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Two Brazilian Cities: São Paulo and Rio via Inhotim

The research project C-MAP (Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives) is built upon research that happens both within and outside MoMA. In November 2012, a group of curators, educators, and editorial staff from MoMA spent ten days in Brazil. All through the preceding year, the C-MAP Latin America group had attended lectures, roundtables, and seminars on twentieth-century art in Brazil given by visiting scholars, artists, and musicians. Aiming to develop a better understanding of the world of some of the Brazilian artists in MoMA's collection, as well as to get to know some of those who may have been overlooked, the group met with artists, curators, and scholars and conducted interviews with artists to help put their work in context.

We visited the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and passed through Belo Horizonte on our way to the Inhotim Institute. The group spent time in botanical gardens, museums, galleries, art spaces, studios, architectural landmarks, and cultural foundations to see the work of important figures in Brazilian art and architecture. Another purpose of the visit was to attend the 30th edition of the São Paulo Bienal, which was curated by Luis Pérez-Oramas, MoMA’s curator of Latin American art. For some members of the group, this was a first trip to Brazil. We were lucky to have as part of the group our Brazilian colleague Lilian Tone, assistant curator in MoMA’s Department of Painting and Sculpture, especially when facing such important challenges as locating the best pão de queijo (cheese bread) in São Paulo.

This preliminary visit was aimed at acquiring firsthand knowledge and experiences, establishing face-to-face professional relationships, and laying the groundwork for a more profound engagement with Brazilian art and artists in the future. Ten days were of course not enough to take in all that we wished in Brazil’s two major cities, not to mention in the culturally rich regions lying further afield. We would love to hear what we missed out on and know more about what's going on now, para matar as saudades (to stop missing it so much)!

We would also like to know your thoughts on the way MoMA organizes its research activities. Why undertake a trip like this? What is at stake in this interest in Brazil and other places visited during the course of C-MAP research?

Author

C-MAP Latin America Group
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Two Brazilian Cities: São Paulo and Rio via Inhotim MAP


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Two Brazilian Cities: São Paulo and Rio via Inhotim

The research project C-MAP (Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives) is built upon research that happens both within and outside MoMA. In November 2012, a group of curators, educators, and editorial staff from MoMA spent ten days in Brazil. All through the preceding year, the C-MAP Latin America group had attended lectures, roundtables, and seminars on twentieth-century art in Brazil given by visiting scholars, artists, and musicians. Aiming to develop a better understanding of the world of some of the Brazilian artists in MoMA's collection, as well as to get to know some of those who may have been overlooked, the group met with artists, curators, and scholars and conducted interviews with artists to help put their work in context.

We visited the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and passed through Belo Horizonte on our way to the Inhotim Institute. The group spent time in botanical gardens, museums, galleries, art spaces, studios, architectural landmarks, and cultural foundations to see the work of important figures in Brazilian art and architecture. Another purpose of the...

Show More

The research project C-MAP (Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives) is built upon research that happens both within and outside MoMA. In November 2012, a group of curators, educators, and editorial staff from MoMA spent ten days in Brazil. All through the preceding year, the C-MAP Latin America group had attended lectures, roundtables, and seminars on twentieth-century art in Brazil given by visiting scholars, artists, and musicians. Aiming to develop a better understanding of the world of some of the Brazilian artists in MoMA's collection, as well as to get to know some of those who may have been overlooked, the group met with artists, curators, and scholars and conducted interviews with artists to help put their work in context.

We visited the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and passed through Belo Horizonte on our way to the Inhotim Institute. The group spent time in botanical gardens, museums, galleries, art spaces, studios, architectural landmarks, and cultural foundations to see the work of important figures in Brazilian art and architecture. Another purpose of the visit was to attend the 30th edition of the São Paulo Bienal, which was curated by Luis Pérez-Oramas, MoMA’s curator of Latin American art. For some members of the group, this was a first trip to Brazil. We were lucky to have as part of the group our Brazilian colleague Lilian Tone, assistant curator in MoMA’s Department of Painting and Sculpture, especially when facing such important challenges as locating the best pão de queijo (cheese bread) in São Paulo.

This preliminary visit was aimed at acquiring firsthand knowledge and experiences, establishing face-to-face professional relationships, and laying the groundwork for a more profound engagement with Brazilian art and artists in the future. Ten days were of course not enough to take in all that we wished in Brazil’s two major cities, not to mention in the culturally rich regions lying further afield. We would love to hear what we missed out on and know more about what's going on now, para matar as saudades (to stop missing it so much)!

We would also like to know your thoughts on the way MoMA organizes its research activities. Why undertake a trip like this? What is at stake in this interest in Brazil and other places visited during the course of C-MAP research?

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1. São Paulo

Lygia Clark: A Retrospective at Itaú Cultural

Lygia Clark: A Retrospective at Itaú Cultural

On our first morning in São Paulo, our plans to walk to the Itaú Cultural gallery were disrupted by a heavy rainfall that had the effect of causing an epic traffic jam. When we finally arrived at our destination, it was a relief to be met by Sofia Fan, the institution’s manager of visual arts, who led us through the Lygia Clark (1920–1988) retrospective. Presenting Clark’s work is an enormous challenge for any museum, since its participatory nature is key to its experience. The curatorial team engaged in these questions laudably, displaying the original 1960s Bichos (Creatures)—manipulable works made of steel—on a raised platform alongside replicas of these works that could be handled and freely manipulated by visitors. The reconstructed 1968 installation A Casa é o Corpo: Labirinto (The House Is the Body: Labyrinth) evokes a process of rebirth as visitors walk through various chambers containing sensory stimuli such as balloons, colored string and balls, and an inflatable chamber created from clear plastic. On the lower level were films, other works inviting direct participation, and a video installation in which the visitor is required to enter the space of the film. Clark conceived of but never realized this work, which had not been displayed before. It exemplifies the problematic nature of revivifying Clark’s work and the challenge that lies ahead for the curators of the Lygia Clark exhibition that will open at MoMA in 2014.

