It may be reductive, but whenever I look at the Brazilian art world I am really looking for the hidden invitation to do more than just look.
Participation, community, and dialogue have been endemic to artistic practice in Brazil throughout the last century. The country has a rich national history of artists teasing out uncomfortable social conflicts and shifting the role of art in society.
Since 1928, when Oswaldo de Andrade wrote O Manifesto Antropofago, Brazilian artists and thinkers have been unpacking the mash-up of cultural identities present within Brazilian art making. In de Andrade’s telling, Brazilian creatives were guilty of imbibing and replicating art for an external (European and North American) jury; with this in mind, he insisted on the creation of new criteria for creating and experiencing art.
During the Neo-Concretismo movement of the late 1950s, Lygia Clark created metallic sculptures, entitled Bichos (critters), and invited audience members to step over any prohibitive tape and play with them. (One of Lygia Clark's Bichos, Bicho "Em Si", 1962, is actually going be at SP-Arte with Galerie Natalie Seroussi.) Brazilian artists made objects that invited participation and inspired dialogue, demystifying the role of the artist and carving out space for new kinds of encounters with the public.
Raul Mourão, Untitled, 2014, 1020 steel and synthetic resin, 100 × 60 × 33 cm; Courtesy LURIXS: Arte Contemporânea
São Paulo is aware of the social impact of visual engagement, having made the controversial decision in 2007 to ban all advertising from public spaces in the city, with billboards and bus stop ads disappearing over night.
Hence – though I know SP-Arte is a private art fair – my mind can’t help but scan the Pavilhão da Bienal for built-in openings for social engagement. Fortunately, the fair includes programming specifically dedicated to talking about the jagged edges of Brazilian cultural heritage, giving ground to new voices alongside internationally recognizable institutions.
Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa has developed Diálogos, a series of talks and discussions that is intended to utilize the convergence of international artists, critics, and collectors for talking and thinking about where the business of Brazilian art stands. These events include back-to-back talks that will undoubtedly question and defy the pillars of logic that promote the privatization of art (which is ostensibly what the fair itself is based on). Hopefully these dialogues will speak to how international art events like SP-Arte and the upcoming São Paulo Bienal work to redefine contemporary art on Brazilian terms.
Anna Bella Geiger, Local da ação N° 1, 1980, Etching, 69.1 × 58.9 cm; Courtesy Henrique Faria Fine Art
It is easy to imagine that a large influx of foreign interests into the already socially disconnected São Paulo would reproduce dynamics of long standing cultural colonialism. However, the scheduled speakers are all socially engaged artists and thinkers including Anna Bella Geiger, Pablo León de la Barra, Ivo Mesquita, and Julieta Gonzalez (the only non-Brazilian of the bunch).
I wouldn’t miss the opening of the Diálogos, set to kick off with Thiago Martins de Melo’s 4:30 PM talk on April 3rd. Martins de Melo is an artist and intellectual from the Northeast of the country, known for confronting the idiosyncrasies of the Brazilian socio-political elite. The artist's own work speaks to a history of racial oppression in Brazil, pointing to the inherent contradictions within contemporary Brazilian art. At 6PM he will be followed by Mabe Bethônico, a curator from Minas Gerais, and the creator of the Museum for Public Concerns, known for addressing the inherent trouble in the privatization of arts and culture in Brazil in playful and innovative ways.
Dialogues will take place at the SP-Arte Auditorium, on the Pavilion’s ground floor between the 3rd and 4th of April. At a delicate time for international art events, with controversy and withdrawals from the Sydney Biennial and Manifesta10, it will be exciting to see how São Paulo fares with SP-Arte and the São Paulo Bienal later this year.
(Image on top: Lygia Clark, Bicho "Em Si", 1962 , Aluminium sculpture , 20 × 22 × 15 cm; Courtesy of Galerie Natalie Seroussi.)