"We sold 14 pieces of the Diz armchair. The store had never sold so many pieces in a first exhibit." (Sergio Rodrigues)
In 2004, Sergio Rodrigues won his first solo exhibit abroad, more precisely in New York, at 25th Century, the Tribeca gallery. He was then 78 years old. The exhibit took place forty-three years after he won the 4th International Furniture Competition in Cantu, Italy. It was as if Sergio was being rediscovered, after his furniture had been a unique attraction at the Brazilian Interiors store, in Carmel, California, between 1966 and 1968, and after the Mole armchair became part of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) design collection, in New York, in 1974.
Two years after the exhibit, Sergio spoke with Folha de São Paulo reporter Mario Giola about how his work was appreciated outside of Brazil in an interview titled Sergio Rodrigues, tropical designer and remarked on the New York exhibition: "Three years ago, a group from New York that has an art gallery and sells antiques, which they call vintage, R 20th Century, came here to Rio. They already sold my pieces, pieces by Zanine [José Zanine Caldas, 1919-2001, a Bahia furniture designer], and pieces made by Tenreiro [Joaquim Tenreiro, 1906-1992]. They were raved about the new furniture made by Lin Brasil. They decided to take a few antique pieces and one I had just made. It was the Diz armchair, my last 'daughter.' I was and still am crazy for it. I was invited to an exhibit that they were going to make at Tribeca, where the gallery is located, with my furniture. When I got there, I saw the Diz armchair in the shop window. After a week, the shop owner told me excitedly that he had sold 14 pieces. We had never sold so many pieces in a first exhibit." They continued buying new pieces, and I continued making new designs."
Critics believe that Brazilianness was at the base of the interest Sergio always aroused outside of Brazil, and of the many articles published about his work in the international press. Another reason for this interest was the increasing appreciation of Brazilian design abroad. In fact, the Brazilian culture was gaining space in the international media and opening fronts in order to also increase interest in Brazil in general.
The São Paulo journalist Adélia Borges, who is specialized in Brazilian design, has a distinct feeling of this change and believes that, today, Brazil has another status in the universe of design creations. "In the 1980s, when I attended international trade shows and said I was a Brazilian journalist, some of the booths would not give interviews, they would turn their backs saying Brazil was copycat. Factories that copied things done outside Brazil predominated in the country. Today, when I say I am Brazilian, I am seen with interest, respect, and curiosity. This interest in Brazilian design was greatly propelled by the Campana brothers, when they made an exhibition at MoMA, in New York. Since 1989, the Campanas had been producing on the artisanal scale: Things they designed and produced in very small amounts on their own. Then came a large Italian factory, Edra, which went on to produce and to divulge them. They became stars at the Milan furniture salon. At that time, two Brazilians dictated the trends. They paved the way to what was happening in Brazil as a whole. But Sergio's awards, in 1961, were a first moment of recognition."