At Flash Art’s invitation, Renata Lucas, Ivo Mesquita and Adriano Pedrosa met to discuss art in Brazil. This informal conversation — moderated by Fernanda D’Agostino — is an attempt to map the multifaceted contemporary art landscape in Brazil: art centers, biennials, emerging artists and historical figures, as well as what lies beyond São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Ivo Mesquita: It’s good to start talking about other contemporary art centers, besides São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, especially for a foreign audience. There is Belo Horizonte, and the “Inhotim effect” is visible. Also the Bienal do Mercosul — Porto Alegre has become more cosmopolitan.
Adriano Pedrosa: But do you think Inhotim or the Bienal do Mercosul produce or promote new artists? I still do not perceive artists of the new generation appearing there due to an Inhotim or “Mercosul effect.”
IM: I guess it takes time; it’s a little like the history of the Bienal de São Paulo. The first generation of international Brazilian artists only emerged after 1980, not only because there was a process internally, but also because externally there was another process, due to globalization. In Minas Gerais, especially, artists never stay there. Many important Brazilian artists are from Minas, but they do not live there. Perhaps Amílcar de Castro is one of the few who stayed there.
AP: Rivane Neuenschwander is from a generation that remains living in Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais.
Renata Lucas: And also Mabe Bethônico, José Bento, Pedro Motta, Sara Ramo, Cinthia Marcelle…
IM: It is the first generation that stayed there. Something has been consolidated since the creation of the Escola Guignard [Guignard School], now that the first generation of artists lives there: Cao Guimarães, Eder Santos, Cristiano Rennó and O Grivo.
AP: With the Bolsa Pampulha [Pampulha Grant], two generations of artists were inserted in the circuit in a decisive manner, although not all are from Belo Horizonte, like Laura Belém, Marilá Dardot and Sara Ramo.
IM: The Bolsa Pampulha is also a milestone in this context.
AP: And more collectors also come from Belo Horizonte now — that is a clear signal of the “Inhotim effect.”
IM: Maybe after Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Porto Alegre is the most cosmopolitan city in Brazil, because it is a border town — they are the Bienal do Mercosul.
AP: Since the edition curated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, the Bienal do Mercosul has reached another level of curatorial experimentation. Since that edition, we’ve seen a selection of much more discerning curators and, as a result, more interesting biennials. It is curious that Mercosul, although much younger than São Paulo, has already chosen more foreign curators than her older sister.*
IM: And there are many artists from Rio Grande do Sul. I used to go there in the ’80s and there was Karin Lambrecht, Lia Menna Barreto…
AP: There was the program at Museu de Arte Moderna Aloisio Magalhães, which began around 2001, with Moacir dos Anjos.
IM: What’s cool about a new generation that I see is that they are more articulate. Rafael RG, for example, is an entrepreneur. He keeps tripping, as he did there in Fortaleza. He put up a banner like this: “Hans Ulrich Obrist will be here in 20 minutes.” It’s funny. Luiza Proença and Roberto Winter make seminars, something that hasn’t been done for a long while.
AP: Cristiana Tejo, from the Joaquim Nabuco Fondation in Recife, certainly does that, with the international seminars.
IM: Of the exhibitions that I saw, parallel to the 29th Bienal de São Paulo in 2010, the three that I liked the most were “First and last, notes on the monument” curated by Rodrigo Moura at Galeria Luisa Strina; “Always in sight (mirage)” curated by artist Rodrigo Matheus at Mendes Wood; and Luiza Proença, Roberto Winter and Deyson Gilbert at the Instituto Cervantes in a show entitled “Shadowed by the future.” About the latter, I was so happy; it is a silent exhibition, with very well-chosen works, and I believe it makes a link to “F[r]icciones” that Adriano and I curated at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 2000. It has that movement, because São Paulo is such an institutionalized city, and the new generation seeks to open spaces in parallel with the institutions, such as Thais Rivitti’s Ateliê 397, which is a little how A Gentil Carioca in Rio de Janeiro and Capacete Entretenimentos started.
RL: Yes, although with different vocations: the Ateliê 397 was an initiative of Rafael Campos Rocha, trying to recover the experience we had years ago with the independent project 10,20 x 3,60. A Gentil Carioca is a commercial gallery, whereas Capacete is a personal project of Helmut Batista, which was developed for that self-managed body that exists between the commercial world and the fiction of public money. It assumes a role that the institutional model cannot: to manage, produce, promote and discuss art projects outside the commercial circuit of the arts. I think it is what is most interesting in Brazil today.
Fernanda D’Agostino: Do you think the circuit of contemporary art in Brazil has expanded in recent years? Is there more money in circulation and more people working nowadays?
IM: There was an increase in the number of collectors and galleries, and more money in the circuit. But you have no more money from private corporations being invested, but money of investment tax.
AP: But now there is a much larger number of Brazilian collectors who are voraciously consuming the local market and are buying with little information, little care. This often creates perverse incentives — for the artists and galleries — that were not there in Brazil before. Our great artists are always more experimental, radical, conceptual, such as Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape, Hélio Oiticica, or Cildo Meireles. It seems to me that there is a serious misconstruction of references. For example, recently the local newspaper Folha de São Paulo compared Brazilian contemporary art with Chinese, saying ours did not match the prices and the sales volume, and therefore, was at a disadvantage. It is an unfortunate kind of analysis, which comes from a BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) inflated discourse, but without taking into consideration the quality and content of the production. If Brazil is going to take a more central position in the geopolitical landscape, it is essential to maintain the Bienal de São Paulo perspective as one coming from the South — which has always characterized it — avoiding the more mainstream and conservative outlook; we must leave this role in the hands of Venice.
