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Conversation  |  Founder and Managing Director of SP-Arte

Fernanda Feitosa

In Conversation with
Camila Belchior
4 April 2016
Image: Fernanda Feitosa. Photo: Denise Andrade.
Image: Fernanda Feitosa. Photo: Denise Andrade.

Just over a decade ago, successful corporate lawyer and avid art collector, Fernanda Feitosa embraced the idea of establishing an art fair in Brazil that could grow to become the region’s go-to commercial art hub. And so she did. Now into it’s twelfth anniversary, SP-Arte has grown from the inaugural and mainly local gathering of 41 galleries on the ground floor of Oscar Niemeyer’s iconic Biennial Pavilion in Ibirapuera Park, to a vibrant international celebration of art that occupies the entire building, and mobilises the city and the country’s art world.

Despite the doom and gloom cast over the country by the current complex political and economic scenarios in Brazil, over 120 exhibitors from around the globe will gather in São Paulo from 6 April (VIP opening) to 10 April for SP-Arte’s 12th edition. The 2016 event will see the launch of a design sector, the return of a performance programme and curated projects, Showcase

Solo and Open Plan, which this year will present nine projects especially commissioned for SP-Arte.

Weeks shy of opening to 20,000 expected visitors, Fernanda Feitosa spoke to Ocula’s Camila Belchior.

What are your expectations for this year’s fair given the current economic and political situation in Brazil? How does it affect primary and secondary markets respectively?

Evidently the art market is not immune from the ups and downs of the economy, so we will not be as buoyant as in previous years. That said, art has two phenomenal attributes: it has a tremendous capacity to preserve its value and a unique capacity to create passion. Given that, the market for art will always exist. 

For years you have thought of putting together a design section at SP-Arte and this year, it’s finally here! Why is it a good idea to launch it now? 

Yes, I have always thought of a design fair because it is a field I am personally interested in, and it has a direct impact on how we live. A good project is always good, regardless of when it is launched. First, because design is currently at the centre of very contemporary discussions and secondly, because Brazilian design has high quality and there is always room for events aiming at top quality works. It should be of interest for collectors and buyers as well as for people with an interest in learning, appreciating and discussing design. We are very focused on creating a solid market for design. So in this first edition the event is dedicated to forming a solid design audience.

Image: Kátia Fernandes, Mesa Lateral. © Centro Universitário Belas Artes de São Paulo.

What do you expect the highlights to be this year?

SP-Arte dedicates a great deal of effort in bringing together the best galleries that are capable of offering a wide selection of masters and young talents. An art fair should bring innovation and new breadths of creation. With this in mind, the highlights should be the curated sectors: Solo, curated by Luiza Teixeira de Freitas, Open Plan, dedicated to site specific works—curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, and Performance, curated by Cauê Alves and sponsored by the University of Belas Artes. 

Image: Daniel Monroy Cuevas, New Frontier, 2015. © Courtesy of Arredondo / Arozarena Gallery. Part of SOLO, at SP-Arte, 2016.

SP-Arte arguably played a significant role in consolidating the Brazilian art market. How would you say it is evolving?

The fair is evolving to become the centre for artistic production, art reflection and art negotiation in the Latin American region. 

What is the typical profile of Brazilian collectors?

Brazilian collectors are younger than average visitors of other fairs; 70% are between 25-59 years old, which represents the most active period of an individual’s economic and professional life. 20% are under 24 years old, which coincides with their academic life and 10% are above 60 years old. So, the majority of visitors are potential buyers, and very interested in contemporary languages and expressions. In terms of profession, collectors are usually entrepreneurial individuals, independent professionals, executives and taste-makers.  

Image: Haroon Mirza, Duet, 2013. Mixed media, 172 x 149 x 25 cm. Image courtesy SP-Arte and Lisson Gallery.

What have you learned in 12 years organising what is today the most prestigious art fair in South America? What are the greatest challenges and benefits of holding an art fair in Brazil?

The greatest benefit is to have a very good selection of local galleries—more than 60% of the exhibitors at SP-Arte are Brazilian galleries! One of the biggest challenges nowadays for any art fair is to attract foreign exhibitors. In Brazil, the country's tax on importing artworks is an obstacle for the internationalisation of the market and the inclusion of the country in a prestigious circuit of art events around the world. This is a circuit that attracts opinion-makers and wealthy visitors to the country, which has an immense impact on the perception of the city as an influential place in the scene world-over. Another challenge is the fact that the art market is a global market and the number of galleries and collectors is limited. The art world has become extremely competitive for galleries and collectors. When I began SP-Arte, there were only 40 art fairs around the world, now there are more than 150 art fairs! Nobody can travel that much and artists are not able to produce new works for so many exhibitions. Logistics has become a problem too.

Image: Guy Bourdin, Charles Jourdan, 1979. Fujiflex Crystal Archive Print, 89 x 117.5 cm. Tiragem 18. © The Guy Bourdin Estate 2016 / Galeria Lume. 

What makes a successful art fair?

I see three things as critical for the success of an art fair: the quality of galleries and artworks, the exhibition space and architectural plan, and a good home collector base. The Biennial Pavilion where the fair is held, my great architectural team, top quality Brazilian galleries, and a good collector base with huge potential to keep growing are three factors that have made SP-Arte successful. The rest is good common sense and generosity. 

What is it like being an entrepreneur in Brazil?

It’s challenging, but good. There are many red tape obstacles but the opportunities are immense. 

Image: Ai Weiwei, Beam Support, 2015. Porcelain, 56 x 31 x 31 cm. Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins / Habana. Photo: Oak Taylor-Smith.

What is your advice to budding entrepreneurs in the art world? Where do you see gaps that could tapped?

My advice is to never give up—really! Believe in yourself and do not hesitate to ask for advice or help. Being surrounded by people who care and could give you advice is a good thing. Another crucial thing, in a more practical sense, is write a business plan. It is impossible, in any segment, to create a business without thorough planning beforehand. —[O]

Ocula will report on the 12th edition of SP-Arte from the ground. Stay tuned!

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