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A Report From Brazil

By Camila Belchior  |  Brazil, 4 November 2014

Image: ArtRio 2014, courtesy ArtRio. Photo: Max Matthias

For the last five years, Brazil has boasted increased attention in the international media. Be it being a BRIC power [notably the November 2009 cover of The Economist, “Brazil Takes Off”, with Christ the Redeemer rising like a rocket] or concern over the economy and social dissatisfaction [the Economist’s follow-up issue in September 2013 questioning: “Has Brazil Blown it?”, with Christ the Redeemer plummeting to the ground]; either way, such exposure coupled with hosting the most recent World Cup and the promise of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2015, has firmly kept the country on the global mass media radar.

Brazilian Art Abroad

Brazil has also reached out by way of its cultural products, from soft Bossa Nova melodies and uniquely captivating samba to contemporary music styles and contemporary art. And art created in Brazil has over the course of the 21st century has filtered into important museums around the world. The Guggenheim’s iconic Brazil: Body and Soul exhibition in 2001 was a milestone in the U.S, and the Tate Modern held a beautifully hung Hélio Oiticica’s retrospective in 2007 and dedicated space to Cildo Meireles in 2008. While MoMA received Carlito Carvalhosa’s installation Sum of Days in 2012, Mira Schendel filled temporary exhibition spaces at the Tate Modern last year and this year. Ernesto Neto’s soft sculptures were seductively hung in The Body that Carries Me, at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and an exhibition spanning thirty years of Lygia Clark’s production, The Abandonment of Art, filled MoMA. Beatriz Milhazes’ arabesques fill the Perez Art Museum in Miami until January 2015 and the iconic yellow graffiti figures by OsGemeos that covered the Brazilian World Cup delegation jet can be seen on six enormous silos in Vancouver during the Biennale until 2016.

The Market and Art Fairs

The international market for Brazilian contemporary art heated up in 2011, when Christie’s saw a record hammer price of $1.7m for a piece by living artist Adriana Varejão (Wall with Incisions by Lucio Fontana II, 2001). This was trumped by the Sotheby’s sale of Beatriz Milhazes’ Meu Limão (2000), for $2m in 2012, reinstating the latter in the market lead for Brazilian living artists. Latitude, a platform dedicated to promoting Brazilian galleries abroad, also monitors local art market trends and development. Its most recent industry survey, conducted through its member galleries, highlighted that since 2010 the average annual growth of the primary sector of the market is above 20% and that the domestic market is responsible for 85% of sales. International collector confidence in the market was noted, based on a perception of high quality in Brazilian art, a solid local collector base, significant art fairs and the tradition of the São Paulo Bienal.


Established in 2011, this year’s fourth edition of ArtRio, held from September 10th to 14th in five warehouses in the Mauá dock area, with views of the Guanabara Bay, housed 110 galleries originating from 13 different countries. The presence of international heavy weights validated once again the fair’s relevance and their choice of artists hints at the local potential of the (still immature) average local collector/visitor. White Cube, the only one to have a permanent space in Brazil—its local venue was opened in São Paulo at the end of 2011—showed Sarah Morris and Damien Hirst amongst other household names and Victoria Miro presented Yayoi Kusama pieces, whose hugely successful touring exhibition, Infinite Obsession, was in Rio, Brasília and São Paulo earlier this year. The selection of wonderfully intimate Francesca Woodman photographs that lined the external perimeter of the booth was a blessing to more sensitive visitors. Pace Gallery opted to show a large number of Zhang Huans, while Gagosian brought Jeff Koons, Frank Stella and Richard Serra.

The modern and contemporary art fair’s organisers registered 51,000 visitors over the course of its four days, though the opening night was seemingly quiet and lacked the spark of other years and the frenzy expected on art fairs’ opening days. Assumptions were made in the industry that this generally reflected a wider economic hesitancy due to the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the presidential elections held in October.

One of the curated sections of the fair, ‘Lupa’, a 1300m2 space curated by Abaseh Mirvali held nine works. Including a multifunctional large-scale piece by Daniel Acosta called Multifunktionalcosmocave and bicycles carrying carved cement blocks used in building, by Hector Zamora. ‘Solo’, organised by Julieta Gonzalez and Pablo Leon de la Barra was rather more enticing and grouped contemporary and historic works that explored the materiality of concrete and relate to and/or are influenced by concrete poetry.

One of the local art circuit’s fondest generalisations is that São Paulo is home to hard work and the [art] market, and that Rio is home to artists’ studios and inspiring surroundings, but ArtRio is helping change this. Subdivided into different neighboring warehouses, attending ArtRio is always a delight. Visitors get to catch their breath and a glimpse of the amazing view of the bay when moving from one space to the next, which helps dictate a pleasant pace and experience untainted by the horrific feeling of spending time in a convention centre, familiar in so many fairs around the globe.


ArtRio’s sister design fair, was inaugurated this year in Warehouse 5 and although smaller, showcasing only 18 galleries, it did show pieces by important Brazilian makers such as Joaquim Tenreiro and Zanine Caldas. It was also an opportunity to pay tribute to Sérgio Rodrigues’ important role in Brazilian design and launch the Adolpho Bloch collection re-edited by Etel, shortly after his passing.