Museu do Arte de São Paulo (MASP)

Museu do Arte de São Paulo (MASP) is housed in Lina Bo Bardi’s landmark building on Avenida Paulista, one of São Paulo’s main commercial axes. We arrived to a very warm welcome from Paulo Portella, education director and artist, who seemed to hold the memory of the institution’s recent years. Paulo showed us around the building, constructed by Bo Bardi in 1968, nearly twenty years after the museum was founded. We toured the impressive permanent collection, the library, education workshops, and conference facilities. The group discussed Bo Bardi’s original design for the display of paintings, which were mounted on glass panels not only so that both the fronts and backs could be seen, but also so that Renaissance and Impressionist works might seem to bob and float, defying the weight of their concrete-block pedestals. Bo Bardi’s vision of a light-filled museum was only partially apparent, since the museum has long since blacked out the glass windows.

Instituto Moreira Salles

The Instituto Moreira Salles is based in Rio but has modest galleries and offices in São Paulo as well. These will expand significantly in 2015 when they open their new space on Avenida Paulista. IMS holds the preeminent historical photography collection in Brazil (rivaled only by the Biblioteca Nacional, where the collection of the former Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, who was a passionate photography enthusiast, now resides). On view was one slice of the IMS collection: a focused exhibition of Horacio Coppola’s photographs of the sculptures of Aleijadinho (made during Coppola’s trip to Minas Gerais in July and August, 1945), curated by Luciano Migliaccio. All of the prints were modern but had been reviewed and signed by Coppola. The exhibition also presented in vitrines a first edition of the luxurious book Coppola published of this work as well as an extraordinary travel diary in which Coppola carefully noted the technical and aesthetic details of his approach (see snapshot). I met with the IMS photography curator, Sergio Burgi, and Thyago Nogueira, editor of the journal ZUM and contemporary photography curator at IMS, after which all three of us joined the group for lunch at Bar da Dona Onça, on the ground level of the enormous, undulating Niemeyer Copan building.

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Coppola's travel diary Photo: Sarah Meister

Pivô Art Center for the Investigation of Artistic Processes

Our first full day in São Paulo started with a downpour that caused the city’s second-worst traffic jam of the year. As our taxi inched forward, we heard on the radio that 152 miles of the city’s streets were snarled with congestion.

After lunch with photography curators Sergio Burgi and Thyago Nogueira from Instituto Moreira Salles, the rest of the group made their way to Estação Pinacoteca while I visited Pivô (Portuguese for "pivot"), the brainchild of artist Fernanda Brenner, who works in collaboration with art historian Martha Ramos-Yzquierdo Esteban and the producer Thyaga Sá Brito. Only a few months old, Pivô is an open platform for numerous noncommercial artistic uses, including studios and residencies, an exhibition space, a laboratory, collaborative projects, and, they hope, other experimental models yet to be explored. It is located on the street and mezzanine levels of Oscar Niemeyer's iconic Copan building, perhaps the most striking visual symbol of the city of São Paulo, with residential floors on top and commercial space at the bottom. Covering a seemingly endless labyrinthine area of over 37,000 square feet, Pivô's space is very raw and versatile in the scale and character of its rooms. On the occasion of my visit, the artist Paulo Nimer Pjota (born São José do Rio Preto, 1987) occupied a temporary studio space with a gorgeous veranda and was preparing large-scale works for his upcoming show at Galeria Mendes Wood.

Edifício Copan and Pivô

Estação Pinacoteca

It seems that a generalized amnesia and “look forward rather than backwards” attitude in Brazilian politics have pushed aside memories of the 1964–1985 dictatorship. However, the Resistance Memorial at Estação Pinacoteca is one of the first institutionalized efforts to deal with the history of the military regime. In fact, its broad mission is to preserve the memory of Brazilian resistance and political repression since the founding of the republic in 1889. The exhibition we saw relied upon audio testimony of former prisoners and reconstructions of the cells of those imprisoned and abused by the regime. Estação Pinacoteca's location is particularly apt, since it is situated in the prison section of the erstwhile headquarters of DEOPS,...

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Estação Pinacoteca

It seems that a generalized amnesia and “look forward rather than backwards” attitude in Brazilian politics have pushed aside memories of the 1964–1985 dictatorship. However, the Resistance Memorial at Estação Pinacoteca is one of the first institutionalized efforts to deal with the history of the military regime. In fact, its broad mission is to preserve the memory of Brazilian resistance and political repression since the founding of the republic in 1889. The exhibition we saw relied upon audio testimony of former prisoners and reconstructions of the cells of those imprisoned and abused by the regime. Estação Pinacoteca's location is particularly apt, since it is situated in the prison section of the erstwhile headquarters of DEOPS, São Paulo’s former political police faction, infamous for having tortured those deemed threats to the military regime. In addition to creating exhibitions, the Resistance Memorial is tasked with researching, documenting, conserving, and communicating the history of repression and resistance.

After the sobering visit to the memorial, the group went with Natasha Barzaghi Geenen, international relations advisior, Valéria Piccoli, chief curator, and Regina Teixeira de Barros, curator, to visit the rest of the building. The Estação Pinacoteca focuses on the history of Brazilian art and the display of the permanent collections. The exhibition Art in Brazil: A History in the Pinacoteca São Paulo comprised highlights of the collection. The opportunity to see canonical works of Brazilian art was a real treat, especially Tarsila do Amaral’s masterpiece of 1929 Antropofágia . We also saw solo shows: one exhibition of prints by the expressionist printmaker Oswald Goeldi, who had a singular impact on printmaking practices in Brazil; the other of paintings by the Venezuelan abstractionist Alejandro Otero, called The Resonant Space: The Coloritmos (Colorhythms) of Alejandro Otero. After our visit to the Estação Pinacoteca we went to its nearby sister museum, the Pinacoteca do Estado (State Pinacoteca).

