Spatial Orders, Social Forms: Art and the City in Modern Brazil

Yale Univ. Oct. 2022. 248p. ISBN 9780300254013. $75. ARCH
Spanning the 1920s through the 1950s, this book presents the tension between modern architecture reflecting Brazil’s Indigenous cultures and that of its European-influenced practitioners, intentionally sidestepping Brasilia to highlight less celebrated examples. Anagnost’s (Jessie Poesch Assistant Professor, Newcomb Art Dept., Tulane Univ.) eclectic approach blends urban design, architecture, and visual arts—including even politically minded performance art—and expresses throughout an evenhanded skepticism toward modernism. The highly theoretical introduction refers to a broad historical span of thinkers about society and public space, from Plato’s Republic to Hannah Arendt and Wilhelm Worringer, out of whose idea of “oasis civilizations” grew the characterization of Brasilia as “condemned to be modern.” Despite unnecessary jargonistic tendencies (“historically spatialized inequalities”), the scholarship, with 38 pages of endnotes, is substantive. Although full-page illustrations on the verso opposite each new chapter are effective, numerous archival illustrations from newspaper images are sometimes too small to be legible, and flat black-and-white photographs fall short of the far stronger color illustrations.
VERDICT Architectural history scholars and advanced students of Latin America will benefit from this work, but the exhibition catalogues Condemned To Be Modern and Access for All: São Paulo’s Architectural Infrastructures will serve most readers better.
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