The celebratory 10th year edition of SPArte in April this year marked a clearly more mature and consolidated fair, with 136 participants, of which twenty-two were from Rio and forty-eight from São Paulo. The largest in Brazil and arguably the most relevant art fair in South America, it has since its inception had a pioneering role in the local market, establishing new benchmarks and relations between domestic and foreign participants and visitors. Held in the iconic Oscar Niemeyer Bienal building in the city’s Ibirapuera Park, a visit to the fair is also an architectural experience. The growing number of international exhibitors confirms the steady growth in the collector base, that and partnerships with local government in lifting the ICMS tax on sales during the period of the fair since 2012, has made a big difference.

Art and taxes

There is still no real financial incentive for collecting art in the country. On the contrary, high taxes on merchandise in Brazil are also applied to art and prove to be a barrier for potential big buyers [and therefore art fairs]. Since 2011, SPArte and ArtRio have drawn individual agreements with their local governments to lift the ICMS tax (which can be up to 18% of the sale price) from goods acquired at the art fairs. The Brazilian tax system is complex. Another challenge for local buyers interested in acquiring works of art produced outside of Brazil, is a nationalization tax that can amount to 60-70% on top of the final sale price.

The São Paulo Bienal

Second only to Venice, São Paulo has since it’s first edition in 1951 been the most relevant art event of its kind in the country. For many years, the Bienal represented an event when Brazilian audiences could see important artworks by internationally renowned artists. In 1953 Picasso’s Guernica was amongst the 4.000 works that filled Niemeyer’s exquisite modernist building, in 1957 Jackson Pollock was the highlight. Later the 10th edition was boycotted by artists like Hélio Oiticia and Lygia Clark as a statement against the dictatorship and then in 1985 there was Sheila Leirner’s 18th edition, in which her hanging of paintings side by side along corridors, highlighting their similarities, caused outrage amongst artists. Paulo Herkenhoff organized one of the most memorable and conceptually sound shows, based on 'Antropofagia' — the notion (created by author and polemicist Oswald de Andrade in 1928) that Brazilian culture is created by cannibalising different cultures and influences and regurgitating the mix as its own. At the end of the 20th century Herkenhoff enabled a large Brazilian audience to see works by Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon, Van Gogh and Louise Bourgeois. The model of National Representations (when artists are chosen by countries' embassies to represent them at the Bienal) finished in 2006, (under Lisette Lagnado’s tenure as the general curator of the 27th Bienal), and this opened up a new age in the event’s curatorial grid. The 31st São Paulo Bienal, on through December 7th, highlights the notion of art as process and a crisis of values in which we are currently living. This during a period in which are attempting to deny modernist canons that we have not yet managed to clearly re-draw in our time.

Over the course of decades, as a platform for contemporary art and culture the Bienal has always stimulated polemic debates and discussions, which if anything, is possibly its most important, valuable and consistent role: to spark innovation and change in the Brazilian cultural topography.

Other art biennials in Brazil:

Bienal do Mercosul
Bienal da Bahia

Museums and exhibition spaces

Although Brazilian art is finding space in international private and public collections and art fairs are consolidating their roles and helping shape the market, frail domestic policies, limited institutional acquisitions and government backing still hinder the local art system. Public institutions only dream of having retrospectives of artists of the caliber that occur in prestigious international museums. In a continental sized country like Brazil, the little incentive there is for arts and culture, goes mainly to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro states, followed closely by Minas Gerais, which holds the country's most unique open air art and botanical collection at Inhotim. As a result, interesting independent spaces like Pivô and Phosphorus in São Paulo [with little government incentive] are championing new territories and organically developing interesting programmes. The recent announcement that curator Adriano Pedrosa will be the new director of MASP, São Paulo’s city museum designed by Lina Bo Bardi, has resonated locally as the beginning of a new era. Now there is the possibility of a high quality programme in a museum that has for decades suffered from irrelevance due to poor management and little engagement with the valuable historic collection it holds.

Below is a list of relevant exhibition spaces around the country.

São Paulo
MAM-SP, www.mam.org.br
Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, www.pinacoteca.org.br
Instituto Tomie Ohtake, www.institutotomieohtake.org.br
MASP, www.masp.art.br
Pivô, www.pivo.org.br/
Phosphorus, www.phosphorus.art.br
CCBB-São Paulo, http://culturabancodobrasil.com.br/portal/
Itaú Cultural, http://novo.itaucultural.org.br

Ribeirão Preto
Instituto Figueiredo Ferraz www.institutofigueiredoferraz.com.br

MAM-RJ, mamrio.com.br
MAR, www.museudeartedorio.org.br
Instituto Moreira Salles, www.ims.com.br
Casa França Brasil, www.fcfb.rj.gov.br/
Casa Daros, www.casadaros.net
Parque Lage, www.eavparquelage.rj.gov.br/
CCBB-Rio de Janeiro, http://culturabancodobrasil.com.br/portal/
Oi Futuro, www.oifuturo.org.br/cultura/oi-futuro-flamengo/

Belo Horizonte
Museu da Pampulha, http://portalpbh.pbh.gov.br/
CCBB-Belo Horizonte, http://culturabancodobrasil.com.br/portal/

Inhotim, www.inhotim.org.br

CCBB-Brasília, http://culturabancodobrasil.com.br/portal/

MAM-BA, www.bahiamam.org/

Centro Dragão do Mar, www.dragaodomar.org.br/

Commercial Galleries
Check out mapa das artes [www.mapadasartes.com.br] for a solid initial listing of local commercial galleries.—[O]

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