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Graffiti at the Resistance Memorial

Pinacoteca do Estado

The Pinacoteca do Estado is housed in a Neoclassical brick building on the edge of a shady park in what today seems like a funky part of São Paulo. The museum opened in 1905 in its present building, which had served earlier as an art school. The architecture prompts visitors to imagine the students who once worked there, painting in the large central courtyard (today roofed over) or sitting in the classrooms, now galleries, upstairs. I experienced a certain sense of dislocation in seeing Neoclassicism in Brazil—in finding a statue of the Greek god Pan, for instance, under towering New World palm trees in a São Paulo park. But it’s really no odder than coming upon Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in the mountains of Virginia.

Of the...

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Pinacoteca do Estado

Pinacoteca
Photo: Sarah Meister

The Pinacoteca do Estado is housed in a Neoclassical brick building on the edge of a shady park in what today seems like a funky part of São Paulo. The museum opened in 1905 in its present building, which had served earlier as an art school. The architecture prompts visitors to imagine the students who once worked there, painting in the large central courtyard (today roofed over) or sitting in the classrooms, now galleries, upstairs. I experienced a certain sense of dislocation in seeing Neoclassicism in Brazil—in finding a statue of the Greek god Pan, for instance, under towering New World palm trees in a São Paulo park. But it’s really no odder than coming upon Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in the mountains of Virginia.

Of the museums we visited in Brazil, the Pinacoteca was the one most directed toward telling the story of Brazilian art, of tracing it historically. Here, then, were not only galleries of nineteenth-century painting but of canonical Brazilian modern art. We also saw a great show organized by the British curator and writer Guy Brett, widely respected as a scholar of the contemporary art of Brazil and elsewhere. Aberto fechado. Caixa e livro na arte brasileira (The Enclosed Openness: Box and Book in Brazilian art) traced these two forms, the box and the book, from works made in the 1950s by artists born in the 1920s to a work dated 2012, the year of the exhibition, made by Ricardo Basbaum, who was born in 1961. There were works as small as matchboxes and works big enough to step into, and besides posing the question of why these two particular devices—box and book—should have proved so enduringly interesting to Brazilian artists over more than half a century, the show asked its visitors to recognize boxes and books in objects they might not have identifed as such. For me, too, the idea of the hidden interior—of the inner world you don’t see from the outside, always there in boxes and books—became a kind of metaphor for the trip, and for all experience of visiting a foreign land.

Interview with Anna Maria Maiolino

We met Anna Maria Maiolino in the Pinacoteca, where one of her works was displayed in the exhibition Enclosed openness. Box and book in Brazilian art. Our conversation focused on her experience of migration and displacement. Joking about her “disgraceful Brazilian accent,” she told us that she moved from Italy to Venezuela as a teenager and then from Venezuela to Brazil. She reflected that it was the disruption caused by this series of relocations, perhaps, that led her to develop a kind of primordial abstract aesthetic language using earthy, organic materials.

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Anna Maria Maiolino at the Pinacoteca. Photo: Lilian Tone

Um Olhar Sobre o Brasil (A View of Brazil) at Instituto Tomie Ohtake

With far too little time to enjoy all the treasures on view at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, we previewed the exhibition Um Olhar Sobre Brazil, an ambitious review of Brazilian photography since 1833 curated by Boris Kossoy and Lilia Moritz Schwarz. The Instituto Moreira Salles was a significant lender to the exhibition, sending, among other works, a facsimile of photographically reproduced pharmaceutical labels made by Hercules Florence in a remote interior village of Brazil. According to Florence’s notebooks, the labels were made six years before Daguerre and Talbot published accounts of their inventions of photographic processes. In an ideal world, the exhibition would have relied on fewer modern enlargements, but their presence underscores two important realities: First, that vintage prints frequently don’t exist, even for key figures, so to insist on prints made by the photographer at the time the negative was exposed would senselessly distort and interrupt the development of any narrative; and second, that when vintage prints do exist the need to preserve them must be weighed against the importance of including the purest expression of a photographer’s intent. The catalogue is handsomely illustrated.

Tour of Adriana Varejão Exhibition at Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM)

Upon arrival at Ibirapuera Park, the group toured a major retrospective of the contemporary Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão titled Histories at the Margins, on view at the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM). The tour was led by Director Felipe Chaimovich. The artist is known for her large-scale installations and wall pieces, and this exhibition featured forty works from the last twenty years of her often politically charged artistic practice. The tour was followed by lunch at MAM with Felipe, and with the noted Brazilian art historian Aracy Amaral. Amaral has long been one of the most prominent curators and critics in Latin America. As director of the Pinacoteca in the late 1970s, she was responsible for inaugurating a more intensive program of contemporary art. She generously gave us a number of her publications, which will be added to MoMA’s library.

Tour of Adriana Varejão Exhibition at Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM)

Museu Afro Brasil

The Museu Afro Brasil is one of the several museums and cultural institutions scattered through the Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo. This is a place I particularly wanted to visit. In the years I’ve spent as an editor, I’ve worked on a number of books on both African art and African art in the Americas, the art made by people brought to the West as slaves and by their descendants. This art has seemed to me both fascinating and inspiring, for the slaves came to the Americas literally with nothing, leaving everything behind, yet through memory and invention were able to both preserve and expand on their traditions. It’s as if something were forced through the eye of a needle and came out on the other side just as large.