IM: The Bienal de São Paulo has a potential that has been present since the ’70s — well-selected Latin American art.
FDA: Adriano just mentioned Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica. I would like to hear what you think about the importance of Clark and Oiticica as a reference for artists of later generations
IM: They are precursory works that affected more their own generation and perhaps those immediately following, since they are part of the same zeitgeist. The artists who emerged after 1980 were not just from the school of Brazil; they read Artforum, attended the Bienal de São Paulo, traveled more than the previous generations, had access to the Internet and books.
AP: But don’t you think that they become important matrixes for later Brazilian and even international generations?
RL: My background is different. I am from Ribeirão Preto, I had not traveled or had contact with this broader contemporary art scene nor read those magazines when I was younger. When I started to study at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, I hadn’t had any training in art history. There I did the sculpture and architecture laboratories with Marco do Valle — a great artist and teacher — who introduced us to an expanded field of possibilities, focusing more on questioning whether in fact there was a “tradition” of Brazilian modernism compared with “other Modernisms.” So while we were reading Rosalind Krauss, we also read the theory of the non-object, of Ferreira Gullar and Ronaldo Brito’s Neoconcretismo.
AP: And we see this in your work, such as Falha (2007), presented at REDCAT, in Los Angeles.
RL: I see it in many works. In particular at the moment of Neoconcretism, in which the experience of the subject can be assimilated as the work; in which there is no idealized field of representation. It can be placed anywhere in time and space. There was this important moment in my training to investigate the experimentation of the ’60s and ’70s. I think that in Brazil, all that experience was suddenly interrupted by the dictatorship — a total black-out — and it was missed for some time, to be recovered more recently. The younger generation takes that as history. I see that as a turning point. I was born in 1971, the most difficult period of military dictatorship.
AP: When I was writing some individual texts for Phaidon’s Vitamin 3-D, I cited the importance of Clark and Oiticica in three of them: Renata Lucas, Damián Ortega and Ernesto Neto. I then saw how the legacy is important for the younger generation. Pedro Reyes, for example, was a curator at the Museo Carrillo Gil in Mexico City, and he met Lygia Pape in 1998, when she had a solo show there with Ernesto Neto, something that profoundly influenced his work. I see the micro side of this process in many individual stories of people whose paths end up crossing. Damián Ortega lived in Rio de Janeiro, Gabriel Sierra had a residency at the 28th Bienal de São Paulo in 2008, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster who lives in Rio has a work called Brasilia Hall, which is from 1998.
IM: I think it is wrong to take that at face value, rather than the artist’s attitude toward the work. So everybody that is doing something relational is Lygia Clark? They are not.
RL: I think there are many developments that do not have that apparent connection, because they do not actually have the interactive use of the body, as in the work A casa é o corpo [The house is the body, 1968], for instance, but they have an understanding of space as an extension of subjectivity. In a way or another, it is always complicated to the artist to be fitted to this or that genealogy. Outside Brazil my work is also associated with discourses where I do not fit comfortably, as for instance discourses of institutional critique, that are are not at the basis of my thinking as much as this previous Brazilian experience is. Although, of course, I play it in my work. Lygia Clark would be much more present if we think of the approach of architecture as an extension of vital resources of the social body. But, it is important to make clear that although these artists are featured in our imagination, today we live a different world from the ’60s and ’70s.
IM: There is an exhibition that should be made. In the ’60s and ’70s, every place in the world produced one or two very interesting women: Hannah Wilke, Eva Hesse and Carolee Schneemann in the United States, Gina Pane in France, Mira Schendel, Lygia Pape and Lygia Clark in Brazil, Helena Almeida in Portugal, Carmen Calvo in Spain and so on. All of them with radical works related to the body, because women were arriving at feminism.
AP: You mentioned Mira Schendel as an influence. Do you connect her to Clark and Oiticica?
IM: They are different. The careers of Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica were short and quick. Mira Schendel had more recognition than they did. They are different works and representations. Schendel’s work is more concerned with the form and objective matter — a speculation about language. Clark and Oiticica pursued the philosophy of Mário Pedrosa that art would end — so much so that Clark stopped making art. For them, the question was art and life. It was the question of their generation. Schendel, too, wanted her gesture, even the most simple and ephemeral, to have meaning. I deeply respect an artist for coherence, for the consistency of a project. So much that I think the best publication on Oiticica and Clark is the book of their letters.This is the only source that I trust for any discussion or statement that I make about them.
* At the time of the conversation, Luis Pérez-Oramas, the second foreign chief curator to be appointed in the history of the Bienal de São Paulo, had not been appointed. Mercosul has had three foreign curators in the sixth, seventh and eighth editions.
Ivo Mesquita is chief curator of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. He was the curator of the 28th Bienal de São Paulo.
Adriano Pedrosa is an independent curator based in São Paulo. He is co-curator, together with Jens Hoffmann, of the 12th Istanbul Biennial, opening September 2011.
Renata Lucas in an artist based in Rio de Janeiro.
Fernanda D’Agostino is a researcher and curatorial assistant based in São Paulo.