Why does a New Yorker travel nearly 5,000 miles to see art?
We had our reasons, when we flew to Brazil 10 days ago: to expose ourselves beyond Brazilian megastars like Vik Muniz, Ernesto Neto, and the late Lygia Clark to new artists working in the region and to deepen our knowledge and understanding of some artists we knew of only slightly. So, to immerse ourselves fully, we timed the trip to take in three things in particular.
The first was the 31st Bienal de São Paulo, on view through early December and curated this time around by a deliberately anti-hierarchical oligarchy (they’d hate that word) of five-plus-two.
The second was ArtRio, the annual international fair that ended last Sunday, located this year in the port area of Rio. (Think Frieze, but with ceviche stands.)
The third was a late-night art-binge to inaugurate a phenomenon called “Feito por Brasileiros,” wherein an American-born Frenchman named Alexandre Allard known for luxury turnarounds (Balmain and Le Royal Monceau) somewhat spontaneously invited 100 artists to go to town in São Paulo’s long-abandoned maternity hospital Matarazzo, dating from the late 19th-century. (All this before Allard develops the property, claro.) Of the artists from nearly 10 countries (including well-known Americans like Nick Cave, Marilyn Minter, Kenny Scharf, Gary Simmons, Francesca Woodman, Tony Oursler) half are Brazilian, like Allard’s pal Muniz who sat at the head of the longest table we’ve ever seen at the opening night dinner party. While several artists (including Adriana Varejão and Renata Lucas, who works expressly with issues of urbanism and renewal) told us they declined to lend themselves to such a commercial venture, Matarazzo is a delight of discovery for both art lovers and anyone who loves urban ruins. The works are on view through October 12.
Then, there were the museums: The Museum of Contemporary Art from São Paulo University (known as MAC), The Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (known as MAM), and theThe Rio Art Museum (known as MAR).
Sprinkled in were a handful of gallery visits and tours.
In São Paulo, we toured Galeria Luisa Strina, Emma Thomas, Mendes Wood DM, and Bolsa de Arte de Porto Alegre (an outpost that opened this past spring of the long-standing gallery in its eponymous city of Porto Alegre. Both spaces are run by the charismatic, flame-haired Marga Pasquali).
In Rio, where the city’s fewer galleries are far more spread out than the many in São Paulo, we could only squeeze in a trek to A Gentil Carioca (which represents this year’s Absolut Art Award winner Renata Lucas and was co-founded by artists Marcio Botner, Laura Lima, and Neto), in the Saara neighborhood, better known for the diverse population of Greeks, Turks, Jews, Syrians, and Lebanese, all of whom for more than a century have run the more than 10,000 shops that make the area the largest marketplace in Latin America.
Finally, we primed ourselves for all of the above with a three-day visit to the lushly verdant, approximately 2,500-acre contemporary art mecca that Inhotim has established itself to be, in the pastoral province of Minas Gerais.
It was a joy to discover so much that was new to us, and then a double-joy as, with repeated exposure, we came to recognize and understand the marks and craft of some of these artists. Plus, with the museum’s permanent collections and then ArtRio’s throw-back modernism pavilion, there was a satisfaction in being able to draw connections and recognize the cross pollination of inspiration and ideas across several generations of regional artists.
We must note something refreshing, even moving, that was posted at ArtRio by Bernardo Mosqueira, the founder of the FOCO Bradesco/ArtRio Award, now in its second year, which encourages and promotes emerging Brazilian artists. The sign reminds fair-goers that “even though the art fairs are designed almost exclusively for the performance of gallerists and collectors,” “the artist is the fundamental agent” to whom “we owe our highest respect.”
We certainly came away with that respect after seeing the work of these stand-outs:
There’s one more thing to be said about our 10 day immersion.
It’s this: maybe we’ve been in New York too long, but we were struck by the incredible down-to-earthiness of most everyone we met in the art world in Brazil, from gallerists to collectors to artists. On the rolling lawns of Inhotim, we glimpsed Neuenschwander among a crowd of arty hipsters, grooving on the grass while watching the great musician Jorge Mautner’s al fresco concert. At a party in an abandoned warehouse in the port of Rio, we saw Lucas inaugurate her new installations by dancing to trance music with her dad across the dusty concrete floor. And before our trip came to a close, we watched artist Neto helping to maneuver an enormous maraca shaped like a snake through the crowd of revelers in Rio to celebrate the anniversary of the gallery he helped found, as people danced and drummed and cheered, long into a warm Brazilian night.