I walked through the...

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Museu Afro Brasil

The Museu Afro Brasil is one of the several museums and cultural institutions scattered through the Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo. This is a place I particularly wanted to visit. In the years I’ve spent as an editor, I’ve worked on a number of books on both African art and African art in the Americas, the art made by people brought to the West as slaves and by their descendants. This art has seemed to me both fascinating and inspiring, for the slaves came to the Americas literally with nothing, leaving everything behind, yet through memory and invention were able to both preserve and expand on their traditions. It’s as if something were forced through the eye of a needle and came out on the other side just as large.

I walked through the Museu on a quiet weekday morning, when most of its visitors were groups of schoolchildren. The collection is varied and grand, and unusual in that it combines African statuary—original objects from the cultures imported to the New World—with works made in the Americas, allowing for a search for continuities. (Many museums or curatorial departments within museums concentrate on one field or the other.) Among the highlights for me were Afro-Brazilian shrines, which often put humble materials—fabrics, artificial flowers—to spectacular use, their contrasts of colors and layering of textures producing the effect as well as the actuality of enormous richness. In the face of this kind of flowering was the memory of the past, most notably, in one darkened room, shackles, chains, and the entire hulk of a slave ship. (Or that was my understanding, as I tried to figure out wall labels with my extremely limited Portuguese.) A temporary exhibition on Our Lady of Aparecida traced a celebrated icon of Brazilian Catholicism through its many syncretic interpretations in Afro-Brazilian culture up to and including the work of contemporary artists. All in all, the Museu testified to the extreme range and diversity of black culture in Brazil and left me with many questions about the role of that culture in Brazilian society today.

30th São Paulo Bienal: The Imminence of Poetics

With an exhibition space of over 300,000 square feet, the São Paulo Bienal is among the heftiest single shows I’ve ever attended. The Giardini of the Venice Biennale, the older institution on which it is modeled, is larger overall, but that show is divided among multiple, individually curated halls and national pavilions, whereas São Paulo’s is to be imagined as one coherent show in one big building, one of the group of buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer and others as cultural resources set in the Ibirapuera Park. It is a huge curatorial challenge, and to walk through the show with Luis Pérez-Oramas, who led the team of curators for the 2012 Bienal, was for me among the highlights of the trip, despite the fact that I’d already spent...

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30th São Paulo Bienal: The Imminence of Poetics

With an exhibition space of over 300,000 square feet, the São Paulo Bienal is among the heftiest single shows I’ve ever attended. The Giardini of the Venice Biennale, the older institution on which it is modeled, is larger overall, but that show is divided among multiple, individually curated halls and national pavilions, whereas São Paulo’s is to be imagined as one coherent show in one big building, one of the group of buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer and others as cultural resources set in the Ibirapuera Park. It is a huge curatorial challenge, and to walk through the show with Luis Pérez-Oramas, who led the team of curators for the 2012 Bienal, was for me among the highlights of the trip, despite the fact that I’d already spent time in the show, having come, independently of MoMA, to the opening.

When he’s not organizing biennials, Luis is a curator here at MoMA, making him welcome as a friend as well as a guide. In conceiving the exhibition, he and his colleagues Tobi Maier, André Severo, and Isabella Villanueva had been guided by the idea of the constellation, a formation that might be disparate and far-flung but is held together by some kind of gravitational pull. And that was how the show felt: of a piece, with links in sensibility among artists sometimes self-evident, such as the shared Neoclassical interests of Ian Hamilton Finlay and Elaine Reichek, who occupied neighboring sections, and sometimes sensed among installations shown far apart from one another. Impressively, every artist had enough room to make a full statement, and some parts of the Bienal could, in other contexts, have been full-scale, freestanding exhibitions: the Brazilian outsider artist Arthur Bispo do Rosário, for example, was represented in depth, as was the Ivorian Frédéric Bruly Bouabré—not to mention August Sander, whose People of the Twentieth Century series, made over the course of forty years, was shown in its entirety for the first time in Brazil. (Whereas biennial exhibitions tend to focus on living artists, Luis and his team went back in time to make their points.) Both Sander and Bouabré appeared in a particularly intense part of the Bienal, on the top floor—the show’s “brain,” as Luis described it—which gathered together artists working in series, producing many images that rang changes on their chosen formats. We all remain grateful to Luis for leading us through this poetic labyrinth.

30th São Paulo Bienal

Dinner at the Home of Felipe Ehrenberg

After visiting the São Paulo Bienal, we headed to the home of Mexican artist Felipe Ehrenberg and chef Lourdes Hernández Fuentes. The house doubles as a pop-up restaurant run by the couple, who have created an enclave of Mexican cuisine and culture in the Brooklin area of the city. David Frankel and I traveled there slightly earlier than the rest of the group so that we could talk to Felipe about his early career, including the establishment of an artists’ publishing and printing venture—the Beau Geste Press—and his time living in London. Still actively involved in the practice of bookmaking, Felipe kindly gave us a copy of his new book work Tercera Caída (Third Fall). The book references the 2011 Monterrey casino fire, which killed fifty-two people. The fire is representative of the ongoing crisis in Mexico and the government’s ineffective, U.S.-backed drug war that has led to escalating levels of violence, costing around 40,000 lives in recent years. Appropriating imagery from lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) as well as Mexican cultural icons and media imagery, Tercera Caída is an urgent lament for the artist’s homeland. The title refers to a rule in Mexican wrestling that says the fight is lost the third time you fall; through it, Ehrenberg makes an oblique allusion to the three parties that share power in Mexican electoral politics.

