THE MOOSE DRAWN by the Paleolithic man on cave walls, Madonnas that can only be unveiled on special occasions, private altars in monks’ cells, as well as divine statues that can only be seen by the high priest, all clearly represent the role of art as a tool for magic. In the early days of mankind, the work of art was integrated across different traditions through cult. The unique value of artistic creation, its “auratic mode”, as Walter Benjamin puts it, is intimately linked to this origin, initially magical, later religious, and always in submission to a ritual.
Olav Velthuis, a theoretician of the art market, says the consecration of the “white cube” model in art galleries around the world is likely not a mere coincidence. In this space – so clean, so stark – it is easier to evoke an elevated atmosphere, removed from worldly distractions and devoid of references to trade. It is only later, in the “vestry” of the galleries’ offices, that the transition is made from this ethereal sphere to explicit financial negotiation and check writing.
In the classic essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin points out the existence, within the works themselves, of two poles that mutually challenge each other: the cult value and exhibition value. The aforementioned moose and Madonna are firmly inserted in the cult pole, as is the statue of the Greek god that is fixed inside the temple devoted to it. Any painting, in turn, reinforces the pole of exhibition, as opposed to a fresco or a mosaic, which historically preceded it as art forms. The cult value refers to the theological foundation of art. The exhibition value, on the other hand, announces the emancipation of works of art from this theological context. Artistic creation is transferred to an increasingly secular sphere, culminating in the late nineteenth century with the radical mundanity of photographs and film, in which the fundamental value is the ability to multiply exposure through several reproductions, nullifying the distinction between original and copy and pushing back, still according to Benjamin, the aura of the original work of art, that which emanates from it, its “here and now” that is unable to be reproduced through technical mechanisms.
Why evoke such a distinction, though, in a text dedicated to a particular collection? I’ve had the privilege of being close to André Stock and Roberto Calmon for about ten years now, which allowed me to watch, from the “front row”, the formation of this collection that is now being presented to a wider audience. In the many times I went to the apartment that houses the collection to have dinner with my two friends, a kind of private ritual ensued, right upon arrival, where they would introduce their new acquisitions. At first, everything seemed unpretentious and I, in the condition of observer, wavered between admiration for their dedication to “collectionism” (a term I would only truly understand some time later) and a certain awe regarding everything involved in the process: the dealing with galleries, the prices, the contact with the artists, the delicate work of storage and exhibition of the pieces in the apartment, the conservation cares.
Only now, when I am called upon to write about the series of works I witnessed appearing in my friends’ lives, do I realize how much I myself turned to this field guided by their hands. Without realizing it, the joy of finding a piece that pleased me in a corner of the house, the surprise caused by the unconventional negotiations – compared to that of other products – involving its purchase, the satisfaction of witnessing the birth of a kind of parallel universe formed by Bodies, letters and some animals, all surely changed me, too, and gradually directed me to the academic study of the art universe.
When I start recalling the primary impressions of these visits, I remember the time I stood before the blond hair of the girl photographed by Edgar Martins, unable to return to the conversation before being released by those threads. Next is the time I accompanied the purchase of the drawings on black background, with colored writing, by Cabelo. My constantly renewed admiration in front of works by José Damasceno, with their small elementary and colorful particles. Fernando de La Rocque’s erotic mandalas, his portrait of my idol José Mujica. Monica Piloni’s faceless nightmarish figures. Marta Jourdan’s lewiscarrollian cup. The flight on Suzana Queiroga’s cloud. Everything that came afterwards, the thoughts, the articles, the researches, were and are elaborations of these sensory experiences. As Freud would say, a secondary process.
COMING BACK TO THE LOOSE END I left a few paragraphs above, I cannot help wondering what would be the dominant value in the pieces that inhabit my friends’ apartment – cult or exhibition? In principle, given that most do not pay the slightest reference to theological foundations (unless the animals are related to Noah’s ark…), they would have exhibition value as their dominant pole. After all, both sculptures and paintings can be transported, loaned, sold, displayed wherever they want. Most of them unique – save one or other multiple and some photographs – all of them have preserved, as far as is possible in the world of obsessive copies and sharing (in the Instagram world), their aura. Given that their aura remained almost intact, we might say, if we were to remain faithful to Benjamin, that the collection’s pieces have also retained some cult value in addition to the exhibition value.
I think that the pieces in the Calmon-Stock Collection, even now as they become accessible through reproduction in a catalog, will forever preserve their cult value. A value legitimized by the discrete, unpretensious way it was formed over time. Without giving in to the glamor and mundane temptations of the art world, without ostentation, André and Roberto put one piece next to the other. Thus a unique language was developed by the two collectors, a style that Omar Salomão and Fernando de La Rocque wisely translated in the title Bodies, letters and some animals…
To live with the collection meant, until the creation of the catalog, to remove from the collectors’ intimacy, and to witness, materialized in paintings, sculptures and objects, that reason without a reason from which their unconscious is made of. Old Freud collected ancient figurines as he compared the psychic apparatus to the city of Rome, where several other cities are hidden – underground, past, and, at the same time, very present. Just like the set of layers that make up contemporary Rome, according to the Viennese master, all of our experiences reside in our unconscious: from our childhood wishes to the experiences we had in the past 48 hours.
In the two collectors’ apartment, layers, buildings, and ruins of sensations, affections, and thoughts cohabit, forming a living, integrated whole. The Calmon-Stock Collection – regardless of what Benjamin, Freud, or anyone else who became my friend solely through books might say – connects dreams to waking thoughts, finding a channel of expression in canvases, pieces of paper, wood, clay, brick powder, porcelain, papier maché and colored straws.