. The reliefs from the 1970s stand out, whose chromatic power and geometry provide rhythm to the curatorial narrative.

By its very nature, relief adheres to architecture; it is appendix, ornament. These are works by a visual artist Tenreiro, in a period of abandonment of furniture design. In wood, iron or duratex, ribbons and trellises – their fullness and emptiness, shadows and lights – they are presented through repetition, but they operate through difference.

They coincide temporally with the resumption of geometric abstractions, in Brazil and abroad. Former concretists recovered geometric research, combining them with chromatic palettes disseminated by Pop Art, dialoguing with Op Art visual effects and stimulated by minimalist structures, not always aware of this information. In this place were Judith Lauand, Luiz Sacilotto, Lothar Charoux, Mauricio Nogueira Lima, Franz Weissmann, among others, working between the 1970s and 1980s.

Tenreiro's reliefs and abstract sculptures were highlighted in criticism that emphasised the constructive order of this production and its historical labor. Analytical seams associated the sinuous forms with those of baroque churches, referring them also to the wooden carvings of altars of Portuguese heritage.

Coming from an intellectualized act by the practice itself, Tenreiro's production stem from a relationship with history and with the local artistic environment that welcomes him. Like the furniture of a designer who does not join the pattern of industrial serialization – the Poltrona Leve, the three-legged chair -, his reliefs retain an intuitive geometry that subverts the rigidity of a system. In this way, they constitute an uncomfortable counterpoint to a constructive mechanistic conception. They are unique, singular, sculptural.


Art, Design and Modernity: Joaquim Tenreiro’s synthesis


Jayme Vargas - Curator


Joaquim Tenreiro was born in 1906, in the small town of Melo, located in the region of Serra da Estrela, north of Portugal.

Son and grandson of skilled carpenters, in childhood he had contact with woodwork that he would master with rare mastery in his career as a plastic artist and furniture maker.

After spending short periods in Brazil with his family, Tenreiro settled permanently when he was about 20 years old, in Rio de Janeiro.

In the early 1930’s, working as a carpenter and without the material resources to pursue an academic background, Tenreiro attended technical drawing courses and participated in the Núcleo Bernadelli, a group of young artists who sought to distance themselves from the academic artistic practices that were prevailing at that time.

His qualifications as a technical draftsman and knowledge of carpentry led Tenreiro to work as a designer in renowned furniture companies such as Laubisch & Hirth.

During this period, following the demands of his employers, he mainly designed eclectic and historicist furniture that recreated or reinterpreted various styles of the past.

In this way, Tenreiro's training incorporated the tradition of handicraft, technical and artistic education as well as the learning from experienced and qualified professionals of the companies he worked before starting his individual career as an artist and designer.

Tenreiro locates the beginning of his career as a furniture designer with the creation of Poltrona Leve, in 1942.

Poltrona Leve already revealed the features that would define his furniture production: a clear option for modern language, permeated by the specificities of his background, and the aim to give the furniture a Brazilian singularity.

It was only from the end of the 1960’s that Tenreiro was able to dedicate himself fully to artistic creation, which had taken a back seat to his activity as a designer.

This is when a remarkable sculptural production emerges, showing a unique and particular interpretation of art with geometric and abstract roots.