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The cover of Tercer Caída by Felipe Ehrenberg

Lina Bo Bardi's Glass House

Visits with Augusto de Campos and Sylvio Nery

I began the day by visiting the home of Augusto de Campos, the noted concrete poet and artist who had recently visited MoMA to present his multimedia performance Poetry Is Risk with his son Cid Campos. De Campos continued his generosity toward the MoMA library by donating a number of poetic interventions he designed for Folhetim, a cultural newspaper published in São Paulo in the early 1980s. I then met with Sylvio Nery, one of Brazil’s pioneering dealers of abstract and Neo-Concrete Latin American art. Nery shared highlights of his gallery’s archives and library, including many ephemeral items documenting Lygia Clark’s early career. We joined the rest of the group for lunch at Capim Santo and enjoyed a traditional feijoada menu.

Leda Catunda's Studio

Visit to Leda Catunda's Studio

After our visit to Lina Bo Bardi's breathtaking glass house in the Morumbi neighborhood, I left the group to take a peek at Leda Catunda's studio near the soccer stadium. Catunda (born São Paulo, 1961) is widely considered one of Brazil’s most influential artists of the 1980s. In the studio were examples of her most recent body of work, which ventures into the world of sports. Catunda uses motifs from team uniforms, flags, and sponsors' logos to construct shaped and stuffed canvases and collages that play with highly recognizable yet abstracted symbols of one of the country's most cherished obsessions: soccer. A bit like a cultural archeologist or social anthropologist, Catunda selects emblematic images from our visual culture, defacing and reconfiguring them while continuously reinventing painting.

Interview with Paulo Bruscky

The group took advantage of Recife artist Paulo Bruscky’s fleeting presence in São Paulo to meet with him and see some of his works at Nara Roesler gallery. After a brief discussion, the rest of the group went to the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) to see the exhibition Plans for Escape while Milan Hughston and I interviewed Bruscky about his involvement in the mail art network and his interventions in Recife.

I have been particularly fascinated by Bruscky's EEG drawings, part of a significant body of work in which the artist employs the methods of medical science (EEG, X-ray, and cardiogram) to produce drawings, poems, and mail art works. Bruscky worked as an administrator at the Hospital Agamenon Magalhães, where he made these...

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Interview with Paulo Bruscky

The group took advantage of Recife artist Paulo Bruscky’s fleeting presence in São Paulo to meet with him and see some of his works at Nara Roesler gallery. After a brief discussion, the rest of the group went to the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) to see the exhibition Plans for Escape while Milan Hughston and I interviewed Bruscky about his involvement in the mail art network and his interventions in Recife.

I have been particularly fascinated by Bruscky's EEG drawings, part of a significant body of work in which the artist employs the methods of medical science (EEG, X-ray, and cardiogram) to produce drawings, poems, and mail art works. Bruscky worked as an administrator at the Hospital Agamenon Magalhães, where he made these pieces using the equipment that was available to him. They respond to the context of the dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s and specifically to its impact on Recife, in Brazil’s northeast. In this respect, the inscription of the word "THOUGHT" on the surface of one of his works pertains to the restrictions on freedom of expression as well as to the damaging psychological effects of self-censorship. The works call to attention the processes of rationalization and objectification of the body that are inherent in the methods of biological science. At the time they were made, torture was often carried out in Brazil with the help of physicians.

Bruscky was at the forefront of an important group of artists working in northeastern Brazil, and his work demonstrates the international uptake of conceptual methods in varied contexts. We found some related works in MoMA Library’s Special Collections, such as Bruscky’s Performance Poema Linguístico (Linguistic performance poem, 2005) and several Xerox artworks that focus on the artist’s body.

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Paulo Bruscky

Planos de Fuga: uma exposição em obras (Plans for escape: an exhibition under construction) at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil

Since our arrival in São Paulo, we had been hearing rave reviews from friends and colleagues about the current show at CCBB, so we decided to defy traffic and swing by old downtown São Paulo on our way to Galpão Fortes Vilaça. Planos de Fuga: uma exposição em obras proved worth the detour. Curated by Rodrigo Moura and Jochen Volz (current and former Inhotim curators, respectively), the exhibition was expressly conceived to be in dialogue with the tower-like building designed by Hippolyto Gustavo Pujol Junior and completed in 1901. Five in-situ installations, in addition to existing works by Cildo Meireles, Rivane Neuenschwander, Gabriel Sierra, Marcius Galan, Carla Zaccagnini, and Renata Lucas, radically reshaped our experience of the architecture as we awkwardly traversed its multiple floors and roamed around its imposing circular structure.

Rivane Neuenschwander: Fora de Alcance (Out of Reach) Solo Exhibition at Galpão Fortes Vilaça

Galpão Fortes Vilaça, the gallery's outpost in Barra Funda, a neighborhood originally spawned by industrial development, functions as a hybrid of exhibition space, offices, and storage. Rivane Neuenschwander (born Belo Horizonte, 1967) occupied the front area of the ample, open warehouse space, with an installation delimited by a sinuous fence (A uma certa distância—Barreiras públicas, São Paulo) that constituted a work in itself, while at the same time mediating our access to other works. We also encountered a wonderful series of Neuenschwander’s photographs (Mancha de óleo) and groups of drawings (Progressões de fogo) that allude to the artist's environmental concerns, evoking oil spills in the ocean and forest fires.

Planos de Fuga: Plans for escape

Regina Silveira Studio Visit

Regina Silveira Studio Visit

At the end of the day, we visited with Regina Silveira in her lovely home/studio. Her small house and garden, hidden from the street behind a large gate, are a tranquil oasis tucked into this pocket of the city. Covering the walls were her own artworks as well as many by her friends and students. We conducted the interview in her studio, adjacent to her home. She responded thoughtfully to questions about her background, her involvement with mail art in the 1970s, the place of printmaking in her oeuvre, the distorted geometries in her Anamorfas series, and much else. For more than four decades, she has worked across media—from sculpture, printmaking, and photography to installation art and digital practices—to explore issues of space, light, and perspective and their relationship to perception. As a longtime teacher, she has had a profound influence on several generations of Brazilian artists. After the interview, we were delighted that she could join us and several other new friends for a lively dinner at La Frontera restaurant.

SESC Pompéia

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Sunbathing at SESC. Photo: Kathy Halbreich

SESC Pompéia is a major project by the late Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1922). A mix of new and converted structures, the complex was commissioned by the Serviço Social do Comércio, a nonprofit institution that provides community and cultural services across Brazil, and was built in 1977 in São Paulo’s Pompéia neighborhood. An existing factory was transformed to house a library, theater, restaurant, and spaces for exhibitions and workshops; two new buildings were designed for sports facilities. Connected by pedestrian bridges, these structures have become iconic and expressive of Bo Bardi’s flight from her earlier modernist work. At the time of our visit, the center was holding a major exhibition of work by Isaac Julien, organized for the São Paulo Biennial.

Lina Bo Bardi's SESC Pompéia

Iran do Espirito Santo Studio Visit

After leaving SESC Pompéia, we drove a short way to visit Iran do Espirito Santo at his quietly stunning home/studio. In its subtle and precise interplay of minimalist forms and materials, Iran’s efficiently designed but sensual and dramatic home is a perfect reflection and extension of his artistic practice. The setting is equally affecting, with panoramic views of the city of São Paulo from the patio, windows, and rooftop terrace. We started with a visit to the studio, on the lower level of the house. Iran showed us some recent drawings of delicate, uniformly spaced rows of wavy pencil lines on paper, made using a plastic template. Also on view were wall drawings based on subtly modulated gray squares or stripes and a gorgeous set of small, white, solid marble sculptures that seemed to reference vernacular, domestic design objects. Next we moved upstairs to the living area for a delicious lunch. It was a pleasure to spend this brief time in Iran’s beautifully serene, pristine, inspiring world.

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Iran do Espirito Santo in his studio. Photo: Lilian Tone

2. Inhotim

Instituto Cultural Inhotim

In the evening, we flew from São Paulo to Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, to visit one of Brazil’s most talked-about contemporary art destinations: Instituto Cultural Inhotim. We spent the night in Belo Horizonte and woke early to travel roughly forty miles to Brumadinho, the town where Inhotim is located, in the beautiful mountainous landscape of the Paraopeba River valley. Opened in 2006, Inhotim has become a landmark center for site-specific works and for its stunning, 240-acre botanical garden. The art collection is comprised of over five hunded pieces by celebrated artists such as Adriana Varejão, Helio Oiticica, Cildo Meireles, Chris Burden, Matthew Barney, Doug Aitken, and Janet Cardiff, among others.

One of the...

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Instituto Cultural Inhotim

In the evening, we flew from São Paulo to Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, to visit one of Brazil’s most talked-about contemporary art destinations: Instituto Cultural Inhotim. We spent the night in Belo Horizonte and woke early to travel roughly forty miles to Brumadinho, the town where Inhotim is located, in the beautiful mountainous landscape of the Paraopeba River valley. Opened in 2006, Inhotim has become a landmark center for site-specific works and for its stunning, 240-acre botanical garden. The art collection is comprised of over five hunded pieces by celebrated artists such as Adriana Varejão, Helio Oiticica, Cildo Meireles, Chris Burden, Matthew Barney, Doug Aitken, and Janet Cardiff, among others.

One of the highlights of the visit for me was Doris Salcedo’s Neither (2004), a meditation on imprisonment and an allusion to abuses of power in concentration camps. The piece unites interior and exterior space by embedding a mesh fence into the walls of an empty of a white space. Salcedo’s wry nod towards the genealogy of Minimalism also seemed, through its emptiness, to hint at an absence of memory.

The chance to experience Helio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s Cosmococas 1-5 was enjoyable, but I wondered if the effect was what the notoriously radical and exacting artist really had in mind, since, like Lygia Clark’s films at Itaú Cultural, they had never been installed in the artist’s lifetime. I also enjoyed seeing Marila Dardot’s Heideggerian A Origem da Obra de Arte (The Origin of the Work of Art, 2002), consisting of 150 ceramic vases in the shapes of the letters of the Roman alphabet. Visitors can plant seeds and spell out words of their choosing. There weren’t any seeds left, but we managed to make a few concrete poems inspired by our meetings with Augusto de Campos earlier in 2012.

The group met for lunch with Rodrigo Moura, one of Inhotim’s curators, who explained more about the vast operation at hand. Inhotim employs over a thousand people, many of whom tend the botanical gardens and work in environmental research labs devoted to species native to Brazil. The landscaping was originally inspired by famed architect and landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx (1909–1994), whose house we would later visit in Rio.

Instituto Cultural Inhotim

3. Rio de Janeiro

Visit to Sitio Roberto Burle Marx

The group drove out of Rio to the remarkable home/museum/botanical collection of noted Brazilian landscape architect and artist Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx acquired the property, located about ninety minutes outside Rio, in 1949 and immediately transformed it into a site for experimentation, where he could demonstrate his world-renowned skills in landscape planning and design using Brazilian native plant life, as well as species from other parts of the world. He spent the next forty-five-or-so years, until his death in 1994, perfecting the site, which is now open to the public. It’s a splendid showcase for the work of one of Brazil’s greatest artists.

Sitio Burle Marx

Visit to Beatriz Milhazes's Studio

We met Beatriz Milhazes (born Rio de Janeiro, 1960) at her painting studio, which is located right behind the luscious greenery of Jardim Botânico, the vast and extraordinary repository of tropical plants established by Portuguese Prince Regent Dom João in 1808. The splendid garden makes for a fitting background and contextual reference for her work. Four doors further up the street, another house functions as her office and paper studio. Since Milhazes moved here in 1987, a gallery, a private collection, and other artists have relocated to this same quaint set of row houses, transforming the laid-back cul-de-sac into a hive of artistic activity.

Milhazes spoke to us about her distinct painting process, which invokes collage, printmaking, and stenciling techniques. Using acrylic paint, she creates motifs on pieces of transparent plastic and, after carefully considering different placements, glues them to the canvas. Subsequently, she peels off the plastic. Milhazes talked to us about major references in her work, such as Brazilian modernist painter Tarsila do Amaral and Henri Matisse. Observing Milhazes's colorfully painted pieces of plastic arrayed on the floor, one can't help but think of Matisse’s cutouts. She draws her motifs from a vast visual archive that knows no temporal demarcations, geographical borders, or high-low distinctions. Together, these elements conjure a medley of lacework, tropical flora, carnival decoration, jewelry design, and Baroque architecture.

Beatriz Milhazes's Studio

Antonio Dias Studio Visit

In the late afternoon, we paid a visit to the home and studio of the artist Antonio Dias in Copacabana. Now in his late 60s, he showed us his working space and studio, as well as the extraordinary sight of a Rio morro (hill) almost pressing up against a window. On the other side of the house, the artist’s balcony was populated by various plants and trees.

We enjoyed a drink with Antonio, his wife, Paola, and daughter Nina and chatted about his long and multifaceted career. He generously shared stories about his early career, his surprise at the lack of women in Milan’s art scene, and his participation in the Guggenheim Museum’s 6th International Exhibition in New York in 1971. He also shared his early concern about the commodification of his work and talked about his experiences in Brazil during the period of dictatorship. In particular, Dias discussed the series The Illustration of Art and the work The Invented Country, recently acquired by MoMA. With a healthy dose of humor, Dias explored the challenges and absurdities of his artistic career and commented poetically on his life’s work.

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The home and studio of Antonio Dias
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Photo: Zanna Gilbert
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Lilian Tone, Milan Hughston, and Antonio Dias

Gallery: A Gentil Carioca

Sarah Meister, Pedro Gadanho, and I joined Pedro Rivera of Studio X at the opening of a new show at the gallery A Gentil Carioca. The gallery is located in the historic center of the city, an area known as Saara, which is dominated by a huge open-air market. Its inviting name seemed apt, as it was immediately evident that the atmosphere was very friendly. A carioca is the name for a person who lives in Rio de Janeiro, so a gentil carioca would perhaps be a kindly resident of Rio. Founded by the artists Laura Lima, Márcio Botner, and Ernesto Neto, the gallery aims to promote Brazilian art both at home and abroad and to “think, make, document and transform history.”

The exhibition we attended was titled Colapso (Collapse) and was curated by Felipe Scovino, who had invited Alexandre Vogler, Andre Komatsu, Guga Ferraz, and Marcelo Cidade to create works especially for the show. The central concept of collapse resonated with the hyper-development and rapid urban transformation of Brazil’s cities. For the ongoing project of temporary commissioned works on one of the gallery’s external walls, Alexandre Vogler gave the historic building a second skin of reflective glass, referring to a new development nearby.

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Photo: Sarah Meister
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Alexandre Vogler's wall project. Photo: Sarah Meister

Studio X Rio

Studio X Rio, led by architect Pedro Rivera, is one of a number of international branches of a project run by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. These studios investigate urban conditions in contemporary megacities in situ. We visited Studio X Rio’s headquarters and heard about their current activities, which include organizing exhibitions, symposia, and design workshops with urban planners and local populations. Their work’s relevance hinges upon an interdisciplinary approach to urban intervention that involves contemporary artists in projects about the city.

Visit to Cildo Meireles's Studio

The area in the neighborhood of Botafogo where Cildo Meireles (born Rio de Janeiro, 1948) has his studio feels far removed from postcard views of Rio. Walking up hilly Travessa Dona Marciana, a quiet residential street that seems to have stopped in time, I could barely contain my groupie excitement at this opportunity to visit Meireles's studio once again. Meireles had just returned from a long trip abroad and was exceedingly generous with his time, receiving us on an early Sunday morning. He spoke at length about MoMA's recently acquired Virtual Spaces: Corner 1 (1967–68), the first in a series of works that marked a breakthrough in his practice when he was only nineteen years old. In fact, the only visible work of art in the studio was another piece from that same series. It stood nonchalantly at the entrance, as if on its way out the door. Dominated by a big conference table at the center, the studio felt like a vast archive of paper, ideas, and materials. A natural storyteller, Meireles reminisced about his evolution as an artist and spoke about the multisensory nature of Brazilian art. He related stories about his time spent in Brasilia, Rio, and New York, his participation in the Information show at MoMA in 1970, and about his lesser-known sound works that are included in MoMA's Library holdings. See the video interview we made in which he discusses his series Insertions into Ideological Circuits and Insertions into Anthropological Circuits.

Cildo Meireles's Studio

Santa Marta Visit

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View of Rio from Santa Marta. Photo: Pedro Gadanho

Visiting one of the few favelas in Rio that has recently become accessible to outsiders by an ongoing process of "pacification" provided a rare opportunity to better understand the urban history and social complexity of contemporary Rio de Janeiro. Santa Marta, like many of Rio’s five hundred favelas, lies right in the urban city center, in the area of Botafogo. Given the legal impossibility of displacing Santa Marta’s eight thousand inhabitants, the Brazilian government is sponsoring efforts to regenerate it. The Santa Marta favela was subject to this process and purged of drug trafficking in 2008. Now residents are exploring forms of self-empowerment and cultural expression, notably through music and graffiti culture.

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Photo: Pedro Gadanho

Museu do Arte do Rio (MAR): Breakfast with Paulo Herkenhoff

On our last morning in Rio, we met with the curator and critic Paulo Herkenhoff, formerly curator of Latin American Art at MoMA, to find out more about the new museum we had being hearing about since our arrival in town. The Museu do Arte do Rio (MAR) was under construction at that time but has recently opened to the public in the Porto Maravilha area of the city. As director of MAR, Paulo explained his vision of the museum as a space for the city and for its residents, and as a place to think through some of the major contemporary issues facing the metropolis. A key idea is to create temporary exhibitions drawn from private collections in the city, thus making artworks previously hidden from view accessible to a wider public. One of the first subjects to be tackled under the curatorship of Clarissa Diniz is the issue of land rights in Rio. The resulting exhibition will be held against the backdrop of increasing conflict over the city’s intervention in favela communities in the run-up to the World Cup (2014) and the Olympic Games (2016).

Casa Daros

On our final day in Rio, Pedro Gadanho, David Frankel, and I visited Casa Daros, a restored Neoclassical building in Botafogo that is the new home of the Daros Latinamerica collection. Eugenio Valdés, director of art and education there, led us on a tour of the building (a former orphanage designed in 1866 by Francisco Joaquim Bethencourt da Silva), which has a huge amount of space for education and exhibitions as well as facilities for conferences and a nascent library under the care of Ranieli Piccinini Machado. At the time of our visit, the recently opened space was still undergoing final preparations before opening to the public. A testament to the booming interest in Brazil as a center for the arts, partly due to upcoming megaevents in Rio, the building will provide a second home for the Daros Latinamerica collection, currently headquartered in Zurich.

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Eugenio Valdés, director of art and education, with Pedro Gadanho
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The library at Casa Daros

Instituto Moreira Salles

Rio’s Instituto Moreira Salles is located in what was once the Moreira Salles family home, which has been adapted for exhibitions. During our visit, a show of William Kentridge’s work was on view. There are two new buildings on the property in which the collection is studied, conserved, digitized, and stored. Gilberto Ferrez (grandson of Marc Ferrez, regarded as the Atget of Brazil) was Brazil’s first photography historian, and the collection he gathered of mostly nineteenth-century work was the first major acquisition of IMS. Other strengths of the IMS collection are concentrations of works by Marcel Gauthereau, Hans Gunther Flieg, José Medeiros, Thomas Farkas, Henrique Klumb, August Stahl, and Magdalena Schwartz.

Galeria da Gávea

Tucked away from the street, within walking distance of Instituto Moreira Salles, is the Galeria da Gávea. I met with the director, Gabriela Toledo, and two of the artists/partners in the gallery, Ana Stewart and Bruno Veiga. The gallery shares space with other small businesses, whose employees were sitting down to lunch around a communal table while we looked at the works on the walls. Among them was a series of paired photographic portraits of women by Stewart. The portraits in each pair were made ten years apart, and they were usually accompanied by a soundtrack of the subjects discussing the ways in which their lives had changed over the decade. Stewart was also showing a multifaceted work depicting aspects of “her daughter’s universe.” Viega began exploring a distilled “suburban aesthetic” after receiving a grant to photograph the old guard of Samba. A recent grant will allow him to publish this work. Viega also showed us some photographs of what he describes as the “very generous” sidewalk designs by Burle Marx in Copacabana (right by our hotel!)—generous in the sense that there are so many ways for artists to respond to the undulating black-and-white forms beneath everyone’s feet.

Gustavo Capanema Palace

Capacete Residency Program

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Founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1998 and with a branch in São Paulo since 2009, Capacete is one of Brazil’s and South America’s most important artist residency programs. It offers two-stage residencies of three to six months to artists, architects, and curators and has welcomed artists such as Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Falke Pisano, Andrea Fraser, and Pierre Huyghe. Helmut Batista, Capacete’s founder and director until 2012, introduced us to the artists currently in residence and showed us the growing archive of works and documents that have been produced by artists working there. He also described the open philosophy of the program as a form of contemporary salon and explained how its activities are managed and funded.

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Sarah Meister, Helmut Batista, and David Frankel at Capacete
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Capacete. Photo: Sarah Meister

Gustavo Capanema Palace

This building by Lucio Costa and a team of young architects that included Affonso Eduardo Reidy and Oscar Niemeyer, who went on to gain international prominence, is considered Rio’s (and South America’s) first large-scale modernist building. Based on ideas by Le Corbusier, who visited Rio de Janeiro at the invitation of the project’s initiator, Gustavo Capanema, the building was designed to house the Ministry of Health and Education and was completed in 1943. It includes important artistic contributions such as a suspended garden by the landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx and murals by one of Brazil’s most famous painters of the period, Cândido Portinari. The building currently serves as the local headquarters in Rio of the National Ministry of Culture.

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Two Brazilian Cities: São Paulo and Rio via Inhotim

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Projetos, oficinas e forum das artes é uma constante por aqui. Acontecem no Espaço arte Carijó, Câmara Municipal Casa da Cultura, Teatro Raquel e outros espaços.Ver Exposiçao "Gente mais que coisas" da artista Sonia Carmona no You Tube.

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Projetos, oficinas e forum das artes é uma constante por aqui. Acontecem no Espaço arte Carijó, Câmara Municipal Casa da Cultura, Teatro Raquel e outros espaços.Ver Exposiçao "Gente mais que coisas" da artista Sonia Carmona no You Tube.

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